Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kathryn McDermott "Mother Tongue" homework #4

     Amy Tan has a very clear point in her piece Mother Tongue, and that is to inform the reader about her language history; how her background in English has shaped her view on language today. This piece of writing is very structured which may cause one to think it is closed form of prose. However, Mother Tongue is written as a story, told mostly in first person, and using personal anecdotes to discuss her main topic. Knowing about both close and open form of prose I would distinguish this as mixed form. "Just last week, I was walking down the street with my mother, and I again found myself. . ." (Tan 113). This is just one example to show that she is speaking on a very personal level, but is still structurally and grammatically correct.
     For this story I think the intended audience is young adult readers, such as high school or college students. It is almost as if Tan is giving advice to those who do not know their literary histories by explaining where her past has put her today and to encourage the reader to learn about their past. "But I do think that the language spoken in the family, especially in immigrant families which are more insular, plays a large role in shaping the language of the child" (Tan 115). I think that quote shows that she is speaking in simple terms to appeal to a younger audience but is also reaching out to those who do not know their history.
     I do not think this essay conforms to the genre conventions of an essay. This genre usually categorizes writing as structured pieces with a thesis, a clear purpose, and no room for interpretation. In Amy Tan's writing though, I feel like it is much different than that; Mother Tongue is written in a much more personal sense and is a narrative rather than a researched topic.


  1. I agree with you that her essay is a mix of open and closed prose. Although her essay has a solid structure, she incorporates personality and thought into it which makes her writing much more interesting.

  2. I also agree with you and Cayla. I didn't really think about it being both an open and close prose so much until after i read your reasoning why. It makes complete sense, and i loved it!

  3. Definitely open and close, I said more so open but I see both ways. Has structure around the language topic, but tells it in a story.

  4. Amy Tan's essay does indeed combine open and closed forms for prose. Well done. And perhaps we can identify on a spectrum which convention it uses more. I would say that the narrative elements are the strongest in the essay, utilizing more of an open form centralized around a cohesive theme. The closed element, as Kathryn stated, is that there is an argument for respecting different dialects of English. Where the wit of the essay lies, I believe, is how it argues her point. Tan does not assume a lecturing stance on the importance of using language in diverse ways. The narrative's open form instead allows Tan to share how she is personally effected by the language demands placed on her and her family in specific contexts.

    Tan's essay certainly, as Kathryn identifies, does not have a clearly stated thesis and purpose. It is still an essay in the broad sense--an essay is just a composed work that expresses an author's point of view--but to put a finer point perhaps on Kathryn's argument, it is certainly not, say, a research essay with with a explicit thesis and support points. It is more a narrative essay utilizing mostly open prose style with a few closed prose elements. It would not be appropriate for every writing task, as I think Kathryn is reminding us, but it works within a collection on literacy.