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

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The principal method of organization Amy Tan uses in “Mother Tongue” is that of comparison and contrast. The essay contrasts two types of English, the formal variety “filled with carefully wrought grammatical phrases, burdened ... with nominalized forms” which Tan learned at school and the more informal variety,...

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The principal method of organization Amy Tan uses in “Mother Tongue” is that of comparison and contrast. The essay contrasts two types of English, the formal variety “filled with carefully wrought grammatical phrases, burdened ... with nominalized forms” which Tan learned at school and the more informal variety, which Tan reluctantly describes as “broken” but which is also more colorful and surprising, spoken by her mother. Such binary oppositions are employed throughout the essay. Tan is compared and contrasted with her mother and through them the essay contrasts the assimilation of first and second-generation immigrants in the United States. Her mother’s actual intelligence and shrewd judgement are contrasted with the public perception of her, and the way she is treated when trying to communicate with native English speakers in America, such as the doctor and the stockbroker. These binaries naturally lend themselves to a compare-contrast model of organization.

Tan also uses a pattern of advantages and disadvantages as a subsidiary form of organization. This is also a binary pattern in which, for instance, she examines the pros and cons of standard English and her mother’s way of speaking before she decides that she must take advantage of both in her capacity as a writer. One might also regard this, along with Tan’s decision to accept and embrace her mother’s English after years of being ashamed of it, as a problem-solution pattern of organization, again a binary pattern, similar in structure to that of comparison and contrast.

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Tan's essay is essentially a comparison essay, but in addition to comparing her professional English to the "broken" English of her mother, she uses these linguistic differences to compare how she and her mother are treated differently in society. Her mother's English, which is often hard for native speakers to understand, makes perfect sense to Tan. Far from signaling that her mother is unintelligent, Tan appreciates her mother's non standard speaking as a kind of private language that they share, and one that bonds them together. The memorable example of this is how her mother made an adolescent Tan phone a stock broker to complain about a missing check. The mother in effect uses the daughter as a kind of mouthpiece, telling her what to say in her broken English and than having Amy translate it over the phone into standard English.

While the tone of the essay often slips into the comic, Tan is careful to moderate this aspect of her writing. Her point is not to make fun of her mother's way of talking, but to try to articulate, though the polished writing of a professional, how her mother's way of speaking shaped both her relationship with her daughter and with the outside world.

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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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