An Analysis of Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue

Completed in partial fulfillment of Unit 1: Writing Your Narrative


“Language is a tool: simple truth complex idea, visual image, evoke an emotion.” Par.1

Amy Tan chose to introduce her story with this line and in so doing foreshadows what she herself chooses to do throughout the story. She manipulates language to incorporate several stories that forces the reader to become engrossed in the material and connect to each situation. Amy Tan’s “all the englishes I grew up with” elaborates upon this idea of English being multifaceted and each facet being just as needed and present in our communities. This foreshadowing reinforces the final highlight at the end of the story.

Tan uses the literary method of comparison and contrast within her examples. Paragraph two illustrates the examples of standardized English taught in schools but not experienced at home with those she loves. This juxtaposes with par.3 whereby she gives the language of love and associates this nonstandard English employed with love and home. Her husband did not notice her code switching because their 20 years of union evoked the same language that is used strictly for family. This idea of language for family and loved ones being different to that of general public use implies the idea of rigidity and indifference being associated with the standard English tongue. There were also examples of comparison and contrast in the physical words used in the examples. The organization or example structure of a word for word “translation” of her broken English: pg. 2 “why he don’t send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money’ and the author in her adolescent tongue said, “ yes, I’m getting rather concerned. You had agreed to send the check two weeks ago but it hasn’t arrived” also illustrates this idea of compare and contrast employed by the writer.

Amy Tan engages in internal reflection in paragraph four and it almost reads as though the author forgets she is talking to the readers but is fighting her internal battles with the contrasting “englishes”.

“I wince as it bothered me that I can think of no other way to describe it other than “broken” as if it were damaged and needed to be fixed, as if it lacked a certain wholeness. “

The author reflects on why she cant find another way to describe it. The realization that society has shaped her to regard her mother as limited or something to be ashamed of, shocks her and forces her to engage in self-analysis as to how her personal views were completely controlled by society. In paragraph five, she elaborates on the correlation that the type of English spoken directly corresponded to the person you were and the complexity of self. When she was growing up, the evidence that reflected this thought pattern was that of her mother’s interactions with even service people. These people who in their own livelihood is generally deemed of lower status were able to look down or judge her mother for her speech.

Ironic word choice: “impeccable broken English” her mother was shouting at the stockbroker in New York. The word choice of having impeccable and broken side by side carries the intended irony that it is perfect and broken. In its brokenness, it is without fault. Her mother was able to bring her point across in her own version of English thereby making it impeccable as communication was facilitated and this is the purpose of language. However by it being broken, it was not received by the opposite party. This was further illustrated when Tan brought up the hospital story. The example of a life and death situation being ignored due to the hospital staff not only inability but moreover lack of desire to accommodate someone who they deem as inconsequential. The barrier of language is not only displayed but also highlighted to ensure that those who cannot ascribe to societal norms are determined lesser beings and in so doing do not deserve equal treatment whether this be in the form of pay, medical care or basic human respect.

In the last paragraph, when she found her reader it was a parallel for her finding herself. She began using all the englishes she grew up with and recognized that no one was less than the other. Neither English nor Chinese structure but she was able to capture the passion and the message, which is what language is all about. Tan manipulated language so that her reader identified with the stories and became Tan. Ass an immigrant, one can personally connect with the stories being told and therefore could have been about any immigrant second-generation woman whose household language is not English. Tan was instrumental in her choice of withholding her heritage and origin language to make it impact a wider range in her audience.

People tend to dismiss what they don’t directly relate to and majority of people in other immigrant cultures would have removed their own emotions from the situation had her origins been highlighted in the introduction. Her organization of the entire prose allowed you to connect and have the examples resonate within. This in itself sparked a parallelism that most people may not have felt before. In so doing, Tan was able to unify all immigrant children as we can all relate to this concept. In contrast to Tan, I can speak on my personal experience of the quality of the English being irrelevant when speaking to certain personnel due to the existence of an accent. Some Americans still mentally block or judge you immediately once an accent is heard. This subtle indicator of difference in identity is seen as lesser than in several states. The mother tongue of an immigrant is not something to be feared or rejected but as illustrated in Tan’s Mother Tongue, it is to be embraced.