A Summary and Analysis of Amy Tan’s ‘Mother Tongue’
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘Mother Tongue’ is an essay by Amy Tan, an American author who was born to Chinese immigrants in 1952. Tan wrote ‘Mother Tongue’ in 1990, a year after her novel The Joy Luck Club was a runaway success. In the essay, Tan discusses her relationship with language, and how her mother’s influence has shaped her use of English, as well as her attitude to it.
You can read ‘Mother Tongue’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of Amy Tan’s essay below.
‘Mother Tongue’: summary
Amy Tan begins her essay by offering her personal opinions on the English language. She recalls a recent talk she gave, when, upon realising her mother was in the audience, she was confronted with the fact that the formal standard English she was using in the public talk was at odds with the way she spoke at home with her mother. She then contrasts this with a moment when she was walking down the street with her mother and she used the more clipped, informal English she naturally uses with her mother, and her husband.
Tan calls this a ‘language of intimacy’. She points out that her mother is intelligent and reads things which Tan herself cannot begin to understand. But many people who hear her mother speak can only partially understand what she is saying, and some even say they can understand nothing of what she says, as if she were speaking pure Chinese to them.
Tan calls this clipped informal language her ‘mother tongue’, because it was the first language she learned and it helped to shape the way she saw the world and made sense of it.
Tan notes the difficulty of finding a term to describe the style of English her mother, as a Chinese immigrant to the United States, speaks. Many of the terms, such as ‘broken’ or ‘limited’, are too negative and imply her English is imperfect.
She acknowledges that when she was growing up, she was ashamed of the way her mother spoke. Her mother, too, was clearly aware of how her use of the language affected how seriously people took her, for she used to get her daughter to phone people and pretend to be ‘Mrs Tan’.
She observes that her mother is treated differently because of the way she speaks. She recounts a time when the doctors at the hospital were unsympathetic towards her mother when they lost the results of the CAT scan they had undertaken on her brain, but as soon as the hospital – at her mother’s insistence – called her daughter, they issued a grovelling apology.
Amy Tan also believes her mother’s English affected her daughter’s school results. Tan acknowledges that, whilst she did well in maths and science, subjects with a single correct answer, she was less adept at English. She struggled with tests which asked students to pick a correct word to fill in the blanks in a sentence because she was distracted by the imaginative and poetic possibilities of other words.
Indeed, Tan conjectures that many Asian American children are probably encouraged to pursue careers in jobs requiring maths and science rather than English for this reason. But because she is rebellious and likes to challenge people’s assumptions about her, Tan bucked this trend. She majored in English at college and began writing as a freelancer.
She began writing fiction in 1985, and after several false starts trying to find her own style and idiom, she began to write with her mother in mind as the ideal reader for her stories. Indeed, her mother read drafts of her work.
And Tan drew on all the Englishes , plural, that she knew: the ‘broken’ English her mother used, the ‘simple’ English Tan used when talking to her mother, the ‘watered-down’ Chinese her mother used, and her mother’s ‘internal’ language which conveyed her passion, intent, imagery, and the nature of her thoughts. When her mother told her that what she had written was easy to read, Tan knew that she had succeeded in her aims as a writer.
‘Mother Tongue’: analysis
The title of Amy Tan’s essay is a pun on the expression ‘mother tongue’, referring to one’s first language. But Tan’s language, or ‘tongue’, has been shaped by her actual mother, whose first language (or mother tongue) was not English, but Chinese.
The different forms of English that mother and daughter speak are also a product of their backgrounds: whilst Tan’s mother is a Chinese immigrant to America, Tan was born in the United States and has grown up, and been educated, in an English-speaking culture.
Much of Tan’s 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club is about daughters and their relationships with their mothers. But Tan’s interest in language, both as a cultural marker and as a way of expressing thought and personality, is also a prevailing theme of the novel.
In this respect, if the parable ‘ Feathers from a Thousand Li Away ’ acts as preface to the novel, ‘Mother Tongue’, in effect, acts as a kind of postscript. It helps us to understand the way Tan approaches and uses language within the stories that make up The Joy Luck Club .
An overarching theme of Tan’s novel is mothers emigrating to America in the hope that their daughters will have better lives than they did. This is a key part of ‘Feathers from a Thousand Li Away’, and it helps us to understand Tan’s conflicted attitude towards her mother’s use of language as explored in ‘Mother Tongue’.
Many of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club , such as Betty St. Clair in ‘The Voice from the Wall’, feel isolated from those around them, never at home in America, and hyper-aware of their outsider status, despite becoming legal permanent citizens in the country. Tan’s autobiographical revelations in ‘Mother Tongue’ show us that her own mother struggled to be taken seriously among Americans, and Tan diagnoses this struggle as a result of her mother’s different way of speaking.
Tan, by contrast, used standard English – what used to be referred to, in loaded phrases, as ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ English – and was thus able to succeed in getting herself, and by extension her mother, taken seriously by others. Language is thus more than just a cultural marker: Tan reveals, in ‘Mother Tongue’, the extent to which it is a tool of power (or, depending on the use, powerlessness), particularly for those from migrant backgrounds.
