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Mother Tongue: Textual Rhetorical Analysis

Mother Tongue: Textual Rhetorical Analysis

In Amy Tan’s essay, “Mother Tongue” Tan tries to convince readers of the fact that the validity and value of a person’s ideas and intents do not change due to the way they speak, whether they use “perfect” or “broken” English. Tan also attempts to explain that her “mother’s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands” (283). She uses many examples to take readers into her life experiences to discover this truth.Amy Tan writes her essay in an informal and anecdotal tone. She uses first person throughout the entire essay and she adds many personal experiences to increase the validity of her argument and to show that the topic has a very important place in her life. The examples she uses also make her tone reflective. For example, when she tells a story of her mother having trouble with the hospital because of her English, Tan quotes her mother’s words “Why he not send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money”(284). She does this to reflect on how the encounter played out and to show how her mother’s English affected the situation. Tan is also emotional and somewhat angry at certain points of her essay and that makes the essay relatable and shows her passion for her topic. This is displayed in the story of her mother’s trouble with the doctors but also when she shares about her teachers “steering [her] away from writing and into math and science”(Tan 285). The reflective, emotional, and informal tones Tan uses suggest that she is writing the essay for herself, to reflect the same way as writing in a journal, as well as to the educated people she is trying to convince.

To start off her essay, Tan uses disclaimers such as, “ I am not a scholar of English or literature…I am a writer”(282). By doing this, Tan prepares readers for a more personal essay and shares her qualifications for writing about language. She continues the essay with many stories about how her use of English came to her conscience. She uses these stories to validate her claims about how spoken English varies and to explain what impacts those variations had in her life. She uses her mother’s “broken” English to emphasize the differences in language uses. Tan also provides examples of her use of “perfect” English in the story about her mother and the doctors, and her lecture near the beginning. This shows that although she sees the value of her mother’s English and even uses it at home, she felt the importance of being able to use “perfect” English for her work as a writer. Throughout her essay, Tan tends to wander, touching on many different instances where she recalls her use of language affecting her life; this makes the essay slightly resemble a journal entry. Tan ends the essay by telling about going back to her roots and seeing the beauty of her mother’s English; at the end she tells about trying to capture that English in her writing and says, “I knew I had succeeded where it counted when my mother finished reading my book and gave me her verdict: ‘so easy to read.’”(286). Amy Tan wrote Mother Tongue to display and convince readers of the value of a person’s ideas no matter how “perfect” their English is. Although she does not explicitly say it, Tan is also trying to convey the importance of staying true to yourself and going back to your roots even if the world doesn’t see things the same way or even looks down upon it. Tan concludes that it is right for her mother’s ideas to be expressed in the way she speaks English because it is more authentic, raw, and true to her and carries so much more meaning than if she were to speak with “perfect” English.

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