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An Issue of Discrimination in Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue

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A fact would not be an interesting one to people who feel demeaned as a result of their accents while communicating in English. In Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue, she argues that there is not a specific way to speak English as it exists in multiple varieties. This stance is evident given that English spoken at immigrants and American households vary considerably as their respective backgrounds affect the way they communicate. For immigrant families, communication in public is difficult as a result of their “broken English.” Consequently, they are mistreated. In Mother Tongue, Amy Tan reveals the numerous challenges that immigrant families face in the eye of a discriminating public to express why it is no one’s duty to judge on others based on their communication skills.

The inability to communicate in fluent English is sometimes unfairly characterized as an incapacitation. At the point when individuals can’t impart their musings in familiar English, those listening to them fail to address them with the seriousness required. In some cases, it is seen as some form of disability and a person is demeaned. Together with her mother, Tan has been on the receiving end of such treatment. She notes with concern that “when I was growing up, my mother’s ‘limited’ English limited my perception of her”. Amy has additionally adopted the mentality of belittling individuals whose English was broken. Like the public around her and her mother, she had made life more challenging to people who were unable to use fluent English. The extent of challenges that facing immigrant families throughout the history is one that was extended to their race. For Tan and her mother, their fear was that they would be treated as outsiders and no one would care to see beyond their Chinese origin. These emotions are also echoed in The Blackness of “Broken English” when Rudolf Gaudio lamented of the severity of the discrimination. For English speaking Americans, sprinkling of pseudo-Spanish words such as Exactamndo is excused as a funnier way to say exactly. Also, they would use African American English expressions such as “We Be Growing” and “Da Crib,” and find an excuse for the same. However, when others use the same method to communicate, the English-speaking Americans do not tolerate them. In so doing, Gaudio points out that this has been used to racialize “practices of linguistic appropriation”. Such is the rampancy of discriminating people based on their accents that immigrant families find it difficult to communicate in the public space.

For immigrant families, the discriminatory practices have even forced them into unpopular tactics such as faking their identities. As a result of the embarrassment associated with speaking broken English, immigrants have to resort to other tactics of creating fake identities so as to cover up for their supposed imperfection. Amy reckons that her mother had made her peace with her poor English. However, for her to be taken seriously, she had to ask Amy to pretend to be her so that communication between her and other English-speaking people is taken seriously. She recalls calling people on the phone in place of her mother and doing what her mother would ordinarily do. When dealing with her mother’s stockbroker, for instance, she recalls having to “get on the phone and say in an adolescent voice that was not very convincing, ‘This is Mrs. Tan’. Amy’s mother had to recreate different personality under her daughter’s disguise to shield herself from the judgmental public. The English-speaking fraternity has sought to demean and degrade any person whose English is not fluent, and this has pushed the latter into such tactics.

English-speaking has become a bone of contention all over the world in an undesirable manner. Each group continues to judge the other based on their ability to speak English, yet English should only be a medium of communication and a cultural symbol rather than a measure of intelligence. In Ireland, the debate of who is better than the other based on their English-speaking ability has been a perennial matter among the Chomskyans and Whorfians. The two factions re always in argument on whose expression in English is the standard determination of what being Irish should entail. The said argument has often descended into “a verbal war” in a bid to determine “whether language determines thinking and culture, and as to whether English can be a suitable medium of expressing ‘Irishness’. From the above example, it is clear that the matter of speaking English has been blown out of proportion to include a reflection of a person’s authenticity of a particular group. The Irish scenario has now pitted two groups on opposing ends of this debate. Amy Tan’s narration expresses a more subtle version of discriminatory practices. However, it is from such subtle disagreements and stereotypes that considerable disagreements grow.

People who do not use English as their first language also get looked down upon regardless of their achievements in other areas of life. Amy Tan was a witness of the highly discriminatory behavior that persists in the school system irrespective of her performances in other subjects. She is frank enough to admit that her grades in English were not as impressive as those that she posted in others such as math and science. However, she would still manage to score Bs or B minuses which were impressive give that she would be between the sixtieth or seventieth percentile. By any measure, Tan was a good performer in school and that would have warranted her more respect. Since she was an immigrant, her grades in English were perceived as dismal yet her effort would not be considered adequate enough to “override the opinion that my true abilities lay in math and science”. This argument demonstrates that for immigrants, English is used as the single metric of their intelligence and all their other grades were discredited. This school of thought advances an unfair comparison and competition among English-speaking and immigrants’ learners.

The efforts of immigrant persons in learning the English language is not only discredited in schools but in other public spaces as well. Tan lamented that the accent of immigrant persons significantly limited their confidence to speak in public. It would be perceived that any effort towards speaking fluent English would therefore be appreciated by the English-speaking people. However, that was not always the case. In fact, any attempts to speak English were dismissed as their words were not comprehensible. Even after years of friendship, Tan noted that she had friends who did not necessarily understand her other when she tried to speak in English. In seeking their responses, some of them said they only understood, 80 or 90 percent of what she said, others had considerable harsh standards and told her that “they understand none of it, as if she were speaking pure Chinese”. This was a brutal assessment of Tan’s mother’s English as she had put a lot of effort into her communication skills. She had read the Forbes report, listened to Wall Street weekly, and conversed daily with her stockbroker. To her friends, these efforts were not appreciated simply because she was unable to speak fluently.

In conclusion, English is a language like any other and should only be used as a communication medium. While no one should pass judgment on others based on their English-speaking ability, the immigrant communities have not had such a pleasure and have struggled in the face of discrimination. The discriminatory practices have forced immigrant persons to adopt unscrupulous ways of communication by faking their identities. In other cases, their speaking has not been taken seriously and their achievements have not been taken into account as long as their English is not fluent. Other instances of discrimination have not been trivial with some people being on the receiving end of racial discrimination for their broken English. At first, such discriminatory practices are petty but have the potential to develop into huge arguments. Critics of broke English should realize that English is simply a language and a means of communication and not a parameter of a person’s intelligence, skills, or any other facet of their personality.

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