Escape Artists



ATTENTION: NEW FORUM THEME Please see here for details:

Author Topic: EP636: Mother Tongues  (Read 3845 times)


  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 160
on: July 13, 2018, 06:32:20 PM
Escape Pod 636: Mother Tongues

AUTHOR : S. Qiouyi Lu
NARRATOR : Rebecca W. Hsieh
HOST: S.B. Divya


“Thank you very much,” you say, concluding the oral portion of the exam. You gather your things and exit back into the brightly lit hallway. Photos line the walls: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu. The sun shines on each destination, the images brimming with wonder. You pause before the Golden Gate Bridge.

“右拐就到了,” the attendant says. You look up. His blond hair is as standardized as his Mandarin, as impeccable as his crisp shirt and tie. You’ve just proven your aptitude in English, but hearing Mandarin still puts you at ease in the way only a mother tongue does. You smile at the attendant, murmuring a brief thanks as you make your way down the hall.

You turn right and enter a consultation room. The room is small but welcoming, potted plants adding a dash of green to the otherwise plain creams and browns of the furniture and walls. A literature rack stands to one side, brochures in all kinds of languages tucked into its pockets, creating a mosaic of sights and symbols. The section just on English boasts multiple flags, names of different varieties overlaid on the designs: U.S. English – Standard. U.K. English – Received Pronunciation. Singaporean English – Standard. Nigerian English – Standard… Emblazoned on every brochure is the logo of the Linguistic Grading Society of America, a round seal with a side-view of a head showing the vocal tract.

You pick up a Standard U.S. English brochure and take a seat in one of the middle chairs opposite the mahogany desk that sits before the window. The brochure provides a brief overview of the grading system; your eyes linger on the A-grade description: Speaker engages on a wide variety of topics with ease. (Phonology?) is standard; speaker has a broad vocabulary… You take a quick peek at the dictionary on your phone. Phonology-linguistic sound systems. You file the word away to remember later.

The door opens. A woman wearing a blazer and pencil skirt walks in, her heels clacking against the hardwood floor, her curled hair bouncing with every step. You stand to greet her and catch a breath of her perfume.

“Diana Moss,” she says, shaking your hand. Her name tag also displays her job title: Language Broker.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: July 21, 2018, 06:23:47 PM by divs »


  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 50
Reply #1 on: July 13, 2018, 10:43:02 PM
This was a really good story, while I am like the average white American, I know only English, I have occasional problems with aphasia, this was mentioned in the story but not explained it is is a condition I don't know if it's a condition it's something that happens where you can't remember words or how the word is pronounced or what the word means it it's a loss of language

I understand the fear and confusion of not knowing the word for something not knowing something that you used to know that you should know not being able to communicate it's very difficult and I'm really happy it doesn't happen to me more often I was thinking about what if it did happen in the middle of trying to type this I would have just had to come back or something

But anyway I really felt for the main character in the story and I understand the place that she's at at the end of the story and it's tragic but I understand why she made that choice

Was dream6601 but that's sounds awkward when Nathan reads my posts.


  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 505
Reply #2 on: July 16, 2018, 03:08:31 PM
That hit super close to home (I'm binational/bilingual, my wife's an immigrant. we currently have my mother in law visiting: three languages from two language families spoken at home right now).

I really liked the cultural aspect of the story and while the SF element is mostly the macguffin that makes the story happen it really worked as a metaphor for what acculturation/ integration/ assimilation means. I liked the Mandarin used seamlessly in the story. While I don't speak the language (gave up after one semester), I totally get it. While I'm writing this in my second language, I hear that third language in the background (my wife and my mother in law are discussing family issues I guess).

