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“Two Ways to Belong in America” by Bharati Mukherjee

In this essay, Bharati Mukherjee discusses the differences between her and her sister’s experiences of coming to America. Both sisters were born and raised in Calcutta, India and moved America in search of education and work. Bharati is an American citizen and her sister, Mira, is not.
I found it interesting that both sisters came to America for the same purpose—education. Mira ended up marrying an Indian student and keeping her Indian citizenship and status as a legal immigrant because she wanted to stay true to her culture. And Bharati chose to marry a Canadian-American and declare an American citizenship. I feel like Bharati became a part of a new speech community because she chose to adapt to an American lifestyle and declare an American citizenship. Her sister did not like the idea of transforming her identity to become an American citizen. It seems as if Mira belongs to a more traditional and cultural speech community, even though she has been in America for over thirty years. Bharati has accommodated to the “superficial pop culture” of American society.
The different views amongst the two sisters reminds me of the differing views of some of my friends and I when it comes to fitting into American society. Obviously, my friends have been raised differently than I have. When I ask them what career field they want to pursue, they respond with, “I just want to get married.” When I first heard this response, I was shocked. I understand that our mothers were born and raised in Pakistan and they got married at a young age. However, I feel that, being born and raised in America, we should have higher goals than just marrying some random guy chosen by our parents. I feel like they don’t have the motivation to work hard to reach a goal because their parents don’t encourage them to at least get a four-year degree. In fact, their parents talk about them getting married at young ages. On the other hand, my sister was engaged at a young age, but my parents are encouraging her to focus on school and at least finish her four years of undergraduate studies before getting married and starting a new life. I think it is important to assimilate to new speech communities, such as Bharati’s assimilation to American society. If not, you might miss out on what is really important, such as a future.


“Two Ways to Belong in America”-Bharati Mukherjee

The final selection of our class blog is, as many of you have noticed, quite different from our previous readings. Unlike Lederer’s “All-American Dialects”, Baldwin’s “Black English”, and Tan’s “Mother Tongue”, Mukherjee does not explicitly discuss differences in our languages, dialects, or speech communities within American society. Instead, she shares a personal essay about her experience migrating to another country and how it differed from her sister, Mira’s experience. If one read this essay without having studied speech communities, as our class has, he/she probably wouldn’t have made any connection to speech communities. To be honest, at first, I didn’t either, until I recognized the implications of the differing speech communities Bharati and Mira decided to join upon their arrival in America.

Mukherjee(Bharati) explains in India she and Mira were “almost identical in appearance and attitude”. However, in America, Bharati chose to marry outside of her ethnic community, and therefore entered into an entirely different speech community from her sister Mira, who married her ethnic equal and maintained her membership within her Indian culture’s speech community. Because Mira decided to preserve her Indian heritage and lifestyle, she did not desire to become assimilated into American society, but instead wanted to maintain her own identity as an Indian immigrant working in America. Mira did not welcome the new legislation that encouraged legal immigrants to become American citizens like Bharati did. The sisters found themselves viewing their new life through the eyes of  two completely different speech communities. Mukherjee writes “Mira’s voice, I realize, is the voice not just of the immigrant South Asian community but of an immigrant community of the millions who have stayed rooted in one job, one city, one house, one ancestral culture, one cuisine, for the entirety of their productive years”.

Through this selection I’ve learned how much of an impact a speech community can have on one’s identity, not only through language, dialects, and social connections but from ethnicity, culture, lifestyle, and politics. I’ve also gained a new appreciation for diverse cultures from the perspective of immigrants. There’s been a long-standing argument about the “melting pot” versus “tossed salad” debate. Should we encourage immigrants to assimilate to American culture or welcome diversity? I’ve gotten in arguments with my mom several times about this issue. She believes English should be declared America’s “official” language and anyone who chooses to live here needs to learn English rather than try to teach their own language. Although I agree it’d make communication easier if everyone learned English, I welcome the diversity of different languages and want to become fluently bilingual at some point in my life. I understand the perspectives of both Bharati and Mira and appreciate Mukherjee’s essay for expressing both sides of the issue from two completely different speech communities.

“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan

Each of us was born into our own worlds of language and each of us has a first language that our families brought us up in, our “mother tongue”. We a raised into a specific way of speaking that it will always be a part of us. Amy Tan says it perfectly, “It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.” She goes on to describe how she was once similar to her mother’s broken English, and how it was hard for other people to understand what she was trying to interpret. Her mother, to this day, still speaks in this broken style of the English language. 

Amy Tan has become a well known writer in some parts, and speaks both English and her first language very fluently. She speaks in front of large groups of people about the books she has written, and is very professional in the way she presents herself. In this writing, she talks about how she discovered during one of her speeches in which her mother was present. After when she got the chance to talk to her mother, Amy caught herself speaking in broken English with her mother. I found this very interesting and I tied it in with the last couple classes speaking on language dialects and how we sometimes pick up different ways of speaking depending on what kind of people we surround ourselves with. I often find myself changing up the way I speak when I am around family and then going back to something different when I am around friends. 

