The Power of Language

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The Power of Language
Nowadays, more and more Chinese migrants, who use English as their second language, live and work in America. We can call them “bilingual” since they can speak both English and their mother tongue--Chinese. However, although many Chinese migrants can talk with others with very fluent English, many native speakers sometimes find it is hard to understand what these Chinese people have said. Some Chinese linguists who are in the union CMAU argue that with the age-old culture, Chinese have already formed their own style of expressing things. And this style may not be changed because it reflects their thoughts which have already formed by their unique culture. However, in Amy Tan’s personal essay “Mother Tongue”, the narrator used her own experience to show how her mother’s simple language influence her and changed her attitude to this Chinese-styled English from negative to positive in an unconscious way, and finally formed her identity of language in study and fiction writing. This kind of change in language may seem difficult for many people. But Amy Tan is different. To see something about her background, it can be found that although she is an American and received American-styled education, her parents were all born in China and received Chinese-styled education. That makes things different because she had double identities in her life: as a student in school and as the daughter in her family. And she spoke regular English with her classmates and simple English to her mother. Tan’s attitude toward her mother’s language was often negative when she was young. In fact, it is easy for readers to guess which kind of language Amy Tan preferred when she was young because she did not know anything about Benjie2

Chinese culture. The narrator shows her attitude to her mother’s language by saying “I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say” (28). The narrator then explains that her shame came from observing “the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did hear her” (29). The reason might seem superficial or even a little snobbish to readers. But it will easily be accepted because she was so young that she did not realize that her mother’s speech reflected the culture of Chinese. In the present, the narrator gives the readers some information about her first view of her mother’s language. This point causes the readers to think how her view is changed, and also begin her process of her language identity’s formation. Everything which changes must have a cause. And the change of Amy Tan’s view of her mother’s language is not an exception. The narrator used two stories to show how this kind of identity in language was formed. The one is her mother “used to have me call people on the phone to pretend I was she” (29). And in the process of pretending to be her mother on the phone, Amy Tan had gradually formed her identity in language because she had to continuously translate her mother’s broken English into regular English. This may have had an impact on her thoughts because she had to think using her mother’s style of language in order to translate what her mother’s wanted done. Then the narrator tells another story about her and her mother’s experience in the hospital, which is “a similar routine” but gives readers a deeper impression about the process of how her dealing with her mother’s language changed the author’s view of language. And the narrator also indicates her mother’s character by describing her mother said “she wouldn’t budge” (29). When the doctors wouldn’t serve her as she wanted, in this case, Tan talks for her mother but doesn’t pretend to be her and gets easily what her mother couldn’t. The narrator does not say so but the reader gets the Benjie3

feeling that she felt that her...
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