Mother Tongue, by Amy Tan
I am not a scholar of English or literature. I cannot give you much more than personal opinions on theEnglish language and its variations in this country or others.I am a writer. And by that definition, I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated bylanguage in daily life. I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language -- the way itcan evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth. Language is the tool of my trade.And I use them all -- all the Englishes I grew up with.Recently, I was made keenly aware of the different Englishes I do use. I was giving a talk to a large groupof people, the same talk I had already given to half a dozen other groups. The nature of the talk was aboutmy writing, my life, and my book,
The Joy Luck Club
. The talk was going along well enough, until Iremembered one major difference that made the whole talk sound wrong. My mother was in the room. Andit was perhaps the first time she had heard me give a lengthy speech, using the kind of English I have never used with her. I was saying things like, "The intersection of memory upon imagination" and "There is anaspect of my fiction that relates to thus-and-thus'--a speech filled with carefully wrought grammatical phrases, burdened, it suddenly seemed to me, with nominalized forms, past perfect tenses, conditional phrases, all the forms of standard English that I had learned in school and through books, the forms of English I did not use at home with my mother.Just last week, I was walking down the street with my mother, and I again found myself conscious of theEnglish I was using, the English I do use with her. We were talking about the price of new and usedfurniture and I heard myself saying this: "Not waste money that way." My husband was with us as well, andhe didn't notice any switch in my English. And then I realized why. It's because over the twenty years we've been together I've often used that same...