“I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother’s “limited” English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality if what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect. And I have plenty of empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.”
In her essay “Mother Tongue” Amy Tan brings up a lot of issues that are worthy of focused attention, issues that have to be discussed. However the decision has been made to choose only one issue, which, as for me, is the one of the most controversial these days. Based on the chosen passage, I want to highlight the effects the culture of speech and language correctness has on public’s perception of an individual.
In “Mother Tongue” the author depicts different situations when her mother was treated improperly just because of the poor English she spoke. Who would think that in our highly developed society such an issue still exists? Every day we meet people from different social classes, different countries and societies, so why do we cherish this strange prejudice against all of the individuals, who are different than we are?
The answer to that question is hidden in every one of us. From the early childhood teachers teach us to speak properly, claiming that the culture of speech is an important component of the overall culture of an individual and his spiritual and moral image. We live in the society, where it is commonly believed that language is the primary element of culture and, therefore, a means of aesthetic education. That is the reason why we tend to think that people, who have limited language and poor vocabulary are “limited” themselves. And that is not the problem of specific groups of people that is a problem of the society as a whole. When the author describes the prejudice people usually have when they hear her mother speak — we feel sorry for the woman, with an immense feeling of disgust to those people. However when we think about it, these prejudices are inherent to all of us.
Such linguistic discrimination is quite widespread in the US.
One can observe the unfair treatment of people in different parts of the country, which is based entirely on their use of the language, accent and size of vocabulary. For example people from southern states are perceived to be less intelligent just because of the English dialect they use in the everyday life. In the USA the South is considered to be uneducated and rural. “Its dialect is quite simply associated with the features assigned its residents.” (Language Myth # 17) We never think of this problem on the everyday basis, but it really exists. A lot of people in our society believe that the vocabulary a person uses has to correlate with the level of intelligence or competence. However it is not always that way. Usually people become victims of linguicism without any particular basis for it. And it not supposed to be like that. These stereotypes should be eradicated from the society, from our minds.
Although by the end of the essay the author claims that it does not matter which English a person speaks, as there is not better or worst forms, at the beginning she shows that it was not always like that. At the beginning Amy clearly states that there used to be times when her mother’s poor English had a very big impact on Amy’s perception of her mother. So, as we can see even our own perception of our close relatives can be affected by such factors as language. Therefore it is very wrong to blame the society, which make their assumptions about individuals based on the way they speak.
Finegan, Edward, and Rickford argue that most people believe that that there is such a thing as good language and bad language. (292) However it is just a myth people believe in, without even thinking about it. We do not have any right to think that it is reasonable to judge others based on the variety of language they speak. One should pay much more attention to what people are saying, not to how they do it, and how sophisticated their language is.
As we can see Amy Tan has raised a very important and acute issue in her essay — languagism. This problem has always existed in our society, however for some reason nothing has been done in order to resolve it. It is XXI century outside, it is time already to break these stereotypes and broaden our minds.
Finegan, Edward, and John R. Rickford. Language in the U.S.A.: Themes for the 21st Century. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.
"Language Myth # 17" PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/prejudice/attitudes/>