In this connection, it is noteworthy that Tan chooses to focus on the school tests she undertook before concluding that her mother’s ‘broken’ style of English has been misunderstood – not just literally (by some people who’ve known her), but in terms of the misleading perceptions of her it has led others to formulate.
The class tests at school which reduced English proficiency to an ability to recognise a ‘correct’ answer are thus contrasted with Tan’s resounding final words of ‘Mother Tongue’, which see her seeking to capture the passion of her mother, the ‘nature of her thoughts’, and the imagery she uses: all things which her daughter has clearly inherited a respect for, and which school tests fail to capture or observe.
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Mother Tongue Analysis Essay
Over time, language has played a fundamental role in various societies across the globe. From enhancing simple things like general communication to creating a viable environment for social, economic, political and economic growth, language and literature have become very crucial tools in the growth of human life through constant progress. It is based on these reasons that some important aspects of language will be analyzed in this paper.
In essence, this paper seeks to analyze the essay Mother Tongue by Amy Tan, in which various aspects of language and rhetorical evaluation are detailed. It is important to note that Amy Tan not only uses the article to give us an insight into her world of writing and the continuous commitments she made to better her mastery of the English language, but she also expresses different rhetorical values and emotional aspects of her mother tongue that greatly helped in advancing her expertise in English and literature. It is upon these features of her language learning that the rhetorical evaluation, in this paper, will be done.
Topic Statement: An individual’s mother tongue contributes greatly to the advancement of one’s expertise and mastery of language and literature.
Thesis Statement: Even though there are many aspects and characteristics of mother tongue that are important in facilitating skill in language and literature, the most important ones are the educational qualifications and academic expertise, mastery in the use of emotions to express ideas, and the appeal to shared values of the audience.
Brief Summary of the Essay
In brief, the essay is a literary account given by Amy Tan about her life and how she gradually learned various aspects of the English language. Some of these issues include the differences between her “professional” English (the English she spoke at official forums like lectures or when writing) and her “intimate” English (the English she spoke at home with family and friends), the language and literature challenges brought by her mother tongue (Chinese) in speaking good English, and how we should generally strive to use simple English (or any language, for that matter) that is easy to understand by both native and non-native English speakers.
In expressing these important facts, ideas, notions and opinions, Amy Tan personalizes her talk by using her literature audience, her mother and her husband as examples of her mother tongue influence on her English.
These personal accounts of her life and the people close to her greatly help in passing the intended message to the readers since many people, especially audiences that use English as a second language, can easily relate to her personal experiences.
Analysis of Rhetorical Strategies
Is the author qualified.
Considering the fact that Amy Tan is not a native English speaker, she has strived to master the English language to the point that she earns a living out of her writings like the Joy Luck Club; it is evidently clear that she is indeed highly qualified as a good English writer and speaker.
In addition, Amy Tan’s good qualifications are demonstrated by the fact that she has been able to give over half a dozen talks to different groups of people on how to improve on their English. Furthermore, Amy is not a professional, she would have not been able to give these many lectures in an efficient way.
Finally, Amy Tan’s qualification and trustworthiness as an effective English communicator are made clear when her mother, who has a “limited” skills in English, is able to read Amy’s book until she gives the verdict “so easy to read”.
Does the author appeal to the shared values of her audience?
To a great extent, Amy Tan appeals to the shared values of her targeted audience, people whose English speaking or writing skills are somewhat influenced by their mother tongue. This literary appeal is, essentially, the reason Amy’s mother is able to read her book in an easy way.
Again, despite the influence of her Chinese mother tongue, Amy Tan still manages to master the English language and gives lectures to a professional audience while ensuring that she follows all the necessary English speaking skills principles.
As we move towards the end of her essay, Amy embraces the need to find a way of communicating and appealing specifically to audiences like her mother who needed simple English, the English that she grew up with. Being able to appeal to the values of both complex and simple English audiences is undoubtedly a great literary skill.
However, it is worth stating that there are some sections of the essay where Amy admits that her initial writings were majorly based on her life experiences and her environment. In as much as this may be viewed as a good thing, the writings do not entirely represent the happenings in other places that people struggle with the influence of mother tongue on their English. For example, the family routines, while she was growing up or the “judgment” calls she made when faced with tricky English tests, are not the same for all non-native English speakers.
Does the author use emotions effectively?
Amy Tan’s many adventures and experiences as she strived to learn English evoke a lot of feelings. For example, when she felt mad and rebellious when her mother did something that she thought was not good for her learning. On the other hand, she praises her mother and the influence of their mother tongue in shaping who she was as a writer.
There are also instances that Amy talks about how she felt about her writings and career progress as a writer. All these good and bad feelings clearly demonstrate her effectiveness as a speaker and writer on the use of emotions to make her readers feel or react to her work in a certain way.
Overall Evaluation of the Text’s Effectiveness
Through different language tools, personal experiences and literary expression of certain emotional issues, Amy Tan greatly communicates to her readers. Of course there are some instances in the essay that she overstates her experiences and opinions to the point of forgetting about her audiences and the need to be precise. Nonetheless, in overall, her essay can be said to be effective.
