English Literature » Notes » Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” : Rhetorical Analysis
Amy Tan's Mother Tongue

Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” : Rhetorical Analysis

In the essay Mother Tongue, Amy Tan believes that everyone speaks different languages in certain settings and are labeled by the way they speak. The author interested by how language is utilized in our daily life” and uses language as a daily part of her work as a writer. Throughout her life she recognizes her struggles applying proper English instead of the broken used in her home.

She became aware of how she spoke was when giving a lecture about her book The Joy Club and realized her mother who was in the audience did not understand what was being discussed. This was because she never used proper English in her home or talking to her mother. It is her belief utilizing proper English and broken English is essential in communication depending who you are talking to. The next time she noticed this about her English was when walking with her parents, she made the statement “not waste money that way”. This is due to the language barrier in her household that is used only by her family. Her mother was raised in China and spoke Mandarin her English always came across as broken to everyone outside the family, which made it hard for her to understand when someone spoke proper English.

Amy insured everyone that met her mother’s that even though her English seem “broken” it does not reflect her intelligence. Even though people placed this label on her mother of the way she spoke she rejected the idea that her mother English is “limited”. She highlights the fact that even her mother recognizes that her opportunities and interactions in life are limited by the English language. Amy Tan realizes that how you communicate within the family dynamic, especially for immigrant families plays a large role in in the growth of the child. It allowed her to acknowledge that perhaps her family’s language had an effect on the opportunities she was provided in her life. For instance in her experience, she notices that Asian students actually do better in math tests than in language tests, and she questions whether or not other Asian students are discouraged from writing or directed in the direction of math and science. Tan changed her major from pre-med to English and she decided to become a freelance writer even though her boss told her she couldn’t write. She eventually went on to write fiction, she celebrates the fact that she did not follow the expectations that people had of her because of her struggle with writing and language. With her mother as an influence Tan decided to write her stories for people like her, people with “broken” or “limited” English. In the essay, Mother Tongue, Amy Tan goes to great length to persuade the readers of her experiences being multicultural family that the effectiveness and the price an individual pays by insuring that their ideas and intents do not change due to the way they speak, whether they use “perfect” or “broken” English. Tan also clarifies to the readers that her “mother’s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands”. She uses many examples to take readers into her life experiences to discover this truth. She utilizes the first person view throughout the essay and adds her firsthand knowledge of growing up with a multiple languages spoken in the home. This was done to validate of her argument and shine a light on the importance of this issue in her life as well as her culture.

The examples she uses is when she tells a story of her mother’s struggles with a stockbroker because of her “broken “ English, Tan quotes her mother’s words “Why he not send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money”. Amy Tan did this to give the readers an idea on how this particular situation played out and how her mother’s English affected outcome. The authors writing is also very emotional and somewhat angry at throughout the essay, it makes her and her family very sympathetic figures. Tan’s specific concern is being shunned by both white-America and the Asian population. This also further her strengthen her views that puts her in an equally frustrating position from the perspective of Americans with the stereotypical views of Asians. Many people in college looked at her funny for being an English major instead of Math as a major. Individuals of Chinese decent are associated with math or science and that is because of the stereotyping that Asian receive. This is based on studies being conducted that a majority of Asians do in fact excel in mathematics and sciences.

Amy also observed that many of her instructors towards math and science as well and was even told by a former boss that writing was not biggest attribute and should focus more onto her account management skills. The author states that “perhaps they also have teachers who are steering them away from writing and into math and science, which is what happened to me”. The author utilized the nonfiction essay form to discuss how language played a major role in her life. This also allowed her to show the readers how her relationship with the English language and her mother has changed over the years. In her essay, Mother Tongue Amy Tan describes numerous incidences that helped shape her views as a writer. The uses of first persons account to describe her experiences with her mother and how her mother’s use of the English language influenced her upbringing, such as a story her mother once told her about a guest at her mother’s wedding “Du Yusong having business like fruit stand. Like off-the-street kind. He is Du like Du Zong – but not Tsung-ming Island people….That man want to ask Du Zong father take him in like become own family. Du Zong father wasn’t look down on him, but didn’t take seriously, until that man big like become a mafia. Now important person, very hard to inviting him. She may have chosen to focus on this type sentence structure because it gave the readers sense of awareness into her life and also to make it easier for them to understand the factors that shaped her style as a writer. In conclusion after reading Mother Tongue, it became very apparent that her mother played an important part in the author’s life. However, after further reading, I determined that she could have been addressing a specific group of people. She is also explaining her story to people who read her works, since so much of her literature seems to be influenced by how she views of the English language. Amy Tan goes to great lengths in the essay to give bits and pieces of how she overcame the perception that many people had of her, since she did not do as well with English-related schooling as she did with the Sciences, or Math.

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