Study Guide

Immigrant Blues Language and Communication

By Li-Young Lee

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Language and Communication

Not only does "Immigrant Blues" talk about learning another language, but our speaker is also obsessed with going over different names or titles for aspects of the immigrant experience. The ways these names shape how we understand ourselves and how we relate to others seem to be the main concern for our speaker. He seems to worry, too, about the limits to expression and communication, as if language isn't quite enough. This is a pretty big obstacle for a poet, don't you think?

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Why do you think our speaker gives so many titles to the immigrant experience he's talking about? What does this constant renaming say about language? Does it mean that language is not up to the task of expressing the experience? Or that language is so multifaceted that you can say the same thing in a ton of different ways?
  2. What do you make of the question our speaker asks into the phone? What are the different ways we could interpret it?
  3. What about when our speaker repeats the question while (we assume) he's in bed with his lover? How does the question, and its response, change through the shift in situation? What might this tell us about language, and its relation to context (time, place, situation, etc.)?
  4. Do you think it's important for these immigrant children (the speaker and his son) to learn two languages? How do you think that affects their identity?

Chew on This

Although it might appear to demonstrate the limits of language, our speaker's constant renaming of his story actually demonstrates just how flexible and useful language can be. The use of such different names allows our speaker to address so many different aspects of one complicated issue.

Our speaker's constant renaming demonstrates the limitations of language. No matter how many times he tries, he can never quite say what he means.

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