From the above analysis, it is evidently clear that a person’s qualifications and academic expertise, mastery in the use of emotions to express ideas, and the appeal to shared values of the targeted audience are key factors that greatly contribute towards the improvement or worsening of mother tongue’s influence on language mastery. For this reason, language learners should ensure that these aspects are keenly considered in their learning processes.
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IvyPanda. (2023, October 28). Mother Tongue Analysis Essay. https://ivypanda.com/essays/analysis-essay-mother-tongue-by-amy-tan/
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Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” : Analysis of Pathos, Ethos and Logos
Analyze Pathos , Ethos and Logos in Mother Tongue .
English should not be considered as a single language. There are inferences that English is a single language, but in reality, people develop diverse versions of English as their mother tongue such that it is very uncommon to discover two people that speak the exact same English because there are so many different forms of the language. A well-known author, Amy Tan recalls “all the Englishes that she grew up with”, all of which influence her perception of the world as well as her own English.
In sequential instances alluding to her “broken English”, Tan conveys the development of preconceived notions of her mother’s intelligence measured solely on how fluently she spoke. Through the use of pathos , ethos and logos , Tan suggests that the spoken word is meant to captivate an individual’s “intent”, “passion”, “ imagery ”, “rhythms of speech”, and “nature of thoughts”- his or her truest self while communicating with others.
In addition, by analyzing how Tan’s perception of her mother was affected by her mother’s English, it allowed Tan to come to the realization that she, too, forgot the true objective of the English language – to reflect one’s personality in its entirety. Tan’s emotional side confesses that “she was ashamed of her English”. Just as any average Joe, Tan belittles her mother’s thoughts simply because she could not express them perfectly. However, she comes to the revelation that the quality of expression does not correlate to quality of thought. Tan confirms this train of thought when she affirms that her mother’s tongue “was the language that helped shape the way she saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world” which asserts the power of language. The language we are accustomed to hearing affects our thoughts as well as our beliefs which in turn influence the type of language that we use to express these ideas. Thus, Mrs. Tan taught her daughter that spoken English is a reflection of one’s truest self. Could add example of hospital incident where the hospital did not apologize when they lost the CAT scan and remove some above to make it more relevant to pathos ”. Amy Tan uses ethos to present the idea that societal expectations must not negatively influence one’s perception. When Mrs. Tan visited the hospital for a CAT scan “the hospital did not apologize…or have any sympathy…”, which exemplifies the repercussions of letting society negatively affect one’s views. While the hospital did not provide proper service to Mrs. Tan due to her broken English, they were able to address all of the concerns once Tan was involved and was able to communicate with the hospital staff in proper English.
Furthermore, Tan addresses “why are not more Asian Americans represented in American literature. Why are there few Asian Americans enrolled in creative writing programs? Why do so many Chinese American students go into engineering?” with the fact that many teachers steer students toward math and science degrees, while diverting them from reading and writing even if that is what they enjoy more.
Lastly, Tan puts forward logos in providing evidence by her analogies to her mother as well. Mrs. Tan proved that she could understand people when they spoke perfect or regular English as well as when she read in English such that Amy expresses “…my mother’s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands. She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week…and reads all of Shirley MacLaine’s books with ease — all kinds of things I can’t begin to understand.” The logic behind this validates her point that if she can comprehend English perfectly while still speaking in broken English, then perhaps other people who are treated as if they cannot understand actually do.
Conclusively, Amy Tan exemplifies emotional, ethical, and logical strategies to develop a strong argument the English language can be quite diverse. There are instances where an emotional approach allowed Tan to come to the realization that Mrs. Tan is treated unfairly in society due to her poor language skills. Meanwhile, Tan’s ethics allow her to diminish thoughts that Mrs. Tan’s spoken English represents her ability to comprehend English. While some may believe that English is a single language, many individuals would argue that they develop diverse versions of English as their mother tongue.
Rhetorical Analysis Essay
Rhetorical analysis of amy tan’s “mother tongue”, my intended audience: my classmates and instructor.
Amy Tan is an American author whose literature often explores mother-daughter relationships in a Chinese cultural setting. As a Chinese Immigrant, Tan’s mother had trouble speaking fluent English. In her essay, “Mother Tongue”, Tan writes about how her mother’s “broken” English affected her life. She expresses her views on facing racism and mentions how she handles it. “Mother Tongue” was published for the first time in a literary magazine called “The Threepenny Review,” in 1990. Throughout the essay, Tan argues that a person’s eloquence in English does not determine their intelligence. She uses anecdotes with descriptive language about her and her mother’s experiences with discrimination. She proves her point to the literary experts by establishing credibility (ethos), invoking emotional appeals (pathos), and stating logical facts (logos).