Something that really made me think about the story was the passing of languages and how that happens in immigrant and multicultural families. My wife and I learned each other's languages (though I'm far from fluent in her native tongue). We could pass three languages on two our future children, though actually my wife is partly from an ethnic minority in her country whose language she doesn't speak at all. My mother in law still knows some words. I recently met with friends where the wife is from a country that is so small that you could find out who she was when I'd tell you. Her son (he's 13) still understands her language, but they usually speak a mix of English as a lingua franca and German as the local language. When he marries someone in Germany one day, his ancestor's language will be lost (well, at least here in Europe, where there might be about 5 native speakers of said language). :(
« Last Edit: July 16, 2018, 03:13:08 PM by Moritz »


  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 32
Reply #3 on: July 16, 2018, 03:34:32 PM
The Mandarin dialogue changed after the procedure, right? I don't speak Mandarin but it sounded different, like it was garbled. I'd love to know more about the process of how that was done, if the narrator or anyone else is able to give more detail.

It's fun to stay at the \o/ <o> (o_ /o\

Pronouns: she/her


  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 160
Reply #4 on: July 18, 2018, 03:18:22 AM
It was garbled indeed, by chopping up the actual Mandarin dialog and reordering it. Glad you noticed it! Thanks for asking.


  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 24
    • Lord of the Moon
Reply #5 on: July 20, 2018, 12:42:10 PM
Did anyone else feel concerned about the way the mother took this decision unilaterally without consulting her daughter, for whose benefit this is?  Not only that, but she's hiding the fact that she did it!  Although she hopes that her daughter will understand, if my mother had taken this decision for me, I would feel absolutely devastated by it, not to mention, incredibly guilty for forcing her into that situation. ; (Former) Editor of TBD magazine:


  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #6 on: July 20, 2018, 06:10:11 PM
I really liked this story. At the beginning I was really put off by the what sounded like a low quality recording of Ms. Hsieh's narration but after a couple minutes I was so drawn in to the story that I forgot all about that complaint until after the story concluded. Heck, I even stood around in the parking lot at work to finish listening rather than pause for however long it would have taken for me to dig some headphones out of my messenger bag. That's how into it I was.

Did anyone else feel concerned about the way the mother took this decision unilaterally without consulting her daughter, for whose benefit this is?  Not only that, but she's hiding the fact that she did it!  Although she hopes that her daughter will understand, if my mother had taken this decision for me, I would feel absolutely devastated by it, not to mention, incredibly guilty for forcing her into that situation.

As a father, I get it. You don't want to burden your kids with some of the difficult decisions you have to make as an adult and a parent. That exact guilt that you know you would feel, that's what she's protecting her daughter from. It won't stay secret forever; as I recall, the narrator admits that. But by the time it does come out, I think she's hoping that her daughter will be able to see that her life isn't really lessened by the loss of Mandarin and that the sacrifice was totally worth it.


  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #7 on: July 23, 2018, 08:52:48 AM
Nice story. Did any one else pick up the irony of losing your Mandarin being described as dis-Orienting?


  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 217
Reply #8 on: August 16, 2018, 06:20:38 PM
Language is currently one of the few things today you can't necessarily buy with money. I imagine the technology in this story would further increase the gap between the rich and poor, and it could be used to take advantage of poor. The mother got a very large sum of money for her native language, but did she deserve more? Would she have taken less?
The relationships between the three generations of women were very touching, and I hope they will be able to stay close, despite the loss of language.


  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1105
Reply #9 on: September 14, 2018, 07:19:53 PM
This hit me close to home too. I live in a bilingual country and speak a third language that I learned from my parents. I wouldn't want to give up any of the languages that I know. I can't imagine having to make the choice this mother did. I do know that if I lost one of my languages, I would definitely make relearning it a priority!!


  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 212
Reply #10 on: September 27, 2018, 02:26:02 AM
This was absolutely heartbreaking. I so wanted her to not do what she did.

"To understand a cat you must realize that he has his own gifts, his own viewpoint, even his own morality."


  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 3926
  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Reply #11 on: March 07, 2019, 01:47:45 AM
What a perfect story for audio. Great pick!

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”