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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The importance of language

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The Importance of Language


Can you imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t tell the one’s you care about that you love them? Language is such an important part of our everyday lives. To these four courageous writer’s language meant so much more, and was a way for them to express who they really were. There is Amy Tan who loved English so much that she was ashamed of her mother. The truly inspirational Helen Keller, overcame being deaf and blind. To be one of the most influential writers of our time There is Fredrick Douglass who had to overcome being a slave in order to become an important piece of our history. Then there is Chang-rae Lee a man with such a unique way with words. Language played a major role in the lives of Helen Keller, Fredrick Douglass, Amy Tan, and Chang-rae Lee.


First is Amy Tan who was born in California in 15( WP 71). Her parents immigrated from China to give Amy a chance at a good life here in the states. At the age of eight Tan “won a writing contest that would in turn ignite her passion for writing” (Tan 71). Tan loved English at an early age and picked it up rather well. Tan was one of the smartest students in her class and excelled pretty quickly in her studies. Tan said later as an adult that “ language helped shape the way she saw things, expressed things, made sense of things” (Tan 7). Tan’s mother was not educated, and knew very little English. Tan’s mother’s English was often called broken because hardly anyone could understand what she was trying to say. People in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants didn’t take her seriously because they didn’t know what she was saying. Some ignorant people would go as far as to ignore her. All this made Tan ashamed of her mother. She would grow tired of talking for her mother and would even become agitated some times. Tan said that “ English reflected the quality of what her mother had to say” (Tan 7). Tan tells of a story in which her mother has her to call a stock broker in New York and argue with him about why she hadn’t receive her money. As the story goes on Tan and her mother end up going to New York where her mother fusses with the stockbroker using broken English. Anyway Tan was embarrassed. Tan loved English so much that she would look down on her mother for her lack of knowledge. Tan was fascinated with language and its use in everyday life. She spent a great deal of her time just thinking about it. The way it is used to make things seem so insightful, so easy to understand. In 185 Tan started writing fiction, in which she tried to use words that where out of her vocabulary. She soon realized that she had to stick to what she knew, or increase her vocabulary. Tan later decided to write stories in which she could think of a reader for her stories. That reader happened to be her mother the same woman who’s English she was ashamed of. Tan stated that Apart from what any critic had to say about my writing, I knew I had succeeded where it counted when my mother finished reading my book and gave me her verdict “so easy to read.”(Tan 76). Tan knew that she had done a good job when her mother had agreed.


The next author is Helen Keller. Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880(WP 47). Keller was a social advocate for the deaf and blind, and her strength to overcome her disabilities was truly an inspiration to the people she talked to. Keller lost her sight and hearing at a very young age due to an acute illness she had acquired. When she was six years old her parents went for help and found help in, Dr. Alexander Graham Bell who advised them to get a teacher for their daughter. They used his advice and Anne Sullivan was hired to aide the family. Anne became a lifelong teacher and friend to Helen, and was a sweet lady in her own right. Before Anne Sullivan, Helen says “ I was like a ship before my education began, only I was without a compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing where the harbour was”(Keller 48). She was lost and did not really have the urge to learn. That is why Keller was scornful, and had no goals as a child. To Keller the most important day in her life was when she met Anne Sullivan. Anne was to show her a new way of seeing things. Anne showed Helen the importance of language by introducing her to words and their meanings. Helen talks about how the word d-o-l-l was the first the first word she learned to sign. Keller didn’t even know what she was doing but she was already progressing. Helen became eager to learn after the discovery of the word w-a-t-e-r she says “ suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten- a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me (Keller 4). The word w-a-t-e-r revealed language to her and made her eager to learn. It made her feel sorrow and repentance for the first time. Keller learned a lot of words that day and was the happiest she had ever been eager to learn again the next day. Keller learned to read and write in Braille, and eventually received her college degree from Radcliffe. She devoted her life to educating the public about the need for social reform for people with disabilities. Keller wrote numerous books and was a truly inspiration to all mankind. I learned a lot from her strength and courage.