Tan writes this personal essay in an informal manner. Despite her English college degree and credentials as a best selling author opens the piece assuring the reader that she is not a scholar in English but simply a writer who loves the language (1). She uses this narrative to ease the reader into her essay and aims to manifest relatability between herself and all the readers. She wants her audience to take her argument seriously and respect her story regardless of her experience with the English language. In a way, her credentials would have overpowered her message in this essay. If she had opened the essay with her accomplishments, then her audience might have taken her argument earnestly for the sake of her achievements, not her story. Thus defeating the purpose of this essay, reminding that people deserve respect despite their proficiency in English.
As an immigrant child, Tan examines the various forms of English she uses and how they change depending on her environment. She realized her switch in Englishes during one of her book talks where she used perfect English. She had said, “The intersection of memory upon imagination,” which she realized differed from her other English. She uses a more comfortable form of English around her family where she uses phrases like “Not waste money that way” (1). By addressing this circumstance, she is highlighting the effect her native language has had on the English that she speaks around her family. This scenario is common within a lot of immigrant children. They switch between the English that they speak with their family which is influenced by their native languages and the standard English they use to speak in public places.
Tan uses compelling pathos to allure the audience to her argument. Usage of words like “broken” or “fractured” to describe her mother’s English deeply bothers the writer because she believes that it limits people’s perceptions of her mother. Tan asserts, “You should know that my mother ‘s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands.” (1) The writer reveals that her mother’s day to day activities include reading the Forbes report and listening to the Wall Street Week to illustrate that her mother had a high knowledge capacity even though she spoke “improper” English. Throughout her childhood, Tan had to assist her mom in public places with her English skills. She had to pretend to be her mom on phone calls so that her mother receives the services she needs. Tan includes one instance where her mother visited the hospital to retrieve her CAT scan. The hospital claimed to have lost her CAT scan and informed her to make another appointment. They simply dismissed her despite her concerns that she had lost her husband and son due to brain tumors. They refused to hear her out until the hospital made a call to Tan. The writer explained her mother’s issue in “perfect” English and then they immediately addressed the issue and apologized to her mother (2). This respect was not something Tan’s mother was afforded with her “broken” English. Tan displays anger and disconcert which indicates her passion about this issue. Her strong emotional language allures the readers into her shoes and gives them a glimpse of the discrimination she faced. This not only makes the audience sympathize with the author and her mother but also prompts them to do something about the prejudice the immigrants face in this country.
Tan uses logical reasoning to further prove her point. She discusses the statistics that show that a large number of Chinese students go into the Engineering field (3). She reveals the reasoning behind the issue is because many teachers steer away their Asian American students from Creative Writing due to their “broken” English spoken at home. These students are instead pushed towards Math and Science‒which is what happened to her. By saying this, she intends for the audience to reflect on their actions as educators and if they exhibited similar actions, consciously or unconsciously. Despite the opposing influence from her high school teachers, Tan was determined to be a writer and she graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in English. Even though she was well certified in English, she felt like she had to show her qualification by using complex sentences such as “That was my mental quandary in its nascent state,” (3) in her writing. Tan addresses this issue to spotlight the Asian Americans who do end up choosing careers in creative writing, who have to constantly prove their English skills, as if they are making up for speaking “broken” English.
Tan bases this essay solely on her experience and does not cater to other perspectives because her story parallels the stories of a lot of immigrant children who grow up in similar circumstances. The intended audience of this piece is composed of people who are educators in English literature and experts in English linguistics. That is why Tan uses her argument to convey the message that discrimination based on a person’s literary skills is improper and distasteful. She uses this essay to highlight the effects teachers have on their students and why they have to be considerate of their influences. Teachers should be welcoming of all students and the different Englishes they speak so that they understand from a young age that a person’s eloquence in English does not make them worthy of respect.
Throughout the essay, Tan uses credibility, emotional appeals, and logical facts to enforce her argument that people’s intelligence levels do not depend on their proficiency in English. In the end, she circles back to her roots. She knew she had succeeded when her mother finished reading her book and her mother gave her the verdict, “So easy to read.” (4) Tan expresses that at the end of the day, it does not matter what the society’s standards for English are as long as people who speak a different English, people like her mother, are able to enjoy her books. She learns to appreciate her mother’s English, the same English she once tried to denounce, in order to find solace in it and in herself.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Dreams and Inward Journeys: A Rhetoric and Reader for Writers , edited by Marjorie Ford and Jon Ford, New York: Longman-Pearson , 2010, pp. 34–44.
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Analysis of “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan
Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” presents a narrative between the author and her mother (470). The story tells of the conflicts and discrepancies between the US and Chinese cultures. The author employs the writing approach to discuss the two cultures since she is convinced that language acts as a powerful tool. She seeks to discredit the belief that Asians cannot succeed in liberal arts despite their performing well in science and mathematics.
Although the author derives pleasure in writing stories and sharing them with others, she realizes that it is not just valuable to obtain people’s attention but also offers the opportunity for self-advancement. She narrates details regarding her mother, especially concerning her use of the English language, which was rather limited. Irrespective of her fluency in speaking English, Tan always understood what her mother predestined when she communicated using “broken” English. Through the application of satire, dialogue, and pathos the publication establishes the strength of language and that its power is employed in articulating experiences and sentiments to other people.
