What is the language nerd? How is the language nerd identified and positioned within society? What does it mean to use superstandard English? Mary Bucholtz investigates these questions in her article “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness”. Bucholtz recognizes nerds as “members of a stigmatized social category who are stereotypically cast as intellectual overachievers and social underachievers” (85) and names Bill Gates as an example. The nerd as a cultural category is prevalent within society; known mostly as white males, “the oppositional identity of the nerd becomes as salient for its racialized position as for its sub cultural orientation” (85).
Bucholtz continues in her studies at a Bay City High School where she notes the disruption that the nerd students cause. In “refusing to strive for coolness”, such as refusing to adopt certain African American traditions and speech (which become deracialized and unmarked), nerds “disrupted this ideological arrangement” by being entirely “too white” (86). The nerds speak in a superstandard English vernacular that is characterized by its “greater use of “supercorrect” linguistic variables: lexical formality, carefully articulated phonological forms, and prescriptively standard grammar” (88). Bucholtz additionally notes that the superstandard English employed by the white nerds of Bay City High School frequently goes above and beyond correct grammar into a level of hypercorrect forms. Superstandard English, Bucholtz claims, “is therefore a marked variety that may contrast ideologically both with the unmarked colloquial standard and with marked non-standard English” (88). While the African American students at the school supposedly spoke non-standard English, the White students spoke colloquial Standard English, and the white nerds spoke an exaggerated form of colloquial Standard English or superstandard English.
Bucholtz noted several different factors in the nerd’s linguistic patterns that lead to the hyperstandard English aforementioned. Firstly, a “precisely enunciated speech style…akin to “reading style”” (92). This hyper form of correctness emphasizes the “secondary link between careful speech and intelligence, via the indexical association of advanced literacy, extensive education, and high intelligence” (92). Additionally, nerds reject slang—especially in the Bay City High School where Bucholtz studied, where “these practices could take on racialized meaning in the context of the ideological black-white dichotomy” (94). This racialized difference separates the nerdy white students and the black students where “nerds’ dismissal of black cultural practices often led them to discount the possibility of friendship with black students” (95). The dichotomy therefore widens considerably not only because of the nerd’s rejection of slang but additionally of cultural worth.
My greatest question after reading Bucholtz’s article was how the nerd is manifested in today’s day with the rise of technology. Gone are the days of letter writing or phone calls—by far the easiest way of communication is the Internet. Whether it’s facebook chat or emailing, technology has completely revolutionized our language and linguistic practices in such an enormous way. Therefore, while I acknowledge the truth and hard evidence in Bucholtz’s essay, linguistic practices have been transformed by the advancement in technology within the last decade.
Enter the Grammar Nazi. Known as an Internet troll, the Grammar Nazi is a person who takes it upon him/her self to correct the grammatical mistakes and faux pas. The Grammar Nazi is similar to the white nerd that Bucholtz describes in their obsession for hypercorrect English, often becoming annoyed when those around them use the incorrect forms. The Grammar Nazi is a persona extremely familiar to me, and perhaps many other people. One of the most prevalent forms a Grammar Nazi can take is in its Internet trolling: which Encyclopedia Dramatica details as when a Grammar Nazi posts a comment after a lengthy blog post stating “grammatical errors: 5”. This, Encyclopedia Dramatica claims, “will induce abject hysteria as the author attempts to locate and justify the alleged errors. This will invariably bring the author’s Grammar Nazi friends and enemies into the fracas, and many long hours will be spent on overly grandiloquent name-calling and heated arguments about what’s merely a non-standard but acceptable usage and what [is not]."
How does the Grammar Nazi exemplify the revolutionized nerd? Firstly and most prominently it is in their refusal to deviate from the hyperstandard English form. The Grammar Nazi’s attempts to correct the mistakes of others are congruent to the nerd’s hyperstandard English vernacular. Watch the Grammar Nazi in his/her natural habitat:
“Did you really think I was so stupid I wouldn’t recognize a run-on sentence?” the Grammar Nazi officer says, speaking and correcting the other in a manner that can perhaps render him more socially isolated than using the standard colloquial form. The character in the video rejects any form of the English vernacular than the hyperstandard. The Grammar Nazi is reminiscent of the nerd that Bucholtz describes: as I mentioned earlier, the Grammar Nazi uses the same superstandard English that “contrasts linguistically with Standard English in its greater use of “supercorrect” linguistic variables” (88). Perhaps the Grammar Nazi is the new and improved white nerd as another racially and linguistically marked identity.
Mary Bucholtz provides the cultural identity of the nerd within her essay, describing not only their linguistic practices but also the contrasts the nerd draws as a racial identity. The Grammar Nazi embodies many of the qualities of the nerd that Bucholtz describes in their extremely similar language processes and identities. While the Grammar Nazi may not be a cultural identity to the extent that a nerd is (e.g. there are no actual people walking around in Nazi uniforms and calling themselves Nazis but there are certainly people who project a “nerd” identity), it is still an interesting concept to consider when addressing linguistic practices in the modern age of technology.
Note: I do not endorse being anything related to a Nazi. Please don't.