something a little different from others of the same type
I cannot give you much more than personal opinions on the English language and its
variations in this country or others.
call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language--the way it can
evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth.
shaped to fit by altering the contours of a pliable mass
--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.
a feeling of being close and belonging together
It has become our language of
intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.
write out, as from speech or notes
So you'll have some idea of what this family talk I heard sounds like, I'll quote what my mother said during a recent conversation which I videotaped and then
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.
make a face indicating disgust or dislike
Like others, I have described it to people as "broken" or "fractured" English. But I
wince when I say that.
"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.
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.
an artful or simulated semblance
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.
without fault or error
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.
"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.
sadness associated with some wrong or 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.
suggestive of the isolated life of an island
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.
being within reasonable or average limits
In grade school I did moderately well, getting perhaps B's, sometimes B-pluses, in English and scoring perhaps in the sixtieth or seventieth percentile on achievement tests.
lacking stimulating characteristics; uninteresting
And the correct answer always seemed to be the most
bland combinations of thoughts
of or relating to meaning or the study of meaning
The same was true with word analogies, pairs of words in which you were supposed to find some sort of logical-
resulting from bringing ideas together in the 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.
refine or make more perfect or effective
I started writing nonfiction as a freelancer the week after I was told by my former boss that writing was my worst skill and I should
hone my talents toward account management.
state of uncertainty in a choice between 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.
being born or beginning
"That was my mental quandary in its
the choicest 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.