At the commencement of the story, the author underscores that she does not prefer becoming a scholar but a writer since she can only provide personal perspectives on the English language and its disparities in different settings. Her objective was to demonstrate that she has unspeakable thoughts regarding her sentiments on how she learned English in her education but can communicate using broken English with her mother.
The author maintains that the language assisted in influencing the way she perceived things, articulated ideas, and understood occurrences across the globe. Such expressions show the feelings of the author over and above the way she understood English with the help of her mother tongue (Tan 472). Tan employed “as if” many times in the story as a way of pointing out that individuals who cannot speak fluent English appeared strange in the American culture. People in the United States wrongly believe that individuals who only communicate their feelings using broken English are stupid and their actions are meaningless for their lack of proper thinking.
In the essay, Tan presents the dialogue involving her mother and the stockbroker. In some instances, Tan is aware that her mother’s communication is not well comprehended by other people. The moment Tan saw that her mother was finding it difficult to express her ideas to the stockbroker she stated that she has many times found herself in problems with her broken English. Regardless of her difficulty in articulating her thoughts, she goes ahead to shout to the stockbroker. This shows that the mother does not realize that her broken English is at times problematic for others to easily understand her ideas. This occurrence demonstrates that, in addition to the stockbroker being of American origin, he disrespects Tan’s mother.
This is evident in the stockbroker’s pretense and ignorance of Tan’s mother despite her earning profit from the business. The mother attempts to claim the money that she is supposed to acquire from the stock. Despite the ignorance and disrespect bestowed on her by the stockbroker, the mother continues communicating, which demonstrates that she is a brave woman (Tan 473). This also signifies that the language people speak, their mother tongue affects the way others perceive. Although the mother can only communicate her imperfect English, she still reserves the right to obtain what she has worked for.
The author employs dialogue to make readers understand that individuals who can only express their notions using broken English, and not just her mother, are not lesser people than the ones who use impeccable language and deserve to be treated with equal respect over and above being protected by existing laws. It is unjust that many people from the United States always despise others who cannot use proper English in their communication. This is perhaps what pushed the author to learn perfect English since she would not want her mother tongue to become a hindrance in her articulation of feelings to other people or demand what is rightfully hers.
The moment a person gets ideas on a matter at hand; there is a need to share them with the relevant people (Bhandari 266). The application of perfect language has been found to directly ensure that articulated ideas make sense to the people listening. In a different point of view, the author could have wanted to learn perfect English and write stories as a way of employing language as a tool that ensures others become open-minded and obtain a broad perspective of the world around them.
Tan affirms that she endeavored to preserve the real meaning (470). This directly underscores the importance of telling the story concerning her mother which lies in the need to express that language ability discloses what teats cannot. The author’s intention, zeal, and application of imagery and rhythm of speech are geared towards strengthening the nature of her ideas. In the story, the author vividly describes the power of language in ones’ brain. Reading concerning the way broken English influences her mother’s experiences may change the notion of people holding the American culture of such people who find trouble articulating their ideas in impeccable English as stupid.
Tan employs satire as a means of exploring the rationale behind English acquired from school and books not being appropriate to employ at home with people such as her mother who cannot effectively use the same. In such instances, there is a need for both parties to use their mother tongue irrespective of one’s knowledge and education level. The author affirms that the different approaches to speaking English are not vital as the objective of every language is to make sense to others for easy understanding. Such is the strength of language that should be felt in all contexts and not just in the use of broken English (Bhandari 268).
People should be proud of their mother tongue since it provides the best approach of communicating with their mothers and other members of the family and understanding their feelings, experiences, over and above socializing and expressing ideas. Tan shows this when she states that she feels nearer to her family when using broken English. In addition, this affirms that people who articulate their thoughts using broken English do not lack ideas and knowledge as they could also be learned as in her case.
Mother tongue expresses Tan’s view and personal encounters, in addition to persuading other people to understand the power in spoken language. Her writing also appeals for the respect of all irrespective of the language barrier. Through the narration regarding her mother, Tan acquired the ability to reveal the existing problem that greatly affects others and which should be tackled in all cultures.
Bhandari, Nagendra. “Reinventing Cultural Identities in Diaspora: A Mother-Daughter Dyad in Tan’s Narratives.” Tribhuvan University Journal, vol. 32, no. 1, 2018, pp. 261-272.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Threepenny Review, vol. 43, no. 7, 1990, pp. 470-474.
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Literary Analysis of Mother Tongue by Amy Tan
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As a college student, the importance of language and communication cannot be overstated. Language plays a crucial role in shaping personal and cultural identity, and it is paramount to understand the diverse languages spoken in [...]
In the article “Mother Tongue,” the author Amy Tan expresses her opinion on both the english language for asian-american stereotypes and their culture based on their degree and language “classes” during school years. As a writer [...]
Everyone who speaks the English language, does not speak it the same way. It is rare to find people that speak English the exact same way word for word, because there are so many ways to speak English. Amy Tan uses a name to [...]
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 [...]
