Study Guide

Seedfolks Language and Communication

By Paul Fleischman

Language and Communication

I gave her a smile and showed her that I was just giving her plants some water. This made her eyes go even bigger. I stood up slowly and backed away. I smiled again. She watched me leave. We never spoke one word. (3.12)

This is the first time Wendell and Kim interact—and they don't say a peep. But even with all this silence, they find a new way to communicate: Wendell smiles and Kim uses her eyes. Even without words, somehow they seem to understand one another. Now those are some powerful facial expressions.

Two years after my father and I moved here from Guatemala, I could speak English. I learned it on the playground and watching lots of TV. Don't believe what people say—cartoons make you smart. But my father, he worked all day in a kitchen with Mexicans and Salvadorans. His English was worse than a kindergartner's. He would only buy food at the bodega down the block. Outside of there he lowered his eyes and tried to get by on mumbles and smiles. He didn't want strangers to hear his mistakes. So he used me to make phone calls and to talk to the landlady and to buy things in stores where you had to use English. He got younger. I got older. (4.3)

Gonzalo is a quick learner. He's speedy at learning English and now he's comfortable using it around town. But Gonzalo's dad has a tougher time learning a new language, to the point that he doesn't want to socialize with neighbors who don't speak Spanish. So instead, Gonzalo's dad uses "mumbles and smiles." Smiles were a pretty powerful communication tool for Kim and Wendell, too—are they positive here, too?

Tío Juan was smiling and trying to tell him something. The man couldn't understand him and finally went back to digging. (4.7)

Ah, neighborly love. Gonzalo's great uncle, Tío Juan, is trying to talk to Wendell about gardening. But the downside is that Wendell and Tío Juan can't get past their different languages. Remember, Wendell speaks English and Tío Juan speaks "an Indian language" that Gonzalo never specifies (4.5). Do you think this language barrier keeps Tío Juan and Wendell from communicating? How so?

The word "paradise" came out of my mouth, without thinking. The woman looked at me strange. It's a hobby with me, studying words. I looked at the three walls surrounding the lot. Then at a garden coming up beautiful, planted there close to the sidewalk. "Paradise" comes from a Persian word. It means "walled park." I told the woman that. This time she gave me a little smile. I smiled back. (6.1)

Remember how Wendell and Kim communicate with smiles back in Chapter 3? Well, we're thinking smiles are a pretty important mode of communication in Seedfolks. When Sam mentions "paradise" to another woman watching the garden, both of them speak English. But even though they speak the same language, the smile they share seems to be what really has them communicating.

Each group kept to itself, spoke its own language, and grew its own special crops. (6.5)

When Sam looks around the garden, he sees each ethnic group in its own space, and each group speaks "its own language." Sounds like even though the garden brings people together, it doesn't necessarily mean they're talking to each other just yet.

Neither of us knew anything about plants. This wrinkled old man in a straw hat tried to show me something when I poured out the water. He spoke some language, but it sure wasn't English. I didn't get what he was babbling about, till the lettuce finally came up in wavy lines and bunches instead of straight rows. I'd washed the seeds out of their places. (7.15)

Virgil is having a tough time growing his lettuce, and it looks like he's also having a tough time communicating with his fellow gardeners. If Virgil had been able to understand the helpful old man, his lettuce might be growing a bit better. Turns out that speaking different languages isn't just making it difficult to talk, but it's also having a negative impact on the plants.

Then man walk over and ask about peppers. I grow hot peppers, like in Korea. First time that someone talk to me. I was so glad, have trouble talking. (8.4)

When Sae Young finally overcomes her fear of being around people and joins in the community garden, she's stoked. And when someone comes up and talks to her, our gal is totally speechless. She's so happy that she can't even talk, which is a pretty big deal for our formerly fearful friend. Maybe not being able to communicate is a good sign sometimes.

And then, that morning, rolling along the sidewalk, suddenly his arm came up. He wanted to stop. I obliged him at once. To our left was a lot in which a few bold pioneers had planted gardens. We remained several minutes, watching two Asian women hoeing, then continued on. Immediately, back up went his arm. I came around and looked at him. He twisted and pointed toward the garden. I turned the wheelchair and headed back. I could see his nostrils taking in the smell of the soil. We reached the lot. His arm commanded me to enter. (10.2-3)

Mr. Myles can't speak anymore after his second stroke, so he has to use his hands to communicate. But Nora is really great at figuring out what Mr. M wants, and she realizes he wants to spend more time in the garden. Did you notice all the different types of body language that Mr. Myles uses to communicate with Nora? These two have found their own way to chat without words.

Pantomime was often required to get over language barriers. Yet we were all subject to the same weather and pests, the same neighborhood, and the same parental emotions toward our plants. If we happened to miss two or three days, people stopped by on our return to ask about Mr. Myles' health. We, like our seeds, were now planted in the garden. (10.8)

Even though they don't speak the same language as everyone else, Nora and Mr. M still find a place in the Gibb Street garden community. Emotions are emotions in any language, folks.

Very many people came over to ask about them and talk to me. I recognized a few from the neighborhood. Not one had spoken to me before—and now how friendly they turned out to be. the eggplants gave them an excuse for breaking the rules and starting a conversation. How happy they seemed to have found this excuse, to let their natural friendliness out. Those conversations tied us together. (12.3)

Amir's eggplants are a huge hit in the garden. They're not just big and purple, but they also give neighbors an "excuse" to talk to Amir. Sometimes it's just good to have a conversation starter to break the ice; and once that ice is broken, Amir and his new friends have plenty to gab about together. So next time you want to make a new friend, maybe try growing some eggplant? Hey, it's worth a shot.