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Analysis of Amy Tan’s and James Baldwin’s Works

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BismiAllah hir Rahman nir Raheem

Rhetorical Analysis: Amy Tan’s “mother Tongue” vs. James Baldwin “If black English isn’t a language, then tell me, what is?”

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In this essay I’ve compared rhetorical analysis of Amy Tan’s mother tongue with James Baldwin “If Black English isn’t a language, then tell me, what is?

As the title of the story, Amy Tan’s essay “Mother tongue” focuses on the use of English language by her mother, which she stated as “broken English”.

Her mother was a Chinese and English was her second language. She had never been taught in English or never learned this language professionally. Hence, use of her language was because of her need while living in USA. Amy Tan stresses that she herself used different types of “Englishes” during her life course. She was taught in school the native English with proper grammar, while at home she used typical off the track English while communicating with her mother and family members.

James Baldwin “If black English isn’t a language, then tell me, what is?” author stresses that blacks have a specific way of speaking but still it’s the English they speak. Baldwin stresses it is not an argument at all that Black English is not English.

In this essay Amy’s ethos and pathos are clearly defined. Her ethos appeals are proper use of English language with correct grammar. In addition, she uses language with appropriate voice while keeping in mind her audience.

Baldwin’s use of language and vocabulary is perfect and adjusts according to his audience. He presents a fair minded argument about the importance and history of Black English. In his essay ethos clearly defines that Black English must not be ridiculed for what it is now but actually it happens in all the countries that people belonging to different cultures and tribes have different way of speaking and different languages even if they belong to one nation and one language.

When Amy speaks to her audience she’s sincere in what she speaks and how she speaks it. She uses simple and easy language

Baldwin’s vocabulary use is not very simple. But he uses complex words and phrases. His mastery of English language is clear as one goes through the passage. First Baldwin clearly defines what really language is and what role it plays in communication. The role of language is to characterize a person and describe its narrator but in case of Black English, Blacks never want to be defined by the way they speak and they even do not want to accept this different kind of language because for this language they’re not being recognized.

“Language, incontestably, reveals the speaker. Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other–and, in this case, the other is refusing to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize him.” (If Black English)

In Amy’s mother tongue essay her expression is clear and comprehensible. She doesn’t dodge with the reader or never use difficult words or hidden ideas. Instead her writing is very clear and understandable. She herself writes,

“I later decided I should envision a reader for the stories I would write. And the reader I decided upon was my mother……..English I spoke to my mother, which for lack of a better term might be described as “simple”;” (Amy Tan)

Baldwin uses complex sentences in his essay so that he wants to tell the reader that he is a well educated and he is a knowledgeable man. His intended audience for this essay were all Americans especially Whites, it is to give them more understanding where Black English came from. Baldwin talks about how African slaves came to the United States chained each other and unable to communicate with each other as there was no common language at that time. Language evolves in necessity to communicate with each other. Baldwin also point out of being careful when blacks are speaking their own dialect with the Whites so that the Whites people will not attack the black people for saying their own secret language. In both essays they convince the audience differently for Baldwin he wants his audience to trust in him and believe what he says as an educated man. While for Amy Tan she wants her audience to share her personal anecdotes.

In Amy Tan, Amy writes that when her mother read her story she said, “So easy to read.” Her essay and other stories were written in very simple and clear English that is understandable even by those whose English was not first language. That’s the main ethos of her writing that grasp full attention of a reader. Her vocabulary use is also appropriate and at the right level where it is needed. As she makes use of her vocabulary according to the audience she’s addressing. Her grammar is accurate and flow of text is smooth and consistent all over the essay that makes it easy and comprehensible for the reader. The easy and interesting context of the text is more appealing to the audience.

Pathos appeals are evident in Baldwin’s essay. According to Baldwin it is a common observation that people of different cast, ethnic and religion have some what different way and style of speaking and some have totally different language, so why do we discriminate blacks if they’ve their own style of speaking English. His use of grammar and vocabulary is accurate. He presents an open and clear argument about importance of Black English and its uniqueness.

