What organizational pattern does Tan use in "Mother Tongue," and how does she control her tone?  

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Amy Tan's essay, "Mother Tongue," I would suggest that she uses a type of organization known as "comparison" or "compare/contrast:"

Comparisons allow you to analyze and evaluate two or more concepts. You can compare two concepts by showing either the differences or the similarities between them. 

Because language is the focal point for Tan's piece, the things she compares are two different forms of English: the kind that is accepted in mainstream America, and "broken" English. Tan first wrote with...

...the forms of standard English that...learned in school and through books...

However, she did not speak this way with her mother; neither did her mother speak this way with her.

Like others, I have described it to people as "broken" or "fractured" English. But I wince when I say that...as if it were damaged and needed to be fixed, as if it lacked a certain wholeness and soundness.

As Tan relates her realization that she speaks two different Englishes, she notes that while her initial attempts at writing would have appealed to the masses, she was using words that she did not even grasp. When she was addressing a group, she wondered while speaking whether her mother would understand her: once again, acceptable English, but could her mother understand it? Tan also describes that she used two kinds of English when speaking not only with her mother, but also with her husband—who had, over twenty years, adopted the same manner of speaking to her:

It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.

Tan is discussing the importance of language in this piece. She discusses how the language learned at home affects how someone learns in school. She recognizes that failing to use mainstream English is something users are judged by—erroneously so. While people often ignored her mother or pretended they could not hear her speaking, when Tan spoke for her mother, people listened to the same information they ignored coming from her mom. She also points out that the language is not indicative of a person's ability to understand or an indicator of that person's intelligence:

[My mother] reads the Forbes Report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads all of Shirley MacLaine's books with ease--all kinds of things I can't begin to understand. 

This is a reflection of how those who speak English as a second language are also directed in education: don't use the language that is not native to you—concentrate instead on things like math and science. 

The comparison here reflects an unfair assessment of those who speak English in a form that is not generally accepted. It denotes a bias in directing youngsters in the course of educational pursuits. It does not credit those speakers with intelligence, the capacity to grasp information, or the ability to adequately express their ideas, passions and concerns.

At the same time, those who speak English deemed acceptable are given respect that others who don't speak the same language are denied. And, use of "correct" English does not guarantee the best use of the language for its audience.

In terms of Tan's tone (her attitude toward her topic), she notes that while bias may be natural, one's "mother tongue" best reflects one's ability to "make sense of the world." By adopting an objective stance, she controls her tone.




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