Mother Tongue

by Amy Tan

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What argument is Tan making here about language and its connection to our identity in "Mother Tongue"? What strategies does she use to make this argument? What motivates her to make such an argument?

Tan is making the argument in "Mother Tongue" that she became a better writer when she began to use both the types of English she spoke to write books her mother could understand. Tan grew up speaking the formal acrolect of English she learned at school and the more vivid, less correct variety her mother used. Tan uses points from her personal life and from her work to show that there is no need to separate one's language and identity.

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Amy Tan, like many children of immigrants, has more than one identity, and these identities are primarily defined by language. Tan says that her identity as a writer was originally separate from her identity as her mother's daughter. As a writer, she used the rigid, grammatical acrolect she had learned at school; as a daughter, she used the more forceful, vivid English spoken by her mother, for which she cannot even find a name, since she dislikes calling it "broken."

The argument Tan makes is that she has become a better writer by fusing these types of language than she was when she used the acrolect alone. She makes this argument in various ways. First, she points out that she uses the same language with her mother and her husband. It is their "language of intimacy," even though he is a native English speaker. This point leads on to Tan's presentation of the virtues of her mother's way of speaking.

It is not simply, as she first thought, that one type of English is correct and the other incorrect. Her mother's language is colorful, powerful, and direct. Finally, Tan highlights the absurdity of writing a book about the relationships between mothers and daughters which her own mother could not understand. She is motivated to make this argument to explain her method as a writer and her intellectual, literary, linguistic, and personal progress in uniting her two identities and to show that these identities need not be separated.

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