Baldwin also gives clear examples of other nations like a Frenchman living in Paris will speak differently than the one living in Marselles, Quebec, Guadeloupe, Senegal or Martinique – though their common language is French. But due to their different locations they might not share same accent and speech.

Amy’s Mother tongue also includes substantially prominent pathos. In this essay she used specific emotions and feelings for her mother. All the way along in essay Amy is more concerned about her mother’s use of English language. Though her mother’s expressions were not correct but she was able to deliver the meaning in whatever broken English she used. At several points she uses emotionally loaded and concrete language with vivid pictures. She writes,

Though, Tan has good command over the English language the way she uses language is to paint pictures for the readers. She always speaks with her mother in a way that her mother could understand and speak. She uses broken English in communicating with her mother, as this is what her mother could speak and understand. This was just to honor her mother.

Baldwin uses different types of example not from his own life, but in other country such as Europe. For example the influence of language in Europe by explaining that “much of the tension in the Basque countries, and in Wales, is due to the Basque and Welsh determination not to allow their languages to be destroyed”. And he continues saying that “the range of accents on that damp little island make England coherent for the English and totally incomprehensible for everyone else. To open your mouth in England is (if I may use black English) to put your business in the street”. From the sentence above we can see that he is a well educated man that knows the European history and geography.

Amy’s emotional tone is clear when she says, “But to me, my mother’s English is perfectly clear, perfectly natural. It’s my mother tongue. Her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world.” (Mother Tongue)

Amy truly expresses emotions of her mother. People usually never paid attention to her mother what she said because of her limited English. A language of a person and his communication gives a specific image. With a speech of a person we can recognize whether a person is educated, uneducated or illiterate. Usually the people who speak well their own native language, but then if they migrate to other countries they might face problem in their expression. If they’re not fully aware of the new country’s language then the native people think of them as not educated. A person who is unable to communicate his thoughts perfectly is an imperfect person in the eyes of others. And usually people do not pay attention to such person who cannot speak well with them. Amy Tan expressed her feelings about her mother and how she faced problems in her dealings. According to her,

Baldwin’s essay is filled with emotions of how blacks are being discriminated not only because of their differential accent of English but just because their skin is black. It is this lack of communication that they were enslaved for years. They were given chance to move forward not for their own benefit but for the use of their masters. It is quite evident from his writing that blacks are always subjected to prejudice and unfairness. The way they speak is their normal accent of speaking English and it happens to all nations that different ethnic groups have different way of speaking. But its not their speech but its their color that matters.

James Baldwin in his essay wants to decrease the amount of discrimination created by language and break down the barriers created by considering different varieties of English to be inferior.  He mentions that Black English is a valid language because of the role it plays in Black Americans; it serves as a means of black to control their own power and circumstances. He talks about the culture definition that the Black Americans have for example, in the past the slavery came from different tribes and speak different languages. The Blacks Americans takes time to create the language but with the help of alchemy and science they transformed ancient elements into new language. “The slave began the formation of the black church, and it is within this unprecedented tabernacle that Black English began to be formed”. (Baldwin)

Baldwin describes the reality for black children in the American system. He says “ the Brutal truth is that bulk of white people , except as this could serve the white purposes”. In this sentence we can see the sad circumstances of black children. In the past the black Americans have less education than the Whites. This results of many Blacks being in prison for crimes they committed and the vast amount of homeless and beggars on the streets.

            We can see from both essays is being well written and powerful. For Amy Tan she writes more on her experiences while for Baldwin he is passionate on writing about the subject on Black English and the powerful words about the biblical aspects that he wrote. He writes for educated Black Americans but also for the Whites to learn more about the interesting culture they practice and understands their language so that they.

Works cited

Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue

James Baldwin’s “If Black English is not a language, then tell me, what is?


Cite this Analysis of Amy Tan’s and James Baldwin’s Works

Analysis of Amy Tan’s and James Baldwin’s Works. (2016, Sep 07). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/analysis-of-amy-tans-and-james-baldwins-works/

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