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Amy Tan Short Stories
Rhetorical Analysis Of Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue
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.
- Tan, Amy. ‘Mother Tongue.’ Wake Tech English 111. 1990. 275-280.
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The Journey Of A College Freshman
Rhetorical Analysis Essay
Amy Tan, a Chinese American writer and novelist in “Mother Tongue”, argues that a person’s value and validity should not be affected by the way they speak, whether they use “broken” or “perfect” English. Amy develops her argument through the use of various rhetorical strategies like Ethos, Pathos, and Logos to appeal to the reader. She implements experiences and introduces them into what she believes is a noteworthy topic. She stated her experiences with her mother, as they had to endure such mistreatment because of how they spoke the English language. She writes to let people know that there is no such thing as “broken” or “perfect” English. Everybody speaks English in their own ways, some more different than others. Amy’s audience are the people with alternate views, who base people’s intelligence and worth on how they speak the English language. In order to inform them that just because people speak differently, it does not demonstrate their capabilities as a human being.
Tan begins her essay with ethos as she introduces and describes herself, stating that she is “ not a scholar of English or literature” and she “ cannot give you much more than personal opinions on the English language and its variations in this country or others.” By doing this, Amy prepares the reader for a more personal essay and shares her competence for writing about the language. Tan is able to bring up this topic as it has directly affected her life. As an Asian-American she has had first-hand experience with learning English and also living in a household where the English normally spoken is not considered “perfect”. This allows her to appeal to the audience by proving her credibility, which she does throughout the text leaving the reader at the end of the text with no doubt that she was a trustworthy and reliable source for this topic.
After introducing herself and giving the reader a general idea of what her essay is going to be about, the author moves to logical appeals(logos) to convenience the audience by simply using logic and reasoning. Building off the strategy she utilized, Tan uses her own schooling experience with standardized testing and different classes, being Math and English. She states that in school she would usually get “ B’s, sometimes B-pluses, in English and scoring perhaps in the sixtieth or seventieth percentile on achievement tests.”, but those scores would not compare to her true abilities in Math and Science as in those areas she achieved “A’s and scored in the ninetieth percentile or higher.” She uses statistics generally to acknowledge how Asian-Americans typically excel in Math rather than in English. The surveys demonstrated that they were usually steered “away from writing and into Math and Science” by teachers as they noticed that their students suffered from “broken” English. She often uses these facts to support her mother’s lack in her English-speaking ability throughout the text. Her mother has been steered away from certain opportunities or put to the side because of her “broken” English.
Tan moves to completely utilize emotional appeals(pathos) throughout her essay as she gives examples of the unfair treatment her mother frequently received because of her “broken” English. Utilizing Pathos, Tan effectively supports her statements with personal touching experiences to inform her audience. She tells of her having to call the stockbroker for her mother as she would “call people on the phone to pretend I was she.” Amy yelled at him pretending to be her mother, as she was furious that her check had been delayed for two weeks. While yelling at the stockbroker, Tan used her “perfect English” as her mother believed this would be the only way that she would be able to receive what she needed. Tan’s mother has been ignored and bullied because of her “broken English” so Tan was her only solution to do certain day to day tasks. Other examples of her being condescended were when she attended places like hospitals and restaurants, Tan’s mother was supposed to receive a CAT scan from the hospital but never did as she was put to the side because of her “broken English”. Tan later called and was able to easily get her mothers CAT scan as she was treated the complete opposite compared to her mother, with respect and understanding. Tan having the “perfect English” was then given the responsibility of getting people to respect her mother. Both of these examples target the reader’s emotions, making them sympathize for Amy’s mother. Since she was treated unfairly over not being able to put out “perfect” words, her mother is clearly very smart as she “converses daily with her stockbroker”. She reads “Forbes reports” and even listens to “wall street week”, so it is clear that a person’s intelligence should not be assumed by how they speak and Amy effectively uses pathos to convince her readers of her argument.
In Conclusion, Amy Tan wrote “Mother Tongue” to let the readers know that there is no such thing as “perfect” or “broken” English, but instead a diverse way of speaking the language. No matter if a person’s English is crystal clear or barely understandable, it does not represent the intelligence of that person. The clearly laid out structure of her text and arguments make a very informative essay. Also getting her idea across perfectly throughout the essay as she appeals to the audience with the use of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos to furthermore grab the audience’s attention and ingrain into their heads this idea that a person’s value should not be judged by the way they speak as we all unconsciously speak the English language differently.
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Rhetorical Analysis: “Mother Tongue”
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Amy Tan, the Author of “Mother Tongue” very well makes the point across about cultural racism without showing any anger or specifically pointing out racism; Amy makes the reader realize how really not being American can affect how well you could handle everyday situations. The fact that this story was written by an immigrant, and provides real life stories about her mom and herself struggling in America, makes this novel a wonderful eye opener. The story focuses on the prejudices of Amy and her mother. All her life, Amy’s mother has been looked down because of the fact that she did not speak proper English. This story describes how she uses rhetorical strategies to make her argument, while also criticizing cultural standards. The story states that the Amy Tan writes of the different Englishes she uses in her life and illustrates the innumerable ways that people express themselves, depending on who they are with, and their needs.
