14th September 2018
COMP LIT 60AC “Sounding American”
To what extent is language interconnected with one’s own identity?
Gloria Anzaldua’s essay, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” is beautifully encapsulated in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.” Anzaldua vehemently challenges the monolinguist society while emphasising the need to preserve Chicano Spanish and the Chicano culture by producing a coherent bilingual piece of writing. Anzaldua empathises with the struggles faced by non-native English speakers and inspires them to view their mother tongue as a source of self-validation. She suggests that language is a rich repository of communal experiences, beliefs and knowledge that carves an individual’s personality. A close analysis of this text leads to the idea of a plausible interconnection between language and individual identity. This paper intends to examine the degree of interconnection between language and identity and its pertinent positive and negative implications. Through examining multiple contributors to identity, we find that language is not the only factor that shapes one’s identity, for cultural aspects play significant roles as well.
(argumentative sentence) Anzaldua reaches out to people who find themselves torn in a quandary between their Spanish and English linguistic identities and their inability to fully assimilate into either culture. She goes on to say: “For a people who are neither Spanish nor live in a country in which Spanish is the first language; for a people who live in a country in which English is the reigning tongue but who are not Anglo…what recourse is left to them but to create their own language?” Her statement indicates that despite the hegemonic societal norms dictating the need to conform to a certain language, Chicanos have synthesised a language of their own, a “living language” that has developed naturally in order to recognize themselves as “distinct people.” Anzaldua begins her essay with an allegory that deftly complements the title of the essay. Coming from a non-standard background, society deems her voice as a “wild tongue.” The doctor trying to “tame” Anzaldua’s mouth metaphorically represents Chicano’s subjection to monolingualism. Anzaldua asserts that her mouth is a “motherlode,” a double entendre. Not only is it a source of “silver bits” but an invaluable reserve of ideas, perspectives and understanding that stems from a synergy of “various degrees of Mexicanness or Angloness.”
Anzaldua’s statement “ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language” implies one’s identity is synonymous to language. However, it is essential to realise that language is merely one of the many aspects of ethnicity. Language and ethnic identity thus operate on completely different scales. Several characteristics such as cultural practices, food, traditions and music along with language amalgamate to create an ethnic identity. Anzaldua does briefly touch upon these facets as well by evoking visual, gustatory and olfactory imagery when she paints a picture of her memories and emotions “woodsmoke perfuming my grandmother’s clothes… homemade white cheese sizzling, melting inside of a folded tortilla” that are closely tied to her identity. Additionally, it may be argued that equating language to ethnic identity extrapolates to the formation of stereotypes and racial discrimination as in the case of Anzaldua being punished for “talking back” to her teacher while trying to tell her how to pronounce her name.
Through code-switching and the minorization of a major language, Anzaldua clearly establishes the fact that she is the master of her own identity. Anzaldua encourages Chicanos to proudly embrace their unique language without being afraid of standing up to mainstream societal norms. Nonetheless, language is only one feature of an individual’s identity. Overall,