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Mother Tongue, by Amy Tan [...] how the author uses rhetorical strategies to make her argument, while critiquing cultural standards. Amy Tan writes of the different forms of English she uses in her life, while illustrating the myriad ways that people express themselves depending on their audience and their needs. Everyone uses different phrases and expressions depending on their surroundings and their goals. Tan's essay applies to all of us, and because of this, it is easier to read and easier to apply to everyday and classroom situations.
Throughout Amy Tan's essay, she compares the English she uses everyday, to the English she uses with family and close friends. She uses the English she has learned as a tool to express the stilted English that makes up her cultural memories and the words of her mother. She writes, "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" (Tan). Therefore, some of Tan's earliest memories include memories of her mother's stilted English, which is both comforting and cultural to her. She knows her mother's education and ideas are not stilted, but also recognizes that her limited way of speaking might make her appear "limited" or less than perfect to other listeners. She notes, "I've heard other terms used, 'limited English,' for example. But they seem just as bad, as if everything is limited, including people's perceptions of the limited English speaker" (Tan). Tan recognizes the way people speak may categorize them for listeners, and yet that categorization could often not be further from the truth. How a person speaks is as much a part of their cultural upbringing as it is about formalized and written language, as Tan's experience clearly indicates. Her culture is interwoven with her language, and so, she has many different options open to her to communicate, and her style depends just as much on her audience as her education and understanding of the language. In fact, Tan notes, "Sociologists and linguists probably will tell you that a person's developing language skills are more influenced by peers. But I do think that the language spoken in the family, especially in immigrant families which are more insular, plays a large role in shaping the language of the child" (Tan). Families play an important part in the development of their children, and language is an important part of that development. Tan's embarrassment about her mother's English is just one part of the culture that shaped her as she grew up. To combat her embarrassment, she used English as a tool to create an astonishing career for herself. Thus, Tan used the language of her youth to form her future.
Tan's essay also clearly indicates just how people use language, and how English is used quite differently in differing situations. In Tan's essay, she uses one, comfortable and broken form of English with her mother and her husband, and much more formal, conventional English in her writing and speaking engagements. Most people do the same thing, whether they are aware of it or not. For example, teenagers may use slang and street language with their friends, while using quite different language in the classroom or with their parents. Scientists may use technical jargon and scientific shortcuts with their colleagues, while using less formal language with their families and friends. There are differing levels of language and language usage in just about everything people do in their lives, and so, one form of language can never serve all the different uses people have for the spoken and written word. Much of this difference is based on culture, as well as education. Tan's experience clearly indicates that culture and ethnicity creates barriers between people, and creates misunderstandings regarding a person's intelligence, social status, and even ability to learn. Tan's essay discusses the difficulties Asian-American children have in learning the varied concepts of English, and contends this may be why so many Asian-American children enter careers like engineering and science. She writes, "[...] Asian students, as a whole, always do significantly better on math achievement…[continue]
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