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Then there is Frederick Douglass who was born into slavery. Douglass never knew his parents because he was taken from his mother and denied the right to know whom his father was. Douglass thought of language as a curse. He thought what’s the use of knowing how to read and never being able to use it because he was to be a slave for life. He was lucky enough to be a house slave in which he developed a good relationship ship with the mistress of the house. Who in turn taught him how to read partially, until she was told not to by the head master. The mistress in turn became very hateful towards him and could not stand the sight of Fredrick learning. She took away anything that he could possibly use to learn with. It discouraged him so much that he thought that that education and slavery couldn’t coexist together. Normally this would have stopped someone else but, Fredrick wanted to learn and so he tried to make friends with as many little white kids as possible. It was all in his plan to get educated with their help. He would read while running errands, and every chance he could get. He would carry bread with him to give the poorer white children who would turn right around and teach him new concepts that they had learned. All of this learning had it’s down side though. Sometimes he would wish that he could be as ignorant as the other slaves when something goes wrong. He envied the other slaves to a certain point wishing to be like them. Douglass got the idea of escaping after talking to two Irishmen in which advised him to run away to the North where he would make friends and be a free man. He was not a fool though and pretended not to understand what they were saying because they might have tried to trick him. He kept their advice and devised a way to escape. At the age of twenty-one he escaped and made a new life for his self. In the North what he had learned could be put to use. Every aspect of language he fought to obtain could be used. He became a leader of a national abolish movement, and founded a paper called “The North Star”. Douglass was appointed the United States Marshal and Consul General to the Republic of Haiti (WP ), a very important accomplishment in his life. Douglass was reluctant to write his memoirs, because as he said it “ not only is slavery on trial, but unfortunately, the enslaved people are also on trial” (Douglass ). Douglass thought that slaves were thought to be dumb, and low on the scale of humanity, as perceived by the white man. Douglass fought for what he believed in and that’s why he fought to learn everything he could about language. He is truly an inspiration to not only blacks, but to all races that have to fight hard for what they get.


Finally, there is Chang-rae Lee. Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea in 165(WP 18). He came with his family to America when he was three years old. To Lee language was knowledge; the more you knew the better. In The Faintest Echo of Our Language Lee talk’s about his mother’s last day alive. He remembers times when his mother thought that he would lose his Korean, because of how he was picking up on English. Lee’s mother who tells him that she was going to send him back to Korea. That way he could learn his native tongue again. She would say things to him in reference to her self-like “ look how hard it is for me to shop for food, or speak to your teachers, look how shameful I am, how embarrassing”(Lee 141). Those words seemed to upset Lee, but he was to proud of his accomplishments. He knew how hard he had to work to learn a new language and appreciated it so immensely. He talks about how his mother was a strong woman who was in control of most of the matters that took place in the home. He also tells of times outside of the house how this woman of so many words, becomes mute in the sense that she is not able to communicate with others in the outside world. Lee discusses times when he would have to call the school when he was sick, write notes for his mother, and how he became tired of doing so. He would suggest that his mother take those opportunities to practice her own English. Lee seems to wish he’d not said those things now that his mother is dieing. To Lee “language was like a bridge and it’s surroundings language is the brook streaming through it; it is mossy stones, the bank, the blooming canopy above, the ceaseless sound, the sky. It is the last earthly thing we have”(Lee 145). Lee speaks to his mother in her native tongue as a way to show her respect for being everything to him that she was. Lee is a very compassionate man who used English to better his self, and in doing that makes him a very inspiration to me.


In conclusion why Amy Tan, Helen Keller, Fredrick Douglass, and Chang-rae Lee are influential writers, and what adversities all of them had to overcome to get where they are now. There was Amy Tan who loved English so much, Helen Keller who had to overcome being deaf and blind. There is also Fredrick Douglass who was a slave and escaped to freedom, and finally Chang-rae Lee who was a very compassionate man in his own right. All of these writers possess special characteristics they make them truly special. Language played a major role in their life’s and continues to play a major role in our society today.





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