Amy Tan worked hard to rid her speech from broken sentences and eventually became a renowned writer for our time. I know that I have never really had a hard time speaking the English language well, but I know that this story could really stand out to those who found or still find it difficult to speak our nations language even after living here for so long. English, as a language, is constantly changing from a sociological standpoint, and it will continue to do so until the end of time. 

Amy Tan-Mother Tongue

Amy Tan’s article “Mother Tongue” really spoke to me in several different ways. First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her relationship with her mother, and she really did everything in her power to connect with her mom and help her get her messages across. She never seemed to understand why people thought of her mom’s English as “broken” until she grew up, and then she realized that it wasn’t “broken.” Her English was just misunderstood. To her, this form of English was crystal clear and easy for her to understand, but to everyone else it was only 50 to 60% understandable.
I never had to deal with anyone misunderstanding my mom’s English except with certain words. My mother was born and raised in New York and says several words different than southern people due to her northern dialect. Amy’s mom may not have been as clear as mine, but I can kind of relate to Amy’s struggles. I have also had to talk on the phone for my mom and get her message across to the other person. Especially when she calls the phone company or her bank. For some reason, they can never fully understand her northern dialect, and I always end up having to talk for her. I used to just blame it on the phone connection, but I realized if the connection was bad they wouldn’t be able to understand me either.
The article also showed me how different forms of English can evolve from several different dialects. Amy’s mom originally spoke Chinese, so her English was mixed with her native tongue and wasn’t always clear. This just shows that not all people speak the same and everyone has their own “mother tongue” that they speak with.

“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan

Mother Tongue – the language that a person has grown up speaking from early childhood.  Although Amy Tan knows proper English, her Mother Tongue is “broken” English since she was raised in a Chinese household where “proper” English was not used.  Although Tan could understand how her family talked, it was hard for others to figure out what they were saying.  Tan gave an example of how she had to translate her mothers “broken” English into the “proper” English that others could understand.  Her mother would speak things like “Why he don’t send me check, already two weeks late” and Tan translated this into “Yes,  I’m getting rather concerned.  You had agreed to send the check two weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived” (an argument between Tans mother and a stock broker).  Tan also made a point on how there are not many Asian American writers in today’s culture.  She explained how her teachers pushed her towards a career that involved math and science since she didn’t speak English that well, but Tan stuck with her passion and is now a renowned fictional writer.


Amy Tans writing reminds me a lot of how we went over the different ways we speak depending on whom we are around.  In a professional setting, Tan would speak very proper English, but when she was around her family it was “broken” English. She came to this realization when her mother attended one of her talks on a book she wrote.  She realized that she was speaking to the crowd in a different way that she spoke to her mother.  As students, we speak differently in a classroom setting than we would speak as if we are at home.  Unlike Tan, I do not speak my “Mother Tongue” anymore since it incorporated many ‘redneck’ sayings.  Because I am not partial towards ‘redneck’ things, I made sure that I changed the way that I spoke.  Whenever I attend family events, I can understand the meaning of what my relatives say since I grew around them.  And I think that is the most important thing.  Being able to understand the meaning and emotion behind the words is more important than the words themselves.


If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?

James Baldwin makes several good points about how a person speaks says a great deal about them. We have been talking a lot about “dialects” in class and how everyone has their own. Baldwin, however, shows that some people have their own language that’s different from their base language. He noted how white American may never have had the word “jazz” or “funky”. And that, “There was a moment, in time, and in this place, when my brother, or my mother, or my father, or my sister, had to convey to me, for example, the danger in which I was standing from the white man standing just behind me, and to convey this with a speed, and in a language, that the white man could not possibly understand, and that, indeed, he cannot understand, until today.” Baldwin’s family (and most likely generations before them) made up a word to use in case of danger. Unless you were a part of that group, you wouldn’t be able to understand what that word meant. So, it becomes a part of their own language.

“To open your mouth in England is (if I may use my black English) to ‘put your business in the street’: You have confessed your parents, your youth, your school, your salary, your self-esteem, and, alas, your future.” I can’t think of any words that I use and that people outside of my social group can understand, but this generation has abbreviated quite a lot of things. “Selfie”, “presh”, “totes”, and “legit”. Although the older generations can understand what they mean, it would be very strange if they actually used them. Unlike Baldwin, these words weren’t created by necessity, but rather, to make life that much simpler. New words are created all the time.When and how you use them tells people about you and your background just like your dialect can.

If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?

