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How Does Language Define Who We Are - Essay Example

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Summary
Writer Amy Tan, daughter of Chinese immigrants, born and bred in New York, begins her essay "Mother Tongue" with the following words, "I am fascinated by language in daily life" (p.257). This sentence in its simplicity sets forth a self-evident truth. It shows that there can be different versions of a single language…
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How Does Language Define Who We Are

Download file to see previous pages... For instance, the English that one uses at home is poles apart from the language one would employ in ones workplace or educational institution. This is because when a person is around his family or friends, i.e. around people who are intimate with him and have known him for a length of time, the mask that one wears to the outside world slips away and an individual feels no need to hide behind a facade of formality. This natural and daily transition that one makes from formal mode to casual mode, might appear strange when studied from a distance but if one were to observe closely, it would be seen that this is universal behavior where even the most formal of people will be seen using an entirely different type of English when in informal surroundings. Another point worth noticing is how individuals for whom English is not their mother tongue, speak it.
There is a common perception amongst people that those who speak accurate English, free from any grammatical errors, are gifted with greater insight, depth of perception, logic and common sense and have comparatively superior education and wisdom than those who speak, as Tan puts it, "broken" "fractured" or "limited" English. This case is discussed at great length by Tan who gives the example of her own mother. Tan's mother reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses with her stockbroker and reads Shirley McLain's novels (p.258). All these prove that she is a woman of above-average intelligence and her command over English language is better than most people, even better than those whose mother tongue is English. Unfortunately, Tan's mother's speaking powers are slightly weak and she tends to speak English that is grammatically poor. As a result, she faces great difficulty in her day to day life as most people in public places such as banks, restaurants and hospitals ignore her or are rude to her. For them she portrays the image of a woman who is unable to understand and pick up simple rules of a simple language. It is due to this that once, even her daughter, despite knowing of her mother's reading habits and talents, thought of her as somehow lacking in wisdom. As Tan writes, "I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly, her thoughts were imperfect" (p.259).
It cannot be denied that basic judgments about people are made based on a lot of factors, not the least of which is the person's language. A person who uses well-crafted sentences, employs all manner of embellishments or better still, uses difficult words, is considered to be highly learned, professional and someone with hordes of intellect. Perri Klass, a pediatrician by profession, related just such an experience from her personal life in her witty essay "She's Your Basic LOL in NAD." She relates how she came to adopt the medical jargon that her colleagues used in their daily communication while discussing patients' medical condition. Klass relates her initial sense of awe at hearing all those acronyms and how even the complicated LOL turned out to be nothing more than "Little Old Lady" (p.98) but sounded extremely professional nonetheless. Klass recounts how she happily used these words despite knowing that at times they were nothing but deliberate ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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