What is The Theme of Mother Tongue?

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 718 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 718|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Language and Identity
  2. The Power of Communication
  3. Understanding and Acceptance
  4. Conclusion

Language is a powerful tool that shapes our identities, influences our interactions, and reflects our cultural backgrounds. In her essay "Mother Tongue," Amy Tan explores the complexities of language and the impact it has on our lives. Through personal anecdotes and observations, Tan conveys the message that one's command of language, especially their mother tongue, affects their perception of self and their ability to communicate effectively. The main theme of this essay, "Mother Tongue," suggests that language is not just a means of communication, but also a reflection of our identities and the key to understanding one another.

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Language and Identity

Throughout the essay, Tan emphasizes the significance of language in shaping one's identity. She recounts instances when her mother's limited English proficiency led to misunderstandings and assumptions about her intelligence. Tan writes, "I am a writer. And by that definition, I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated by language in daily life" (Tan). This statement highlights the importance of language in Tan's life and the impact it has had on her career as a writer. By using her mother's broken English as a starting point, Tan examines the connection between language and identity, suggesting that our command of language plays a crucial role in how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.

Tan's experiences with her mother's limited English proficiency also shed light on the stereotypes and biases that individuals with non-standard English dialects often face. She recalls instances when her mother was treated with disrespect or dismissed because of her accent or grammatical errors. Tan argues that society often assigns value and intelligence based on one's language proficiency, reinforcing the idea that language is not merely a tool for communication, but also a marker of social status and cultural identity.

The Power of Communication

Another important theme in "Mother Tongue" is the power of communication. Tan highlights the challenges faced by individuals with limited English proficiency, both in expressing themselves and in understanding others. She notes that her mother's difficulty in communicating effectively hindered her ability to convey her thoughts and emotions accurately. Tan writes, "Her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world" (Tan). This quote emphasizes the importance of language in shaping our perception and understanding of the world.

Tan argues that language is not only a means of conveying information, but also a tool for building relationships and connecting with others. She describes moments when her mother's limited English became a barrier in her interactions with doctors, customer service representatives, and other authority figures. These encounters highlight the importance of effective communication in navigating various social contexts and the potential consequences of language barriers.

Understanding and Acceptance

The theme of understanding and acceptance is also prevalent in Tan's essay. She reflects on her own journey of embracing and appreciating her mother's unique language style, despite society's tendency to dismiss or devalue non-standard English dialects. Tan writes, "I think my mother's English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well" (Tan). This statement suggests that Tan's initial embarrassment and frustration with her mother's English hindered her ability to fully understand and appreciate her mother's experiences and perspective.

However, as Tan matured, she recognized the richness and complexity of her mother's language. She realized that her mother's English, although non-standard, was a reflection of her unique cultural background and experiences. Through this realization, Tan emphasizes the importance of accepting and valuing diverse linguistic expressions, as they provide insights into different cultures and ways of thinking.


Amy Tan's essay "Mother Tongue" explores the multifaceted nature of language and its impact on our lives. The main theme of the essay, "Mother Tongue," suggests that language is not merely a means of communication, but also a reflection of our identities and the key to understanding one another. Tan's personal anecdotes and observations highlight the significance of language in shaping our perception of self, the power of effective communication, and the importance of understanding and accepting diverse linguistic expressions. Through her essay, Tan urges readers to recognize the value of different languages and dialects, as they provide unique perspectives and insights into our complex world.


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Tan, Amy. "Mother Tongue." The Threepenny Review, no. 43, 1990, pp. 14-20.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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What Is The Theme Of Mother Tongue? (2024, Jun 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
“What Is The Theme Of Mother Tongue?” GradesFixer, 13 Jun. 2024,
What Is The Theme Of Mother Tongue? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jul. 2024].
What Is The Theme Of Mother Tongue? [Internet] GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 13 [cited 2024 Jul 22]. Available from:
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