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Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

1784 words - 8 pages

July 17, 2016

In the article "Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan she writes about both hers and her mother's experience with language. Tan admits she is "not a scholar or English or literature" (Tan 2006) but expresses her thoughts and supplies empirical evidence about how both she and others judged her mother's intelligence by how she spoke English. Tan introduces us to the concept of "Englishes", i.e. the English used in her household; the English she was taught in school; the English she writes in. Tan writes about the possibility that students, particularly Asian Americans, may be steered away from careers in Literature or creative writing because of the "broken or limited"(Tan, 2006) ...view middle of the document...

They are viewed as less expressive than someone who speaks English as their native language.
One way in which the article supports this point is when Tan writes about her empirical evidence: "people in department stores, at banks and in restaurants did not take her mother seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her." (Tan, 2006)
I do not feel I can question Tan's empirical evidence because this was her personal experience about treatment her mother received while out shopping or engaged in other activities such as banking or eating out due to her use of "broken English." (Tan, 2006)
I felt a deep reaction to this because of my experiences growing up in a home with grandparents who spoke Italian and had very limited knowledge of the English language. Additionally, my father who was born in the South (Georgia) spoke with a drawl and was quite conscious of how he was perceived in the liberal northeast (Boston). I felt keenly many of the feelings Tan describes in her article, particularly the shame due to the use of limited English and English spoken with a drawl. I think in some ways this reaction by society to those who speak broken English contributes to the silos that exist between those for whom English is their primary language and those who speak with limited English. We see this demonstrated in every day life when nationalities do not mingle or socialize. Growing up, my grandparents had no friends who were not Italian; my mother and her siblings were told to marry Italian Catholics although my mother was the only one of 6 surviving children who did not marry an Italian Catholic but a southern American Baptist. The end result was that her father did not speak to her for many years although her mother did.

Tan further supports her goal of different "Englishes" (Tan, 2006) by writing about how her own Mother was aware of how people judged her by her use of the English language. However, her mother uses what I consider to be harsh language as Tan describes the words her mother uses with her stockbroker, such as "he lie to me or losing me money." (Tan, 2006) What Tan doesn't explain is why her mother felt this way--was it because she assumed her broker would cheat her because of the way she spoke or did she have evidence she was being cheated?

Another point from Tan's article is when she writes about how her mother "used to have me call people on the phone and pretend I was she. I had to get on the phone" (Tan, 2006) and pretend to be her mother but using her own adolescent voice.
A seemingly paradox is that her mother seems to understand English quite well. She reads English language publications such as Forbes, listens to radio and TV shows and converses easily with "her broker." (Tan, 2006) What Tan doesn't explain is why her mother didn't incorporate more of the English language modeling she was exposed to in her own style of speaking.
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