Mother Tongue

Raise. Native. Source. Origin. Protector. These are all words that can be interchanged with the word “mother. ” Like anything else all language has an origin. Likewise, language is something that comes from a source but changes, or is raised, over time. Different languages are native to different people and some language is protected over time, whether through books or the human mind.

In her work “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan explores the creation of her language and her mother’s role in it through her literary skills to relate to the reader, like me. As a first generation Asian American, Amy Tan believes that her English derived from multiple “Englishes. ” The “simple” English she uses when speaking to her mother, the “broken” English her mother uses, her translation of her mother’s Chinese which she considers “watered down,” and the perfect English her mother would use to translate her own Chinese if she could. So with this reader (her mother) in mind…I began to write stories using all the Englishes I grew up with” (38), Tan continues to discusses how her “Englishes” and her mother have made an impact on her writing, and her successful career as an Asian American woman in American literature. Through her personification, Amy Tan makes “English” something that is ever changing, being raised and nurtured. She uses organization skills to lead the reader through how she first realized her different “Englishes,” how they have impact her life and how they have affected her writing.

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Even someone who is not bilingual is appealed to by Tan use of pathos in her recollection of her mother’s struggle receiving her test results for her brain tumor, because of discrimination she received for her poor English. “She said they did not seem to have any sympathy when she told them she was anxious to know the exact diagnosis, since her husband and son had both died of brain tumors” (36). Tan also uses pathos in the fact that she only ever refers to her mother as “mother” and writes from a first person perspective.

She also persuaded the reader through logos with her examples of achievement test questions and how what seems like a simple answer can became more difficult when looked at from a different perspective. Amy Tan claims that through her writing she wants to capture her mother’s “…passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech, and the nature of her thoughts” (38). She succeeded in accomplishing this through her use of sentence structure, organization, and literary devices. Her idea of how English is not something you learn in chool but rather something that is nourished, raised and shaped by different sources, is insightful and well expressed. Her creation of the word “Englishes” further adds to the idea that words are not just words, they have meaning. She well portrays that there is no benefit in using large words or complicated phrases, but in understanding. Everyone encounters different experiences in life that shape them as a person as well as their language. Amy Tans “Mother Tongue” explored her individual journey with language.

However, reading her journey has put my own into perspective, as I’m sure it did with many of her readers. Ultimately, you are the mother of your own language. Though you might have some influences stronger than others, for Tan it was her mother, you are the one that decides how and if those influences impact your language. You are the source and the origin. You raise your language. You protect. “I sought to preserve the essence, but neither an English nor a Chinese structure” (38) now her many “Englishes” that have formed her “mother tongue” will be protected not only through her writing but through her.

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