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As a southern girl growing up in rural Wakulla County, I have experienced prejudice based on my southern dialect and language style. Dialects and word use play a powerful role in linking specific populations together with a common bond. As powerful as this connection is to bring people together of the same group it is just as powerful to pull people apart that are not in the same group. Amy Tan writes about the power of language in “Mother Tongue”.
Tan’s thesis statement – “I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth”(Tan 633) – sets the tone for the article. I am in agreement with Tan’s opinion with the power of language. Even though I’m not bilingual, I have experienced similar misconceptions because of my southern drawl and language style.
Language affects the way people treat you, the opportunities that are given, and your perception of yourself.
People base there opinions of you, especially if they just met you, on the way you speak. I can relate to the mistreatment that Tan’s mother experienced from the stockbroker. I can understand Tan’s mothers frustration when she said, “Why he don’t send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money.”(Tan 635) She is not stupid, she gets it. Tan’s mother knows she is being mistreated because of the way she uses the English language.
If you have a different accent people notice it. I have found that people often judge me based on my southern accent. They make fun of my accent and imply that I am not as smart as they are. Little do they know, I am very intelligent and take advanced classes in school. Often after they get to know me better they realize that I am smart and I am capable of more than they originally thought..
Unfortunately, first impressions can affect how people treat you. Tan goes on to descried a situation her mother was in, in which she was being ignored by hospital staff and was not given important information about her health because she used broken English. I too, have been in a similar situation where I was with a group of people who did not have a southern accent and the group ignored my comments and opinions. When Tan thinks back on her life she wonders if “her mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life.”(Tan 635) She goes on to explain how her language skills affected her achievement tests, IQ tests and the SAT. The precision of math and the lack of language use in math allowed her to score higher on math tests. This lead to a misconception by her teachers that she would perform better in math and science related fields as opposed to more creative fields. Like Tan, my language style has affected my academic achievement. I often scored poorly on oral assignments.
Instructors have told me that my southern accent and language style hurts me from making a better grade. My mother also has missed opportunities because of her southern accent. She has a college degree and 20 years of experience yet she has recently lost job opportunities to less qualified candidates. Your use of language also affects the way you see yourself. Tan touches on her mother’s perception of herself, “My mother realized the limitations of her English as well.”(Tan 636) Tan’s mother realized how her use of language affected the way people treated her. She would have Tan pretend to be her on the telephone so that people would not ignore or take advantage of her. I am more quiet than usual when I am around people without a southern accent, because I am expecting them to get the wrong impression about me. Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” is an eye-opening story on how people are mistreated and over looked because of the dialect and language style they use.
After reading this narrative people will become more aware of their perception and treatment of others based on their language style and dialect. People with different language styles often miss opportunities because others misjudge them and do not look beyond the way they sound to see their full potential and all they have to offer. The way you speak determines the way others treat you and opportunities that you are given. When I think back over my life and the experiences I have had with others I certainly can agree with Tan’s theory on the power of language and how it affects the way you are treated, the opportunities you are given and the view you have of yourself.
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