Importance of Language Within Cultural Identity in How to Tame a Wild Tongue

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In her essay, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” (1987), Gloria Anzaldúa asserts that foreigners were treated as inferior because of their language. She does this by giving her readers insights into her own life, through the usage of imagery and description. Anzaldúa hopes that her personal narratives would bring to light the mistreatment of foreigner simply because of their mother tongue. The audience are those unaware of the abuses inflicted upon foreigners, and advocates of the assimilation of minority groups into the predominant culture, to whom she has directed the concluding sentence of her essay “we, the mestizas and mestizos, will remain” (Anzaldúa 146).

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Having been in a similar circumstance as Anzaldúa (a foreigner in a predominantly English country), I can relate to the disadvantages of speaking a “foreign tongue” (140). However, given that the essay was published 32 years ago (and encompasses recollections from the 1960s), my struggles are less severe in comparison. Instead of physical harms from a sharp ruler (136), my obstacles were simply a lack of recognition. My biggest regret from five years ago was knowing that I was prevented from skipping a grade simply because of my then incompetent in speaking the English language (Indeed, I could now understand the once cryptic discussions between my teachers). Moreover, as there are fewer Vietnamese than Chicanos, instead of the fear of “looking into the mirror” when meeting other Chicanos (141), my family were the only “mirror” that I could see. Regardless of the differences in our challenges, I am delighted to have read this essay as it brought forward a latent reality that foreigners, inadequate to speak up, continued to be persecuted.

Inconsistent with her purpose to enlighten Americans of the struggles faced by Chicanos, Anzaldúa blockaded herself from American readers that have little or no background in reading Spanish literatures. She does this by incorporating consecutive Spanish sentences that are not clearly translated to the readers. For example, “Ahogadas, escupimos… silencio nos sepulta” (137), which I understand to be “Drowned, we spit the dark. Fighting with our own shadow, silence buries us” (Google Translate). These two sentences make up the thesis of her first subsection “Overcoming the Tradition of Silence”. Even though they only serve as topic sentences, that are further developed in the subsection, these “walls” of Spanish texts alienate some readers from the essay. Aside from the above group of readers, however, this writing technique does bring forth a beautiful resonant of styles with the author’s desperation to keep her culture. Anzaldúa emphasized a list of different languages by using large bullet points that are in orange (to contrast with the rest of the text in black). Out of the 8 languages listed, the Chicanos speak “Standard Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish Dialect, Chicano Spanish (with regional variations), Tex-Mex [English and Spanish in the same sentence], and Pachuco” (138). Throughout the essay, Anzaldúa included subtle references to these different languages, the most prominent being “Pa‘ hallar… hablas inglés con un ‘accent’” (136) which intentionally mix the English word “accent” with the remaining words in Spanish. Many of the other Spanish words in the text are a variation of Mexican Spanish and Chicano Spanish. This essay masterfully excites the interests of scholar readers who understand Spanish and recognized her writing technique of including different parts of her dialects into her word choices. Unfortunately, the text fails to hook the rest of the population that do not understand Spanish.

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