The first time I got to know about the poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language” was from YouTube. I stumbled across a video of the Canadian poet M. NourbeSe Philip reading her poem to a group of audiences. What attracted me first was the feeling of the African drum beats hidden within these lines. Philip brings into English the great rhythm and musicality of African tongues, decentralizing the English language and embodying within it some kind of Black identity.

M. NourbeSe Philip reading the poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language”
“Discourse on the Logic of Language”
            - M. NourbeSe Philip

is my mother tongue.
A mother tongue is not
not a foreign lan lan lang
  -a foreign anguish.
  English is
  my father tongue.
  A father tongue is
  a foreign language,
  therefore English is 
  a foreign language
  not a mother tongue.
  What is my mother
  my mammy tongue
  my mummy tongue
  my momsy tongue
  my modder tongue
  my ma tongue?
  I have no mother
  no mother to tongue
  no tongue to mother
  to mother
  I must therefore be 
  damn dumb
  but I have
  a dumb tongue
  tongue dumb
  father tongue
  and English is 
  my mother tongue
  my father tongue
  is a foreign lan lan lang
  a foreign anguish
  is English—
  another tongue
  my mother
  tongue mother
  tongue me
  mothertongue me 
  mother me 
  touch me 
  with the tongue of your
  lan lan lang
  is a foreign anguish

While reading the poem, the words that came into my mind are anguish, painful, lost. It depicts the identity problem of many Black people who are suppressed – not physically, but mentally – with the power of language. 

The “mother tongue” that is talked about in the poem is their native languages that are sometimes forbidden in colonial age, while the “father tongue” here implies the English language brought to the colonies. Years after years, native people have gotten used to speaking English and forgot their mother tongue– the language that holds in itself cultural heritages and national identities. This may result in the feeling of being lost and a loss of Black identity in people.

Also, the fact that “father tongue” defeats “mother tongue” could be a sign of sexism. Apart from talking about racism, Philip, according to my understanding, is criticizing here the patriarchal society where males take control of everything, and it leads to anguish and depression.

Though written years ago, the poem even fits the societies nowadays where racial equality is still a big issue that needs maybe years to be achieved. It gave readers the chance to know deeper the entangled feelings of Black people and Black identity and explains to readers – even possibly to Black people themselves – the various reasons for them feeling lost.

Read also:
Reading For Empathy
America Is Burning
Investigating The Motherland: Black Erasure In Argentina