It's always interesting to get opinions about language from someone who uses it for a living. In this case, novelist Amy Tan, in her essay "Mother Tongue," contrasts her use of English with that of her mother, and talks about when sentences get too complicated to be effective in a novel.
shaped to fit by or as if by altering the contours of a pliable mass (as by work or effort)
--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.
You should know that my mother's expressive command of English
belies how much she actually understands. She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads all of Shirley MacLaine's books with ease--all kinds of things I can't begin to understand.
"Wince" also means "draw back, as with fear or pain"--this also fits because Tan does not want others to see her mother as "broken" because that, especially when she was younger, made her feel broken and ashamed.
Like others, I have described it to people as "broken" or "fractured" English. But I
wince when I say that.
derived from experiment and observation rather than theory
And I had plenty of
empirical evidence to support me: the fact that people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her.
When I was fifteen, she used to have me call people on the phone to pretend I was she. In this
guise, I was forced to ask for information or even to complain and yell at people who had been rude to her.
"Impeccable" and "broken" are opposites that would not usually describe the same thing. But Tan's use of the phrase "impeccable broken English" 1) mocks the ideas of "impeccable English" and "impeccable manners"--both of which Mrs. Tan is not displaying in the example sentence's situation; 2) contrasts with Tan's adolescent and unconvincing perfect English; 3) gives more respect to her mother's language.
And sure enough, the following week there we were in front of this astonished stockbroker, and I was sitting there red-faced and quiet, and my mother, the real Mrs. Tan, was shouting at his boss in her
impeccable broken English.
sadness associated with some wrong done or some disappointment
And when the doctor finally called her daughter, me. who spoke in perfect English--lo and behold--we had assurances that CAT scan would be found, promises that a conference call on Monday would be held, and apologies for any suffering my mother had gone through for a most regrettable mistake.
characterized by or causing or resulting from the process of bringing ideas or events together in memory or imagination
"A sunset precedes nightfall" is the same as "a chill precedes a fever." The only way I would have gotten that answer right would have been to imagine an
associative situation, for example, my being disobedient and staying out past sunset, catching a chill at night, which turns into a feverish pneumonia as punishment, which indeed did happen to me.
state of uncertainty or perplexity especially as requiring a choice between equally unfavorable options
Here's an example from the first draft of a story that later made its way into The Joy Luck Club, but without this line: "That was my mental
quandary in its nascent state." A terrible line, which I can barely pronounce.
the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience
and for that I sought to preserve the
essence, but neither an English nor a Chinese structure. I wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts.