11 April 2009

Amy Tan 1

The debate about Amy Tan's use of Chinese in her English novels reveals a paradox in bilingual writing. Tan, who once said, "I grew up, thankfully, with a love of language. That may have happened because I was bilingual at an early age. I stopped speaking Chinese when I was five, but I loved words," now clearly thinks in English and her Chinese has become, in effect, her second language. It is her Chinese that has been the object of unfavorable criticism (see, for example, pages 60-61 of Amy Tan (2005), by Bella Adams, referring to the widely-cited article "'Sugar Sisterhood': The Amy Tan Phenomenon," by Sau-ling Cynthia Wong [starting on page 174 of The Ethnic Canon (1995), edited by David Palumbo-Liu]). When the mother tongue becomes a second language, is the mother tongue falsified? Or does the writer who in effect forgets her/his mother tongue now become more Chinese than the Chinese (substitute any other people or language for "Chinese")? I know Tagalog writers who speak and apparently now think in English, whose Tagalog has been fixated to an earlier stage of the language (that is, it is no longer standard Tagalog nor is it comprehensible to young readers).

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