The audience Tan is trying to reach are people that are ignorant of the fact that people like Amy’s mother who speak “broken” English most of the time know they are taken advantage of, and struggle more with social interactions. This story could be intended to immigrant people that have to take care of their parents or simply other members of their family. This novel is also designed to people who like Amy have a “language of intimacy” with their family. Amy sometimes had to help her mother out with dealing with important people by pretending to be her and speaking proper English. Her mother would be telling her what to say like “why he don’t send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money.” Amy states that she would be very embarrassed when in this situations because she would be speaking proper English, unlike her mom.
She would say the same thing but in proper English like “Yes, I am getting rather concerned. You had agreed to send the check two weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived.” This is the only way that Amy knew she would get the respect her mother deserved, the respect that she did not get by speaking “broken” or “fractured” English. Sure enough, as she states in her novel, what she was complaining about in one of her phone calls got resolved the following week, and this rarely would have happened if her mom would have called. As a reader, I can relate to Amy’s story because I come from a Mexican background and we do go through rough times like she did, and sometimes people like us are not given the respect we should get like fluent English speakers get. Amy gives another example of the way her mother was treated because of the way she spoke the language, was when she was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and the hospital told her that they had lost her CAT scan results.
The mother knew that she could not do more about it, because she knew that her English was limited so of course she would get limited responses. Her mother stated that she would not leave until the doctor called her daughter. Amy tells in her novel that she talked to the doctors and later the CAT scan results where found and there were many apologies from them. This example was based on the fact that Amy could speak perfect English, where here mother could not, and no service or apologies were offered to her. This is also an example of how Amy still switches roles with her mother by helping her out with the things she needs to take care of but cannot because of her inability to speak fluent English. The purpose of this story was to inform her readers her beliefs of that new language she had discovered, that maybe not only her, but other immigrant families might have. This language brings her closer to her roots and heritage by sharing it with not only her mother but husband as well.
This “broken” English brings her closer to her mother and gives her that well built and lovable connection with her. She also makes the point that people who do not speak proper or “broken” English like her mom, are often not treated right in society and seem like they are not smart enough. This novel is a good eye opener for all of those who sometimes have had an encounter with somebody that does not speak well English and judge them. This is a common mistake that even the ones that have immigrant parents make. We often make assumptions on people’s competency in society. Amy gives many examples of how she had to help out her mother in order for her to receive the right attention. This is something that many immigrant parents have to do in order to go on with the day, by asking their kids to help them out read letters that come in the mail, or even filling out applications for different things.
People who are well educated might think of this people as ignorant and not willing to learn, but this is not always their choice and like Amy’s mother they are always trying to do it themselves but at the end they have to turn to their families for help. Amy does a really good job at trying to explain her mother struggles as well as her. It is obvious to the readers what a connection she has with her mother and how her struggles made her be more rebellious and do more with the proper English she knew, and was often criticized by teachers. She never did that well on English achievement tests, so she was told she should do something not related with English. This novel hopefully will help out the people with misconceptions about immigrants who do not speak English, to not judge, but to help out so our society does not bring them down as it already does.
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- How to write a rhetorical analysis | Key concepts & examples
How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis | Key Concepts & Examples
Published on August 28, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.
A rhetorical analysis is a type of essay that looks at a text in terms of rhetoric. This means it is less concerned with what the author is saying than with how they say it: their goals, techniques, and appeals to the audience.
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Table of contents
Key concepts in rhetoric, analyzing the text, introducing your rhetorical analysis, the body: doing the analysis, concluding a rhetorical analysis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about rhetorical analysis.
Rhetoric, the art of effective speaking and writing, is a subject that trains you to look at texts, arguments and speeches in terms of how they are designed to persuade the audience. This section introduces a few of the key concepts of this field.
Appeals: Logos, ethos, pathos
Appeals are how the author convinces their audience. Three central appeals are discussed in rhetoric, established by the philosopher Aristotle and sometimes called the rhetorical triangle: logos, ethos, and pathos.
Logos , or the logical appeal, refers to the use of reasoned argument to persuade. This is the dominant approach in academic writing , where arguments are built up using reasoning and evidence.
Ethos , or the ethical appeal, involves the author presenting themselves as an authority on their subject. For example, someone making a moral argument might highlight their own morally admirable behavior; someone speaking about a technical subject might present themselves as an expert by mentioning their qualifications.
Pathos , or the pathetic appeal, evokes the audience’s emotions. This might involve speaking in a passionate way, employing vivid imagery, or trying to provoke anger, sympathy, or any other emotional response in the audience.
These three appeals are all treated as integral parts of rhetoric, and a given author may combine all three of them to convince their audience.
Text and context
In rhetoric, a text is not necessarily a piece of writing (though it may be this). A text is whatever piece of communication you are analyzing. This could be, for example, a speech, an advertisement, or a satirical image.
In these cases, your analysis would focus on more than just language—you might look at visual or sonic elements of the text too.
