Mother Tongue, by Amy Tan
Amy Tang's thesis is comprised of two components. First, she claims that language can be powerful in shaping individual lives and society at large. Second, she believes that language, or the style of use, is a reflection of the ethos of an individual or a groups of people.
She cites many examples to support her argument. Her primary focus is on the Asian American community and in particular how her personal experiences were shaped by the English language. The most vivid illustrations of the impact of language is demonstrated by how different parts of her identity, and the ethos that are associated with them, is demonstrated in the different styles of English that she has encountered. Ethos in this context refers to the values or spirit of a particular culture that is defined by a common identity and era. Ultimately, these different ethos create different languages and experiences not only for different people in the same country or city, but also for individuals who traverse across different identities, such as Amy Tang herself.
For example, her mother’s experiences collecting money from her stockbroker in New York or her hospital providing medical information to her about her tumor diagnosis in a recent CAT scan which not only cause confusion but also emotional stress, demonstrated a schism between how mainstream Americans whose English style dominates American institutions had difficulty in understanding the language style of the author’s mother which she described it to people as “broken” or “fractured” English and therefore people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurant did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretend not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her. By extension, the differing ethos between her mother who chose imagery and observations to express the world around her, and those she interacted with created a significant gap not only in communication but...