The Power of Language
Language plays an important role in communication by bringing people together and enriching their relationships. Language can also alienate those who do not speak it properly, or at all, from those who do. The essays, Mother Tongue, by Amy Tan, best known for her book, The Joy Luck Club, and Se Habla Espanol, by Tanya Barrientos, delve into the many powers that language holds. These essays reflect how by not speaking a language in proper form and by not speaking a language at all, affects the lives of the subjects of the stories. People who can speak a certain language, but only in ‘broken’ form, are generally looked down upon by native language speakers. In her writing, Mother Tongue, Amy Tan writes about her mother, who is Chinese and speaks what is referred to as ‘broken English’. When Tan was a child, she was embarrassed by the way her mother spoke. In describing how others heard her mother when she spoke English, Tan writes, “Some say they understand 80 to 90 percent. Some say they understand none of it, as if she were speaking pure Chinese” (566). People always viewed her mother as stupid because of the way she spoke English. Tan resented people referring to the style as ‘broken’, insinuating there was something to fix about the way her mother spoke, when in her eyes, there was nothing wrong with it. If people who ridiculed her mother had taken time to know her, their lives would have been richer for it. Those who are not native language speakers, but who have mastered the native language, are still made to feel shameful of their heritage. Like Amy Tan, Tanya Barrientos was embarrassed as a child by the stereotype that her native language carried. Although she was Mexican, she didn’t like the stereotype that came with being Mexican. Barrientos’ parents were well educated people. They were both bilingual, speaking fluent English and Spanish, but chose for themselves and their children to only speak English when they immigrated to...
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