1. “And lost the first one, the mother tongue” I know that mother tongue usually means first language but in this case it could be looked upon as a metaphor, a mother is where anyone’s life’s always begins, it is the source and the base for at least the first 2 years. The two most important years in a child’s life. By saying “lost the first one, the mother tongue” the poet is trying to indicate that she lost where it all began, her culture and who she originally is but now was.
2. “your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out” This whole verse is a huge metaphor, and it also relates to culture, in the previous part we already established that the mother in this poem is a metaphor for culture. What the verse actually means is that by time you’d forget your culture because for something to “rot” it takes time to get to that stage, so what she actually means that you would gradually forget about your language until it is becomes such a huge burden that you “had to spit it out”; in other words forget about it because once something is dead there is no coming back.
People born in cultures and environments that are not theirs, simply grow up knowing nothing about who they originally were if their parents didn’t put enough effort into it. In this case it seems like Bhatt’s parents where smart enough to teach her both English because she needs it to communicate where she lives (Britain) but at the same time to teach her Gujarati. Now linking back to why this background information was given, the poem’s title actually shows how personal the poem is (it is called “Search for MY Tongue”) and therefore the linking between language and cultural identity is suggested in this poem in a very personal level. Therefore by looking at the poet’s background and the poem it is obvious that my initial hypothesis is true.
* How does the poet utilize literary features to reinforce meaning?
The poet uses many literary features including rhetorical questions, visual and sound imagery and metaphors. Firstly she starts the poem with the word “You” aimed at the reader, where she is trying to involve the reader win her poem so that they would sympathize with her painful experience. We see “you” a lot throughout the poem in order to hook the reader that can’t relate (doesn’t speak two languages) and keep him interested and to tell the reader that does feel her pain that she knows what he is going through and they share the same experience. Secondly organization; the whole poem is a huge metaphor with almost the whole first stanza used as a rhetorical question
“I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.”
And then the second one being the answer to that question, third stanza is where the climax is, where the poet uses Gujarati to confuse the reader the most and then the fourth and final stanza where the final answer and conclusion are revealed. Metaphors and imagery (visual and auditory) are being intensely used throughout the poem. As already mentioned above the whole poem is a huge metaphor; because the poet mixes a both meaning of the word “tongue” together, the literal meaning (a physical tongue) and the other also common but not literal meaning (language). She goes on about “if you had two tongues in your mouth” and “until you had to spit it out” which is:
a. Very descriptive visual imagery
b. Saying words such as “spit it out” would mean that it something physically out of the mouth so it is a successful use of the metaphor.
She finally then in stanza three used auditory imagery by writing down the words in Gujarati and then putting the English pronunciation so the people could read but most won’t understand it;
(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)
(may thoonky nakhi chay)
(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)
(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)
(modhama kheelay chay)
(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)
(modhama pakay chay)”
Most readers of this poem are fluent English speakers, and it is in many cases their mother tongue, the reason behind not putting the translation right under it was:
a. To confuse the reader so he/she stays hooked and reading until the end
b. Is to show the speakers that no matter how much she describes, they’re not going to really understand the pain she went through of losing her culture unless you’re suffering like her.
B. Unrelated incidents
* What is the poem suggesting about the link between language and cultural identity?
After researching, I discovered that the dialect this poem is written in isn’t only Scottish but it is the dialect of the west Scottish working-class which is where the poet grew up. Again this is a part of a series of poems, and this is the 3rd one of the series. In this case language won’t be discussed as an actual language because the poem is in English but in the different dialects of English and how even dialects relate to cultural identity. The poem suggests that not only what you say is what relates to your culture but how you say it is also as important, he says:
“iz coz yi
mi ti talk
lik wanna yoo
it wuz troo.”
Which means that since this accent is associated with a less sophisticated part of the society people won’t believe them even if they were telling the truth because many people in general that are of a higher social standard and even in some cases from their very own social level stereotype and don’t easily give anyone credibility. So even though two people might be saying the same exact thing with the same words but in two different accents people might believe one and not the other. Therefore, language determines one’s not only original culture but how they should be categorized in a new different kind of culture which is social class, the more sophisticated one sounds the more likely people will believe what he/she is saying.
* How does the poet utilize literary features to reinforce meaning?
The poet here uses his poetic license to make the audience that aren’t from this community laugh and suffer while trying to read the poem, because the whole poem is phonetic, which is obviously intended and not just thrown in there because it goes on throughout the whole poem. The poet mainly used irony and enjambment to deliver his point. Anyone that watches the BBC knows that the anchors would never say things such as “yoo scruff” or “belt up” and that this is all Scottish slang that is used to help the reader get in the mood of the poem and relate to the culture and community.
The poem suggests that minorities don’t get enough of a chance as much as a majority to present their case and are usually discriminated against even if they’re saying nothing wrong “the trooth”, which is why this poem is ironic because Leonard uses a minority’s accent (not so credible) on a news broadcast of a huge news agency which is usually credible. Now the reason behind that is to make us think and ask about those people’s rights, and why we discriminate against them and stereotype just because the way they were taught to speak when they were growing up. The diction is very unique and a lot of enjambment is used, the longest number of syllables in one line is four and when read out loud the poem sounds amusing and funny which is what the poet does to break the edge and the seriousness of the poem and the very serious topic it discusses. So, by doing all the above this is how the poet utilizes literary features to reinforce meaning.