Search for my Tongue
Learning Objectives
• Consider the importance of culture
and language
• Understand Sujata Bhatt’s view of
language and culture
• Discuss the way these views are
Slide 7 contains link to video on BBC Bitesize
What are your views on the
following statements?
Discuss with a partner.
• I don’t like it when I hear people living in Britain
speaking a foreign language. When they’re in
Britain they should speak English.
• It must be a real advantage to slip between
different languages
• It must be really confusing to have to use two
different languages
• If you live in Britain and you speak English but
your first language is something else, then you
should do all you can to keep your first language
rather than forgetting about it.
Sujata Bhatt
[My mother tongue]
That's the deepest
layer of my identity."
"I have always
thought of myself as
an Indian who is
outside India."
• Sujata Bhatt was born in 1956 in
Ahmedabad, the largest city in the
Indian state of Gujarat, where her
mother tongue was Gujarati
• She is intrigued by two languages
interacting in her mind and how this
affects her identity
• Language is used to symbolise cultural
• The poet suggests that cultural identity
never dies regardless of where you live
• She suggests that two cultures mixed
together enhance one another
This has a double
meaning: the physical
device needed for
speech and the
language you speak
Search for My Tongue
The language you
speak is seen as
inextricably linked to
your culture
Conversational style, who is
she talking to?
Tongue as a
metaphor for
language is used
throughout the
poem: extended
Tone changes at
the end of this
Lost voice could
mean isolation in a
new culture
You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
One must be
and could not really know the other,
excluded no matter
the foreign tongue.
what you want. Could
You could not use them both together
this suggest a desire
even if you thought that way.
to maintain both
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
Negative language gives
until you had to spit it out.
this first section sickening
I thought I spit it out
and sombre view of the
but overnight while I dream,
How should this be read? Sadly, angrily, hopefully towards the end. Mark a
quotation to back up each possible interpretation
The Gujarati script, on the
right, is repeated in English
at the end of the poem.
(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)
(may thoonky nakhi chay)
(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)
Why is the same thing said twice
in two languages?
(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)
modhama kheelay chay)
(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)
(modhama pakay chay)
What is the purpose of the
phonetic transliteration below the
Is this a poem more effective
when read out loud or seen on
the page?
Takes place in a dream; as such, is it real or
just something she hopes for?
Strong positive natural
imagery. What might
this suggest?
it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong
Is it necessary for one
it ties the other tongue in knots,
to overpower the
the bud opens, the bud opens in my other?
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I've forgotten,
I think I've lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.
Positive image could imply that the
language is beautiful and exotic
Think about…
• How does the poem present the argument
that our speech and ourselves are
intimately connected? Do people not have
to search for their own tongue - or
authentic voice - even if they have not had
to move from one language to another?
• What does the last sentence of the poem
Writing responses to the poems
What is it worth and why?
First sentence: pointless
Second sentence: personal response, but
needs developing
The poem contains lots of similes and
metaphors (imagery), similes is when you use
like and metaphors is when you don't use like. I
liked the line about spitting it out (tongue) it
reminded me of a horror film.
Treatment of how the poem is written is
poor - suggests G/F grade
Writing responses to the poems
What is it worth and why?
Gets hold of the importance of this image in the poem
Understands what the poet is saying
The whole poem is about tongues really, there are lots of
images of tongues. Sujata describes her mother tongue as if it
was something growing in her mouth, which gets bigger or
smaller. She thinks that if she doesn't speak Indian from day to
day it will die away. It's like, use it or lose it. But it never
actually disappears because at night the tongue 'blossoms out
of my mouth', so it's come to life again.
Suggests a C/B grade answer
Writing responses to the poems
What is it worth and why?
Clear explanation of a complicated image
Short quotations to illustrate what is said
Connects images to argument of poem
Personal responses to the imagery
In English, we use the word 'tongue' to mean 'language' as well as your actual
'tongue'. The poet compares knowing two languages to having two tongues in your
mouth, which she calls 'the mother tongue' and 'the foreign tongue'. She is afraid
that the mother tongue might shrivel away ('rot and die') like a plant with no roots.
But in the last part of the poem, the mother tongue seems to grow back during the
night, and 'push the other tongue aside'. It's like when she dreams, she dreams in
Gujarati, and this keeps the language alive for her. It connects her to her
memories. The image of two tongues growing in your mouth is weird, and a bit
disturbing. You can imagine how it would feel. But then it 'blossoms' which also
suggests something beautiful. I thought this was a memorable image.
Suggests A grade answer
Write a response to the following
• How Does Sujata Bhatt feel about her
mother tongue. Support your answer with
• Aim to write half a page of a detailed
response to the poem.

Search for my Tongue