Interplay of Language and Identity in 'How to Tame a Wild Tongue'


Embarking on the narratives penned by Gloria Anzaldua and Amy Tan is akin to delving into a treasure trove of insights surrounding the intricate interplay between language and personal identity. As we journey through their experiences, these two literary voices beckon us to ponder the multifaceted challenges and profound significance embedded in the way we communicate in our everyday lives.

The Different "Englishes"

Amy Tan's exploration of various "Englishes" resonates universally, capturing the nuanced reality of adapting language to different contexts.

It's akin to possessing a toolbox of linguistic expressions, selecting the most fitting one for a given situation. The informal "broken" or "limited" English takes center stage in familial conversations, while a more polished, proper English emerges when the audience extends beyond the intimate circle. Tan's emphasis on the transformative power of words is palpable, illustrating how language can evoke emotions, shape perceptions, and convey complex ideas. The vivid anecdotes of her mother encountering discrimination due to her imperfect English serve as poignant reminders of the societal biases against non-traditional linguistic forms.

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Shifting our focus to Gloria Anzaldua, her exploration of Chicano Spanish challenges the pejorative label of it being a "bastard language." Anzaldua confronts the prevailing societal notion that Chicano Spanish is somehow inferior, shedding light on the discomfort experienced by the Chicano community regarding their own linguistic expressions.

The Language as a Part of Ethnic Identity

Anzaldua fervently argues for a paradigm shift, asserting that one's native tongue is not just a mode of expression but an integral component of ethnic identity.

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In her view, denigrating her language equates to denigrating her very essence. She shares a poignant anecdote from her school days, where speaking Spanish resulted in punishment and accusations. This vivid illustration becomes a stark portrayal of the challenges faced by immigrants whose native languages deviate from the dominant linguistic norm. The teacher's unwavering English-only stance, despite constitutional protections, serves as a stark reminder of the uphill battle confronted by those navigating language differences.

Language and Ethnic Identity: Personal Reflection

Translating these narratives into personal reflections unveils the resonance with the experiences of international students, myself included. The initial hurdles faced upon arriving in a new country, attempting to articulate thoughts, and registering for an ESL school mirrored the challenges outlined by Tan. Despite the explicit intention of improving English proficiency, these early encounters often felt like a hurried dismissal rooted in language proficiency judgments. This personal anecdote seamlessly aligns with Tan's exploration of the baggage each individual carries, underscoring the pivotal role language plays in shaping interactions and external perceptions.

In resonance with Anzaldua's narrative, my own experiences echo the challenges faced by immigrants endeavoring to find their voice in a new linguistic landscape. The societal expectation to swiftly assimilate into the dominant language inadvertently sidelines those still grappling with language nuances. This personal connection reinforces the argument that language proficiency is not merely a utilitarian skill but a crucial factor for immigrants aiming for seamless integration into a new community.


Concluding our immersive journey into the realms of language and identity, the resounding lesson is that mastery of words transcends mere communication. Tan and Anzaldua, through their narratives, illuminate the notion that language proficiency is not just a tool but a vital fragment of our identity puzzle. Their stories echo a compelling call to redefine societal perceptions regarding languages that diverge from conventional norms. It's a plea to embrace the diversity inherent in linguistic expression and recognize the intrinsic value of every language in shaping our collective human identity.

Updated: Jan 17, 2024
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Interplay of Language and Identity in 'How to Tame a Wild Tongue'. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Interplay of Language and Identity in 'How to Tame a Wild Tongue' essay
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