How to Tame a Wild Tongue Gloria Anzaldúa Story Synopsis

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How to Tame a Wild Tongue

Gloria Anzaldúa
Story Synopsis: Gloria has always been told to tame her tongue. She writes about various situations in which her mouth has gotten her in trouble, usually for using Spanish in the wrong place or situation. She discusses where and when she uses different types of Spanish.

  • Students will identify and give examples of the Five Language Registers

  • Students will participate in dialogues using the Language Registers in different situations

  • Students will assess and conclude the appropriate Register for each situation

Activity: Language Register Role-Play (50 minutes)

Two students each draw cards to determine which Language Register they must converse in, then draw a situation card and role-play a conversation using their respective Language Register. Then they must determine which would be the correct Language Register for the situation.

Helpful translations as you read:

Pa’ hallar buen trabajo tienes que saber hablar el ingles bien. Que vale toda tu educacion si todavia hablas ingles con un ‘accent’”

To find good work you have to learn to speak English well. That is true even if your entire education is spoken with an accent.
El Anglo con cara de inocente now arranco la lengua”
The Anglo with innocent faces snatched out our tongues. (Not a literal translation)
Ahogadas, escupimos el oscuro.

Peleando con nuestra propia sombra

El silencio nos sepulta.”
“Drowning, spitting the dark.

Fighting with our own shadows

The silence buries us.”
“…nos quieren poner candados en la boca.”
…want to put padlocks on the mouth.

Oye como ladra: el lenguaje de la frontera

Quien tiene boca se equivocal”
Hear the bark: the language of the frontier

He who speaks is wrong

“…evolucion, enriquecimiento de palabras nuevas por invencion or adopcion”
…evolution, enrichment of new words by invention or adoption.
Un lenguaje que corresponde a un modo de vivir”
A language that corresponds to a way of life.
Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree with the quote, “Who is to say that robbing a people of its language is less violent than war”?

  2. Where does Gloria speak each of her languages? Why do you think she chooses each one?

  3. She talks about being ‘shocked’ by hearing the word “nosotras”, which is the female form of a word. Are there words in English that have male/female connotation? Are there items we refer to as “she” or “he”? Hint: think about boats, cars, etc.

  4. Have you ever created a word? Was it because no other word fit what you meant? Or for another purpose? Have you ever made up a secret language with somebody?

  5. What are the benefits of learning a different language? How does having more vocabulary help you?

  6. Examine some of the expressions that we have surrounding the word “tongue”, such as “bite your tongue”, “cat got your tongue”, etc. What is the significance of the tongue?

  7. Using a thesaurus, look up different words for various feelings. How different are each of the words? Are any interchangeable? Could you explain each of them in just a few words? How do you explain “disappointment” versus “despair”?

Examining Language:
Many students are not aware of the different types of language registers. Language registers are different ways of speaking for different situations. The appropriate register depends on the place, audience, the topic and the purpose of the encounter. Often students write the way they speak, in the casual register, because they haven’t practiced writing in the formal or consultative register.
The following information is adapted from:
Frozen: This form of language is rarely or never changed. It is “frozen” the way it is. Examples include the Lord’s prayer, standard wedding vows, Miranda rights, the pledge of allegiance, etc.
Formal: Generally, this is one-way language. It is used when addressing a group in a sermon, speech, address to a crowd, etc.
Consultative: Conversation in a business place, doctor’s office, court room, etc. Both participants adhere to standards of behavior and professional language. This is the language used when strangers meet, in the workplace, and in professional writing.
Casual: The informal language. This is the language between friends, in groups, in casual conversation in the hallway. Slang word, vulgarities, and colloquiums are common. Many students write in this language because it is the way they speak.
Intimate: The language of lovers, twins, close brothers and sisters. This language is private between two people. It includes affectionate nick-names, pet-phrases, and gestures of affection.
In conversation, switching between adjacent registers is usually considered appropriate, but if the speaker jumps more than one register, it is considered inappropriate or rude.

Activity: Language Register Role-Play (55 minutes)

Two students draw cards to determine which language register they must converse in, then draw a situation card and role-play a conversation using their respective language register. Then they must determine which would be the correct language register for the situation.

Materials: One set of the language register cards, copied on card-stock and cut apart

One set of the situation cards, cut apart

Ask students to think of a situation in which you might use each of the language registers. Have them give examples of phrases, types of words, and body language used in each register. (5-10 minutes)
Ask for two volunteers. Have them each come up and draw a language register. This is the register they must stay in while they role play. Have the pair choose a situation card. They must then act out the situation. When they are done, have the other students in the class describe what just happened. Have them guess which language register each student was using and whether or not it was appropriate for the situation. Have them indicate the appropriate register. Some situations will be tricky and there is not necessarily one right or wrong answer. (5 minutes)
If desired, have the pair act out the situation again, this time using the proper language register.
Continue choosing pairs and repeating the activity. It is not necessary to use all of the situation cards.

Either in discussion or in an essay, have students describe what they just saw. What role do language registers play in our lives? What impact does speaking “out of register” have on how people see us? What are some situations in which you might use each of the registers? Are there any places you would definitely NOT want to use one of the registers?

Language Register Cards









Language Register Situation Cards

Person A is in the doctor’s office because he/she is concerned about a health problem. Person B is the doctor.

Person A is speaking to the board of directors of a large company asking for a donation to a worthy cause. Person B is a board member asking questions.

Person A is in a job interview at a law firm. Person B is the interviewer.

Person A is in a job interview at a surf board Shop run by people who insist on being “laid back”. Person B is the interviewer.

Person A is greeting his/her supervisor, Person B, in the hallway at the workplace. Person B responds.

Person A and Person B play on the same sports team and are talking after winning a game.

Person A and Person B are married and having a conversation on the phone about what to have for dinner.

Person A is a spokesperson for a new product, speaking at a news conference. Person B is a reporter asking questions.

Person A has committed a crime. Person B is the detective interrogating the suspect.

Person A is a host on a TV show that deals with issues in politics. Person B is the guest on today’s show.

Person A and Person B are siblings trying to decide what to get for their mom for her birthday.

Person A and Person B are at a club. Person A is trying to convince Person B to dance with them.

Person A is cold-calling Person B to sell magazine subscriptions. They do not know each


Person A is the CEO of a company. He/she is being questioned by Congressperson B on allegations of corporate misconduct.

Person A and Person B are strangers who meet at a sporting event of their favorite team. They are discussing the game.

Person A is asking Person B to marry him/her, recalling many fond memories.


Minnesota Humanities Center

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