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The Whiteness of Nerds Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Mar 3rd, 2019

1. The anthropological study of Mary Bucholtz (2001) was conducted in the Bay City High School in 1995-96, and the article under review represents her findings on the discourse of whiteness, blackness, and super-whiteness exercised through acceptance of particular socio-linguistic roles by students known as ‘nerds’.

The author investigates the linguistic mechanisms such as the usage of appropriate, super-standard English grammar, pronunciation, and choice of lexicon (full refusal from the youth slang, and its usage only to imply the division) as the way nerds distance themselves from other white students, and black students.

The key criterion they use to articulate their division is intelligence and its realization through language. The topic of racialization of the notion of ‘whiteness’ not only vis-à-vis blackness, but inside it, involving the gradation of whiteness, is explored (Bucholtz 2001: 86).

2. The issue highlighted in the present article is the way racial markedness of certain groups of youth in the modern American society is achieved through the usage of certain linguistic forms, and the way this phenomenon is introduced in the notion of ‘whiteness’ that used to be considered a solid category juxtaposed to ‘blackness’.

3. The importance of the author’s argument is in the segmentation of the white society according to linguistic norms similarly to a wider division between larger groups of population, i.e. African American and European American students.

The way language ideologies perform cultural work of division within a single socio-cultural group has not yet been explored in full; therefore, the cultural segmentation presented through linguistic means, and the potential for creating a particular profile of the group by means of using linguistic markers has much potential for future research.

4. The author ties her findings and conclusions to the research on language ideology and explores the subculture of nerds through such linguistic processes as iconization, fractal recursivity, and erasure (Bucholtz 2001: 88). She explains the detachment strategies of nerds on the basis of these ideological tools.

5. There are several implications of Bucholtz’s line of argument relating to the volume of original material processed in the course of the discussed research. As for the meaning of intelligence as the main marker for ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’, as well as the measure of whiteness that can also differ widely across the group of all white people, there is comprehensive evidence of its essential meaning for all discursive markedness cases discussed.

Thus, for example, the notion of ‘hillbillies’ (as the degraded form of whiteness) can be assessed according to the intelligence criterion (Bucholtz 2001: 84). The example of African American students concealing their intellectual potential at school not to be accused of “acting white” and not to be called a “brainiac” also certifies the strong impact of not only inter-racial markedness, but the measures of intra-racial markedness that at times are even stronger than the inter-racial forms.

Secondly, the process of creating a language ideology is welded in the sound body of evidence, which is genuinely persuasive. The study of Irvine and Gal 2000 is outlined and then utilized on a set of examples from the students’ interviews (Bucholtz 2001: 88). The way the author selects the fragment of interviews and explains the usage of certain terminology by the ideological view of certain elements of a subculture as ingrained and typifying is logical and efficient in the whole research.

6. The author has used the observational method, and applied the structured and unstructured interviews with the students of Bay City High School.

7. The ability to create socio-cultural markedness of one’s language, nerds in particular, may be considered the main strength of Bucholtz’s article. The exploration of the tools and strategies applied by nerds to underline their intelligence, and the role of intelligence in the estimate of ‘whiteness’, are also the strong sides of the research.

However, the study lacks the generalization potential – observation in one school and for only one year is not enough to articulate the socio-linguistic characteristics of a specific demographic group in action. More comprehensive and longitudinal studies are required to make the study’s hypotheses stronger.

8. The present article represents much food for thought in shaping the knowledge about various aspects of communication on the broader scale. It is possible to assess more practical aspects of the unifying and separating power that one language may have within one culture.

As Miller, Esterik, and Esterik note (2010: 327), any language has strong ties to the culture in which it is spoken; it shaped the culture in the historical discourse of its formation, and makes it distinct from any other culture with another unique language. However, nowadays some subdivisions of a language may shape the unique appearance of certain subcultures, and give both positive and negative attributes to them.

The notion of the relationships between language and class is also reinforced with the help of Bucholtz (2001). The issue of nerds striving to take a higher rank due to the usage of super-standard English, and the attribute of ‘hillbillies’ as degraders in the scale of the social class, show how the usage of certain linguistic norms shapes a certain image of language users, both unintentionally and by their deliberate effort.

Hence, the language has become a strong instrument in shaping one’s identity, and it may be manipulated accordingly by a certain subculture or group.

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