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Posted on August 19th, 2012, by

Language plays an extremely important role in human life. In fact, humans use language as the primary signal systems, which allows them to communicate freely and understand each other. At the same time, language is not a simple system. In stark contrast, language has a very complicated structure and the processes which influence the development of language and the language formation and development are very complicated processes which need a profound research and understanding. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the use of one and the same word in different contexts may have totally different meaning. In such a context, the understanding of the process of language formation and functioning is of the utmost importance because it allows people to understand better each other, regardless of the existing social, cultural or ethnic barriers. Therefore, the understanding of basic principles of functioning and development of language and the use of language by people are very important in historical context since such a view on language provides ample opportunities to perceive and understand the language as a whole, as a complicated and changing system, while the focus on a specific elements of language, such as the use of certain dialects or words cannot contribute to the overall understanding of language as a system, susceptible to considerable changes. At this point, it is possible to refer to essays written by Gloria Naylor, “A Question of Language”¯, and by Amy Tan “Mother Tongue”¯, which actually focus on the language but the latter essay provides larger, longer lasting and more universal appeal than the former.

Obviously, both Gloria Naylor and Amy Tan research the process of functioning of language and use of language by people in different situations. At first glance, both authors have managed to convey their ideas clearly and both essays sounds quite convincing. Nevertheless, on analyzing both essays in historical terms, taking the language development in historical retrospection “Mother Tongue”¯ seems to be more universal than “A Question of Language”¯.

At the same time, it does not necessarily mean that “A Question of Language”¯ is less significant and noteworthy essay. In stark contrast, Gloria Naylor provides readers with very important information on the functioning of the language, focusing her attention on the use of some words in different contexts and revealing the extent to which the perception of one and the same word can vary depending on the socio-cultural context and environment in which the word is used as well as speakers and listeners who using these words. To put it more precisely, the author focuses the attention of the audience on the use of such words as “nigger”¯ and “girl”¯. It is important to underline that the author attempts to represent the variations of the use of these words through her personal experience. In actuality, this means that Gloria Naylor heavily relies on her personal experience and, above all, she refer to her recalls of the past, when she has heard the offensive word for the first time. Remarkably, the notices that, even though she did not know the actual meaning of the word, she felt its offensive implication, Gloria Naylor attempts to develop this idea of the interdependence of the meaning of words and the context in which they are used. In other words, the author reveals the fact that the verbal representation of words may be secondary compared to the context from which people can understand the actual meaning of words. This is exactly what Gloria Naylor experience when she heard the offensive word from her classmate.

Potentially, the author could develop her research of the dependence of the use of language and socio-cultural context, but she narrows her research to the use of two words only and it is through these words she attempts to convey her ideas and her views on language. However, in such a way, she apparently narrows the scope of her essay and, therefore, its historical significance and universality. Even though she conducts a very detailed research of the use of the word “nigger”¯ in different context, by representatives of both white and African-American community, she fails to go beyond the analysis of the use and evolution of this word. On the other hand, such a focus on her personal experience on one word makes her essay more personal and, therefore, readers are likely to perceive it on the personal, informal level. This means that the audience is likely to support the position of the author, even though it lacks universality.

At this point, “Mother Tongue”¯ by Amy Tan is more successful since through the analysis of the personal experience of the author, she manages to show the wide scope of the variability of language and the extent to which the language can be diverse. In fact, the author intentionally underlines that the view on the language cannot be narrowed.

Instead, she writes about Englishes she, in person, uses in different context. In such a way, she reveals the fact that the language is very diverse and people develop different communication styles and different languages in different environment and contexts. Consequently, the author does not limit herself by the analysis of a few words only.

Instead, she represents the language as a very diverse system, where the standard language, such as English, can have acquire multiple forms in the process of communication in different contexts. Eventually, she arrives to a bit paradoxical conclusion that even the perfect, standard English cannot guarantee that a person using such a language will be understood by other people, properly.

Similarly to Gloria Naylor, Amy Tan refers to her personal experience that makes her essay sound convincing, but she provides a larger view on the language. In fact, she allows the audience to understand how the language develops and progresses in historical context. Even though she does not have references to the past use of certain words or language as Gloria Naylor does, but Amy Tan manages to reveal principles of functioning of language as a whole.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Gloria Naylor’s “A Question of Language”¯ and Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”¯ provide readers with important information concerning language, its development and functioning. Both essays are based on the personal experience of authors that makes the essays more convincing and closer to readers’ perception on the personal, informal level. Nevertheless, on analyzing both essays in historical terms, in terms of universality, it is possible to conclude that Amy Tan provides a larger, more universal view on the language, while, Gloria Naylor is focused on more specific elements of language.

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