In James Baldwin’s essay he is trying to explain that even though people may speak the same language, it is going to be different based on where they come from, who they are, what they do, and the experiences they have gone through. In his essay, he brings up how when slaves came to America, the white people didn’t have any interest in educating them because they didn’t need an education. So for that reason, the blacks developed their own language that was not, “merely, the adoption of a foreign tongue, but an alchemy that transformed ancient elements into a new language.”(160) This language was used to connect blacks to one another and to identify who they were. Baldwin even says, “[Language] is the most vivid and crucial key to identity: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” (159)

I completely agree with Baldwin in that language identifies who you are and it connects you to a community of people that are similar to you. My dad was born in Bosnia, so my family speaks Bosnian. When we first moved to the United States, I had no idea that there were so many Bosnian people that lived in and around Charlotte. There was a whole network of us across North Carolina and although we were all different in a sense, it was our language that connected us to one another. And I know my parents will always introduce themselves to people when they hear them talking Bosnian. It’s not very common to see or hear a Bosnian around here and not know who they are because we all know each other. And it’s always easy to connect to them because we already have our language in common and we’re bound to have even more things in common with them because of that.

Overall, I believe that Baldwin was very angry in his essay because he believed that whites didn’t want to accept Black English and they felt threatened by it. I believe times have changed, greatly, since this essay was written and there is no more segregation like there was back then. Black English is just as widely accepted as Spanglish, and every other language that is similar to English. 

All-American Dialects by Richard Lederer

As I read Richard Lederer’s essay about all the dialects across the United States, it really made me realize how many various dialects there actually are in this great country of ours. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that there were so many. I always assumed your general, northern, southern, east coast, west coast, mid-west, and other general areas and that was it. I never thought that there were so many subdivisions of these dialects and so many branch offs in each state. I knew a couple people from Michigan and we would always get in arguments about if it was “soda” or “pop”. They would always say me and all my friends were wrong and that they knew what it really was because they were from Michigan they said it right up there. Of course, my friends and I always argued back and said that they were in the south and not in Michigan anymore and down here it’s “soda” The story about the girl suffering from amnesia at the truck stop in Missouri really shocked me. It is amazing to think that someone could listen to her speech and be able to tell not only what state she was from, but the exact part of that state. I would have never thought that to have been possible and never imagined she would be able to find her family again. Also, the Biblical stories about Gileadites using dialect to be able to tell who the enemy was really stood out to me as well. I went to a small Baptist school my entire life and never heard of these two stories, so to read these for the first time here came as a bit of a surprise. I never truly realized how many dialects and the importance of them until I read this essay, but I now understand how important and helpful they are in everyday life.

All-American Dialects

Richard Lederer’s essay about all of the different dialects all over the United States has really made me think about how many dialects there actually are in America. Each region in the United seems to have different dialects and say things differently. His research has revealed that one word can have a variety of different names from all different dialects. I have probably heard most of the dialects in the United States at least once in my life, whether it be in person or on t.v. However, I have probably heard dialects from the south and the north the most since I live in the south and much of my family lives in New York. I don’t think I have much of a southern accent or dialect at all even though I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life. And even though I have a lot of close family in New York I don’t find myself or my parents and brother talking with any northern dialect. It’s a little weird to me that I don’t really have any distinguished major dialect but it is still in its own a dialect nonetheless. The quote, “when you learn language, you learn it as a dialect; if you do not speak a dialect, you do not speak”, is very important because it exemplifies the truth that everyone has their own dialect whether they realize it or not.

I found it really interesting that dialects could serve such an important purpose like helping to figure out where an amnesia victim lived based solely on the way the person said “greasy” as “greezy”. Also, the fact that the Unabomber, Kaczynski, used a dialect indicative of Northern California as well as his intelligence, which helped us catch him, made me start to think that dialect is more important than people think. Dialect has a purpose and is more than just a weird way people say things.

Speech Communities by Paul Roberts

Reading about speech communities had me thinking about where I came from. There were various factors that shaped me into the speech community that I am currently in. Paul Roberts discusses many different things that form speech communities including geography, age, and social class.

Geography impacts many people not only from overseas but right here in the USA. Being a southern boy raise by a Mom from New York and Dad from Virginia I can easily see the different dialects that people have. Most people know that people up north like in New York or New Jersey, sound different than people from North Carolina. For example my mom and dad both say “water” differently and argue every time they say it. Also being from the south I often catch myself saying y’all a lot. While up north this could sound trashy and uncouth in the south it is welcomed.

When Roberts talks about age many interesting points are made. While most of us think that our speech communities come from the roots of our family we are often found wrong. Communities change even at a young age when we go to daycare or even to preschool. After awhile of being I’m school we find ourselves speaking differently than we would she’s. We speak to our parents. I found myself speaking more proper with my parents and use a lot more slang while I’m with friends.

Overall I was very intrigued about what Roberts had to say ad often found myself analyzing how I talk. Personally I find myself being proper around adults and very improper around teenagers and kids. I definitely have a southern “country” voice that northerners can pick up on but nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone’s background is different and that is what makes us unique, I think people should embrace their dialect and not be embarrassed by it.