Language is one of the distinguishing peculiarities of any country, any region, and any society; it is perceived as an additional cultural, national, or social attribute, and it is inseparable from all components needed to be known when visiting or living in some country. This issue concerns both the native-born speakers and the immigrants, newcomers. It bears the symbolic meaning of assimilation and acculturation at a new place, and the correct or wrong speaking and writing will show the true identity of a person at once. Obviously, there are some native speakers who are originally illiterate, but the traditional stereotype that has been forming for centuries is that immigrants will always speak worse than any native speaker. Amy Tan raises these issues of linguistic dominance in her essay “Mother Tongue”.
Being a Chinese American, she explores the history of her family and the assessment given to her and her mother by others judging from the level of proficiency in English they had. The writer shows a couple of examples of how different the attitude of people was when she talked to them by phone on behalf of her mother, using correct and sophisticated phrases, and how detached and unserious was the treatment when her mother spoke personally, using the ‘broken’ and ‘limited’ language (Tan 1-2). It is this broken and limited language that symbolizes the limited opportunities for immigrants; people who hear the ‘limited’ language feel free to show disrespect and neglect as they perceive people with poor linguistic possibilities as limited not only linguistically but socially, mentally, and even physically. The attitude is in general not serious, as Americans listen to only those who can talk like they do, becoming seemingly equal to them. In case the language is not pure, is broken or limited, the feeling of dominance comes to Americans only on the linguistic basis.
One can see the numerous proofs for this fact in the treatment Tan’s mother received from a stockbroker, the medical staff in a hospital etc. When Tan started to speak correctly, the attitude changed at once, which spoke quite eloquently about the direct connection between linguistic skills and respect. It is true that the language of a family leaves a trace on the further possibilities of a child in America. Tan has also felt this in her own studies as she was much more proficient in precise sciences, and English was a vague, multifaceted and multi-variant subject.
The author’s observation that the IQ tests, the achievement tests etc. also depended seriously on the level of knowing English are really correct. It is true that one cannot complete a test on any topic if he or she does not completely understand the task given in it.
Hence, the achievement level becomes seriously reduced, even in case the internal knowledge is incomparably higher, the immigrants will be unable to show it because of their crippled linguistic expression skills. This is the main problem Tan underlines in her essay, showing how different the inner world and the one expressed through language are: “I wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts” (Tan 3-4). It is clear from Tan’s essay that the human inner world is much wider and richer than one can sometimes show, and it is the disadvantage of using a language not native to the speaker. It is only through the mother tongue that one can reveal everything he or she has in the soul or in the mind; this is the main root for under-estimation of skills of Chinese, African Americans, Mexicans, and other immigrants coming to the USA for better employment and living conditions. Thus, it is necessary to provide better educational facilities to give immigrants a chance to realize themselves better, and to be understood. However, the first step is surely the refusal from stereotypes, and the wish to listen to them, and to hear them.