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“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan Essay

In “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan, Tan explores the connection between one’s language and their identity, she examines not only how language affects the development of ones identity, but also the role it has in the way one is perceived by society. Tan shares a few anecdotes illustrating the role language played in shaping her own personal identity. “I think my mother’s English almost had an affect on limiting my possibilities in life as well.” Tan goes on to explore the idea that the “broken English” she heard spoken by her mother at home ultimately led to her doing poorly in English, at least when compared to her science and math scores. This led her teachers to steer her away from writing and more towards math and science. In Tan’s case her “rebellious nature” led her to become an English major her first year of college. Many other Asian-American students are not as headstrong as Tan and therefore are often pushed into careers in math and science, this undoubtedly affects one’s identity as careers are a major component of an individual’s life.

Another way language can be seen affecting Tan’s identity in mother tongue is in the way tan uses, interprets, and thinks about words. “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.” Here Tan was refering to the language of her mother, which obviously played a huge role in how Tan herself interpreted and used words. The final connection between language and identity that can be ascertained from this piece is how often the assumptions about one’s identity made based upon the way they speak are often false.

This was very much the case for Tan’s mother, towards the beginning of the piece Tan makes it clear to the audience that while her mother’s English may be “limited” this in no way reflects how much English she comprehends. Tan also discusses how, when she was growing up, her mother’s “limited” English limited Tan’s perception of her, “…because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect.” was the logic behind Tan’s view of her mother when she was growing up. This was the view most people seemed to have of Tan’s mother, which is an incorrect perception of her mother’s actual intelligence and comprhension of the English language.


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