Kristy’s Outline

Kristy Kim

ENGL 012: Literary Cities

Long Essay Outline

Professor Dimock

12 April 2016


Topic: the use of language/native tongues to reflect cultural dissonance within the immigrant’s experience in Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife and Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents



  • In many cultures, language is not merely used to refer to a specific object—it has connotations of certain feelings, layers of historical context, and personal significance.
  • The specificity of language to a particular culture/time period can cause dissonance between generations (i.e. Winnie and Pearl, Sofia and her father)
  • Inability of language to be perfectly translatable: describes the hardships of assimilation– what is lost? (accents, vocabulary, i.e. Yolanda’s Spanish has gone rusty) What is gained? And is that enough to compensate for the loss? Why can’t both coexist?
  • Language can also reflect cultural values/social norms (i.e. the many different words for various types of luck in The Kitchen God’s Wife—representative of cultural beliefs)
  • The absence of language is just as significant—what underlies the text, the expectations/limitations of communication (both of the novels construct “hieroglyphic” worlds)
  • What, if anything, can be the “universal language”?


Lost in Translation

  • “This word, taonan? Oh, there is no American word I can think of that means the same thing. But in Chinese, we have lots of different words to describe all kinds of troubles” (Tan 207)
  • only the necessity of certain situations, feelings, etc. will yield to the creation of that word in that language
  • there are voids in language which leads to voids in understanding (also there is a generational gap)
  • this vacuum can lead to internal confusion: how to explain to others, how to reason/think about oneself
  • the purpose of language is to be able to communicate with others, however, if from two separate cultures/worlds/languages, how do you reconcile them?
  • “She always called me syin ke, a nickname, two words that mean “heart liver”…In English, you call it gizzard, not very good-sounding. But in Chinese, syin ke sounds beautiful, and this is what mothers call their babies if they love them very, very much” (Tan 93)
  • when translated, the beauty of language may be lost/diminished
  • preservation of the purity of the native tongue
  • Antojo: “Actually it’s not an easy word to explain”/ “[it’s] a very old Spanish word ‘from before your United States was even thought of” (Alvarez 3)
  • One’s origins/roots and their importance (what came first/what holds precedence): a sense of pride in one’s heritage
  • your United States”: ownership thrust onto those who are “bilingual” (what is yours vs. what is ours/ what is innate vs. what is learned)
  • “And Yo was running, like the mad, into the safety of her first tongue, where the proudly monolingual John could not catch her, even if he tried” (Alvarez 72)
  • “yo” rhymes with “cielo”— because she wants to be the sky
  • “what language do you love in?” (13): implication that raw emotion will cause you to revert to the native tongue, that is your purest form of expression
  • Yolanda’s name: fractured into nicknames that are created to fit her into a specific context (lost sense of identity, lost sense of self)


Language to Reflect Cultural Values/Beliefs

  • “But your father did not think it was fate, at least not the Chinese idea of ming yuan… And here he used the American word “destiny,” something that could not be prevented” (Tan 341)
  • differences between fate and destiny?
  • At what point is it just semantics and the two points of view can simply be reconciled to mean the same thing
  • “Ying- gai was what my mother always said when she meant, I should have” (Tan 29)
  • Jye shiang ru yi. This first word is “luck,” this other is another kind of luck, and these two mean “all that you wish.” All kinds of luck, all that you wish” (Tan 53)
  • the idea of good luck and bad luck—is it an entity that simply exists (people are predestined) as a way to account/explain phenomenon
  • the naming of Danru (268), a “good Buddhist name” to reflect the nonchalance that Winnie wanted him to have, even to his own mother
  • the emphasis on “la familia” (Alvarez 109)
  • the family as a unit (collectivism vs. individualism)
  • generally accepted Western social norm: children grow to be autonomous adults with their own agency
  • does not translate to other cultures where the hierarchy of the family is maintained throughout one’s life (“deep roots” (Alvarez))


The Absence of Language and its Significance

  • Winnie complaining about Helen and Auntie Du’s care
  • The incident with the falling scissors
  • For superstitious reasons, things are not spoken
  • Interesting point to consider: John’s pro/con lists
  • Alvarez: Sofia’s name is not mentioned as one of the daughters during game at father’s 70th birthday party
  • “She’d take her turn and make him know it was her!” (Alvarez 39)
  • explore the fallacies of language (misconceptions, miscommunication, etc.)
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