The context is everything surrounding the text: Who is the author (or speaker, designer, etc.)? Who is their (intended or actual) audience? When and where was the text produced, and for what purpose?
Looking at the context can help to inform your rhetorical analysis. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has universal power, but the context of the civil rights movement is an important part of understanding why.
Claims, supports, and warrants
A piece of rhetoric is always making some sort of argument, whether it’s a very clearly defined and logical one (e.g. in a philosophy essay) or one that the reader has to infer (e.g. in a satirical article). These arguments are built up with claims, supports, and warrants.
A claim is the fact or idea the author wants to convince the reader of. An argument might center on a single claim, or be built up out of many. Claims are usually explicitly stated, but they may also just be implied in some kinds of text.
The author uses supports to back up each claim they make. These might range from hard evidence to emotional appeals—anything that is used to convince the reader to accept a claim.
The warrant is the logic or assumption that connects a support with a claim. Outside of quite formal argumentation, the warrant is often unstated—the author assumes their audience will understand the connection without it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still explore the implicit warrant in these cases.
For example, look at the following statement:
We can see a claim and a support here, but the warrant is implicit. Here, the warrant is the assumption that more likeable candidates would have inspired greater turnout. We might be more or less convinced by the argument depending on whether we think this is a fair assumption.
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Rhetorical analysis isn’t a matter of choosing concepts in advance and applying them to a text. Instead, it starts with looking at the text in detail and asking the appropriate questions about how it works:
- What is the author’s purpose?
- Do they focus closely on their key claims, or do they discuss various topics?
- What tone do they take—angry or sympathetic? Personal or authoritative? Formal or informal?
- Who seems to be the intended audience? Is this audience likely to be successfully reached and convinced?
- What kinds of evidence are presented?
By asking these questions, you’ll discover the various rhetorical devices the text uses. Don’t feel that you have to cram in every rhetorical term you know—focus on those that are most important to the text.
The following sections show how to write the different parts of a rhetorical analysis.
Like all essays, a rhetorical analysis begins with an introduction . The introduction tells readers what text you’ll be discussing, provides relevant background information, and presents your thesis statement .
Hover over different parts of the example below to see how an introduction works.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of oratory in American history. Delivered in 1963 to thousands of civil rights activists outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech has come to symbolize the spirit of the civil rights movement and even to function as a major part of the American national myth. This rhetorical analysis argues that King’s assumption of the prophetic voice, amplified by the historic size of his audience, creates a powerful sense of ethos that has retained its inspirational power over the years.
The body of your rhetorical analysis is where you’ll tackle the text directly. It’s often divided into three paragraphs, although it may be more in a longer essay.
Each paragraph should focus on a different element of the text, and they should all contribute to your overall argument for your thesis statement.
Hover over the example to explore how a typical body paragraph is constructed.
King’s speech is infused with prophetic language throughout. Even before the famous “dream” part of the speech, King’s language consistently strikes a prophetic tone. He refers to the Lincoln Memorial as a “hallowed spot” and speaks of rising “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” The assumption of this prophetic voice constitutes the text’s strongest ethical appeal; after linking himself with political figures like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, King’s ethos adopts a distinctly religious tone, recalling Biblical prophets and preachers of change from across history. This adds significant force to his words; standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, he states not just what the future should be, but what it will be: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” This warning is almost apocalyptic in tone, though it concludes with the positive image of the “bright day of justice.” The power of King’s rhetoric thus stems not only from the pathos of his vision of a brighter future, but from the ethos of the prophetic voice he adopts in expressing this vision.
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The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis wraps up the essay by restating the main argument and showing how it has been developed by your analysis. It may also try to link the text, and your analysis of it, with broader concerns.
Explore the example below to get a sense of the conclusion.
It is clear from this analysis that the effectiveness of King’s rhetoric stems less from the pathetic appeal of his utopian “dream” than it does from the ethos he carefully constructs to give force to his statements. By framing contemporary upheavals as part of a prophecy whose fulfillment will result in the better future he imagines, King ensures not only the effectiveness of his words in the moment but their continuing resonance today. Even if we have not yet achieved King’s dream, we cannot deny the role his words played in setting us on the path toward it.
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The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain the effect a piece of writing or oratory has on its audience, how successful it is, and the devices and appeals it uses to achieve its goals.
Unlike a standard argumentative essay , it’s less about taking a position on the arguments presented, and more about exploring how they are constructed.
The term “text” in a rhetorical analysis essay refers to whatever object you’re analyzing. It’s frequently a piece of writing or a speech, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, you could also treat an advertisement or political cartoon as a text.
Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, building up logical arguments . Ethos appeals to the speaker’s status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them. Pathos appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic, for example.
Collectively, these three appeals are sometimes called the rhetorical triangle . They are central to rhetorical analysis , though a piece of rhetoric might not necessarily use all of them.
In rhetorical analysis , a claim is something the author wants the audience to believe. A support is the evidence or appeal they use to convince the reader to believe the claim. A warrant is the (often implicit) assumption that links the support with the claim.
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