Although Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” is a fairly short story, it manages to wrap the reader completely in its narrative and recreate the microcosm of the author’s life by using a myriad of intricate details. Tan incorporates quite many descriptive details in the text, primarily, adjectives and adverbs, to add a dimension to her story: “Her thoughts were imperfect” (Tan 699). However, these are not the descriptive details but the dialogues and fragments that make the text distinguishable. Tan uses the examples of her mother’s speech masterfully to get her point across: “So mad he lie to me, losing me money” (Tan 699).
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The opening paragraph to the essay sounds very humble, simultaneously preparing the reader for a personal opinion about the issue of language. The opening line allows the reader to have their own opinion while appreciating that one of the authors. It seems that Tan decided to open the paragraph by denying her authority on language to emphasize the necessity to have an open discussion about the use of language. The beginning of the text informs the reader that language issues are up to debate and that having a dialogue on the subject matter is important.
In describing her experience with different variations of the English language, Tan mentions several types of it. Namely, the author describes the academic language that she has learned to use for public speaking, her mother’s language as English-speaking people see it, and as the author sees it. Thus, Tan explains that the latter version of English lies at the intersection of the two cultures and captures the passion and imagery of both cultures.
According to Tan, writing for the academic audience made her use complex structures and vocabulary to increase the perceived weight of her message. The impact of academia appears to be rather prominent in Tan’s essay as she uses terms such as “semantic opposites” (700). At the same time, the text remains accessible for understanding to any audience, with sentences such as “She wouldn’t budge” conveying the meaning clearly (Tan 701). It seems that Tan believes her audience to use different variations of English yet has a clear understanding of its standard version.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Norton Field Guide to Writing: with Readings and Handbook, 5th ed., edited by Richard Bullock, Maureen Daly Goggin, and Francine Weinberg, W. W. Norton & Company, 2019, pp. 697-703.