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This essay examines the importance of language in literature, communication, and culture in general. Language, identity, and power have an interrelationship that has generated debate and discourses that affect not only an individual but also the broader community from where he comes. In this research paper, we will explore the relationship between language and identity. Using Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”, we will look at the significance of language and how it affects the lives of people in their communities.
Language: Significance and Effects
Reading this story, it comes out clearly that the tongue affects the lives of individuals. That’s how language defines who we are. Therefore, it plays a role in his or her choices and the lifestyle he or she lives. People use language to view human life from different perspectives.
In this story, Amy explores how the language she learned in classroom affected her life in different ways. She is a daughter to immigrant parents; her mother is a smart woman. Amy is a source of communication between her mother and those who don’t understand her. Here, Amy has used this story to emphasize that someone is not less intelligent just because he or she can not speak perfect English, like those who are native speakers.
It is rare to get two people who speak the same language, even those who think they do so, fail to notice the variations in their speech because they are used to it. Amy is of Chinese descent, and therefore, language played a significant role in her family as she struggled to fit into the American society with a mother who used “limited English” (Tan 78).
This story reflects the lives of many Americans who are natural citizens of the United States. I am sure there are many people out there who have parents with their way of speaking and comprehension of the English language, as did Amy.
This fact does not reduce the intelligence of such parents. Still, they are forced to depend on their children for translations during communications. Sometimes it makes children ashamed by their parents, just as Amy was when she joined others to describe her mother’s English as ‘Broken “or “Fractured” (Tan 78).
Language is exceptional, not just for Amy and immigrants in foreign lands, but for all of us. Speech brings people close to their families in special ways. Amy agrees with me saying that language “can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth” (Tan 76).(Tan 76).
Imagine a situation when you wake up one day and realize that you have no voice and, therefore, can not communicate with those around you. That’s when you will understand how large the importance of mother tongue is. Speechlessness means that you are not able to express yourself, communicate, or participate in what goes on in your world. Language involves combining specific words in a particular order.
This depends on different people where you can find people using the same words but in a separate order. What is important is that so long as they can communicate, then that order is important to them. Language, therefore, helps in empowering people and helping them establish and define their identity.
Importance of Language: The Tool that Can Unite and Isolate
There is no doubt that through speech, people are bound together as one community. However, it can also alienate individuals in a community.
Sometimes people use language to label others as outsiders. People use language to form stereotypes of others. For instance, in this story, Amy tells us that she has often been asked why there aren’t many Asian Americans in American literature. We also learn that there are very few Asian Americans who do creative writing. The answer to these questions lies in the formation of stereotypes.
Many Asian Americans are known to do well in sciences and mathematics than in English. Their English, as Amy says, is also described as “broken” or “limited”. It means that their teachers use these stereotypes to steer them away from writing. They encourage them to take mathematics and sciences courses just as they did to Amy. Stereotyping, in essence, is wrong (Zeng 10).
Language does more than just articulating a simple truth; the way one commands language also matters a lot. We have just learned that without being able to speak, an individual will be voiceless, but having an imperfect language makes others see one as incomplete. However, those who are fluent in the standard language are seen to be superior to others. It is illustrated in “mother tongue” when Amy tells us the community treated her mother. She says: “People in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.” (Tan 78)
Those people were not respectful to Amy’s mother because she spoke English that was simple, which they disparagingly termed as “broken” or “fractured” (Tan 78).
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This reflects what happens in many communities in the world. When people lack the standard skills of a language, they become outsiders and, therefore, are discriminated by those who enjoy the standard language skills in their communities.
Language as a Necessity
Reading through this story, one gets to understand that acquiring a specific language does not only enable one to be accepted in a community; it also helps in determining one’s individuality. The experience that an individual goes through with language goes a long way in shaping his or her self identity.
This is illustrated in this story clearly when Amy tells us about the different Englishes she applies in her daily communication. We see that to communicate with her family, Amy uses the simple form of English. She calls the one her mother uses as broken English, and however, when interacting with people in her personal life, Amy uses a more sophisticated version of the English language.
Bond explains further that both accommodation and affirmation can occur to the same content, in other words, there can be different effects language happening to the same type of content (Chen & Bond, p.399). She confesses that there were instances in her life when she was embarrassed by the English her mother used.
However, as she continued to grow, she came to understand how important the role of English was to her. She says in this story that she realized that her mother’s English was perfectly clear; it was actually her native language.
This means that it was this language that helped her make sense of what goes around her. This realization makes her wince whenever she calls her mother’s English as “broken” or “fractured”. She does not think that her mother’s English needs any fixing. To her, it is whole and sound, and therefore terming it broken or fractured when she uses it to communicate with her mum looks unfair (Tan 77).
Importance of Language in Literature & Communication
Towards the end of this story, Amy tells us that it doesn’t matter what type of English you use, what matters is that you can communicate. The different Englishes in her life shaped her into what she later become, a writer, much to her critics’ disapproval that she couldn’t make a good writer. Therefore, the role and importance of language in literature is not as straightforward as it might seem.
It is an encouragement to those who are in the same circumstances as Amy that even if they find it hard to speak perfect English, they should never back down from giving their point of view. We have seen that despite her broken English, Amy’s mother helped her to understand English better.
It is her mother who encouraged her to become a writer. People have different mother tongues that they were taught when young, but as individuals grow, they develop different Englishes which they use as circumstances direct.
The language that an individual uses at work is not the same he uses at home or with friends. Language should be seen as a tool for social improvement, through which many people of different backgrounds come together in a cohesive coexistence (Feng 159).
This essay analyzed the importance of language using Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”. To summarize, Tan’s story tells us that the main purpose of language is to enable people to express themselves and also be in a position to share the expression with others. That’s the sphere where the significance of language is undoubted. It doesn’t matter what form of the language one uses, so long as it is used to express oneself and others understand the expression, then no one is justified to discriminate against it no matter how broken or fractured the language.
Tan’s mother managed to express herself with people in her life using her Broken English; it is this same broken English that shaped Tan into what she is today. Had her mother stooped to intimidation, probably Tan wouldn’t have grown up to become a writer.
It is a person’s point of view that matters; therefore, people should not be intimidated by those who think they know the standard language from giving their points of view.
Chen, Sylvia & Bond, Michael. “Explaining language priming effects: Further evidence for ethnic affirmation among Chinese-English bilinguals.” Journal of language and social psychology 26.1 (2007): 398-406.
Feng, Hui. “Different languages, different cultures, different language ideologies, different linguistic models.” Journal of multicultural discourses 4.2 (2009): 151-164. Print.
Tan Amy (1990). “Mother Tongue.” Three penny Review (1990): 76-80. Print.
Zeng, Li. “Diasporic Self, Cultural Other: Negotiating Ethnicity through Transformation in the Fiction of Tan and Kingston.” Language and Literature XXVIII (2003): 1-15. Print.