May 12, 2013 Rhetorical Analysis of Amy Tan’s "Mother Tongue"



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Akash Vani
Patel
Writing 10
May 12, 2013

Rhetorical Analysis of Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”

Most of the people who live in the United States are not native. They had ancestors who crossed either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean to get to the new world. They had to learn a whole new language in addition to the one they already know, their main language. Learning the new language will take time to master because of the new environment the foreigners have to live and adapt to. However, compared to their children who will be born in the new world, they will have less difficulty learning due to their new environment. In Amy Tan’s short essay “Mother’s Tongue” is about using two language types when talking to her English-speaking friends and her own mother. Compared to her friends, who do not fully understand Amy’s mother’s accent, Tan on the other had feels that she is able to communicate with her mother effectively and without any discrepancies. Her choice of two rhetorical devices, ethos and pathos, and diction, proved convincing because she effectively expressed to her audience that “mother tongue” is personal bond with family and culture.

First Amy Tan establishes herself with ethos by briefly telling her life story to show how she became a successful writer. She is a first generation American born. Her mom had made the difficult decision on moving to the United States leaving her other two daughters. Her mother and father wanted Amy Tan to be a doctor and also a concert pianist. (“About Me and My Family”). However, she secretly wanted to write. She changed her major from pre-med to English in her first year of college. After, she became a freelance writer. Soon, she wrote the book The Joy Luck Club which contained many stories from her mother and her life back in China, her friends, and their parents’ lives in China (“About Me and My Family”). With Amy Tan having the combination of being a first generation America born with parents that are immigrants, having an English major, and her famous book that received a wide applause, her credibility, or ethos, has already been established. She has had many years of English knowledge with her degree and her book to prove it. Tan choose to be an English major despite her parent’s expectations. Then she wrote stories about the connection between daughters and mothers which seem to come from two different worlds (“About Me and My Family”). Tan’s past knowledge combined with ethos and her work indicates that she has had the firsthand experience and is able to convey her message to her audience more clearly.

Another key point is that Tan is able to effectively use in “Mother’s Tongue” is pathos, relating to emotion, by using the past stories of her life and of her mother’s. Tan touches the readers who have had similar experiences. She remembers back when she was giving a talk to a large group, “The talk was going along well enough, until I remembered one major difference that made the whole talk sound wrong. My mother was in the room. And it was perhaps the first time she had heard me give a lengthy speech, using the kind of English I have never used with her” (Tan 1). Emotionally, and mentally, it did not feel like Tan’s mother was in place because Tan using a “different” kind of English compared to what she and her friends would normally talk. Her mother’s presence also disrupted the atmosphere and vibe causing Tan to feel awkward and out of place. Tan tries to connect with the readers who have had similar experiences such as in school plays or other public events where parents watch you from afar. Tan understands the challenges that others with English as a second language have to go through. However, the “different” kind of English is more personal because it serves as a bond between the family, something only they can understand what it truly being said.

The last element Tan uses to convey her message is through the use of diction, the author’s word choice, to describe her mother’s quality and other non-English speaking people in speech. In part of the interview with her mother, Tan listens to as her mother tells a story of her past, “Du Yusong having business like fruit stand. Like off the street kind. He is Du like Du Zong -- but not Tsung-ming Island people. The local people call putong, the river east side, he belong to that side local people” (Tan 3). The words that she initially chooses to describe her mother’s English feel harsh and give an overall negative connotation. The words “broken”, “fractured” and “limited” all seemed to possess a barrier around those who are trying to speak English as other normal people would. However, her mother

“Reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads all of Shirley MacLaine's books with ease… Yet some of my friends tell me they understand 50 percent of what my mother says. Some say they understand 80 to 90 percent. Some say they understand none of it, as if she were speaking pure Chinese. But to me, my mother's English is perfectly clear, perfectly natural” (Tan 2).

Then Tan learns that the English that she has been using with her mother since she was little was “simple”. The extent of the sentence would not go beyond the statement and was always down to the point. And to the people who she would translate the words from Chinese to English are better described as “watered down” (Tan 4). As Tan would translate her mother’s stories, she knew that she could not get all the exact details due to the conversion and style of the Chinese tradition that not all readers will understand. Tan would have to do her best and convey the same message her mother would have as if she were writing the story herself. But it’s the words from her mother’s mouth that mean to Tan than anyone else.



Collectively, Amy Tan effectively demonstrated in her article, “Mother’s Tongue” that ethos, pathos, and diction are essential to building family relationship and culture. She has had previous experience to evoke feelings from the audience and judged based off her work as a writer. She later went on to be a noted author who has had much praise from various critics (“About Me and My Family”).To top it off, her choice in words elegantly and accurately describes her message: children speak differently to our friends than their parents unknowingly. The way that words sound and are presented changes the contextual meaning from the two different types of groups, family and friends. This puts the readers in a position where we are categorized by our outward interactions such as communication. However, Tan realizes that it is not something one can change. To Tan, she does not mind her mother’s English because she is still able to understand with full clarity, making her closer to her mother. Tan emphasizes that her mother is still intelligent although society would not see it as in the same perspective. Her use of rhetorical devices changes the way society views families of various backgrounds. Children of those families try to fit into the environment, acting normal and trying to blend in a different community. When Tan’s mother reads her essay and drafts and finally says “easy to read,’ Tan feels relieved that her mother is not categorized due to her simple English and is able to understand the same message as the other fluent English-speaking readers without using two different types of English. Tan puts it, “It’s my mother tongue. 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 4).
Works Cited

Tan, Amy. "About Me and My Family." About Me and My Family. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

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