Mother Tongue by Amy Tan

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In Amy Tan's short story "Mother Tongue," explain the essence of what "mother tongue" signifies in the story.

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Amy Tan's essay "Mother Tongue" discusses the way that language changes, and the ways it stays the same, inside contexts of immigration and generational time. It explores these ideas through how Amy and her mother use the English language, and how Amy uses the English language differently around her mother than she does in professionalized contexts.

"Mother tongue," as it is used in the title of this piece, is a pun on the traditional idea. Where "mother tongue" usually refers euphemistically to someone's first language, here it refers to Amy's mother's second language: the English that Amy is familiar with her using, literally her mother's tongue. This English is expressive, grammatically distant from proper forms, hard to understand for some native English speakers, and perfectly comfortable to Amy.

Amy sets up this comparison by describing a talk that she gave about a book and had given so many times before that it was entirely familiar to her. When Amy gave this talk to an audience...

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