Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Black Nerds in the Media: A Linguistic Analysis

Black Nerds in the Media: A Linguistic Analysis

Sarah Carson

This paper describes and analyzes the linguistic features used by fictional African American characters in movies and television who are portrayed as “nerds”.  The specific focus of the research is the extent to which the characters employ African American Vernacular English and “Nerd Speech,” a linguistic style employed in media to evoke a stereotypically nerdy image that is associated with “whiteness,” according to Mary Bucholtz’ research on nerds in a California high school.  Bucholtz’ work provides much of the theoretical framework regarding the intersection of nerdiness and race.  Barbra Meek’s investigation of fictional American Indian speech in media provided a framework for the research methodology.  Fourteen different films and television shows from the last three decades featuring black nerd characters were analyzed.  Much diversity was observed within the characters’ language, but African American Vernacular English characteristics were present in the majority of cases, calling into question Bucholtz’ findings of nerdiness as necessitating whiteness.  The paper also relates the black nerds’ language use to the changing opinions on African American Vernacular English in America and discusses the possible significance of black nerd characters regarding racial inequality in America and the legitimation and empowerment of black intelligence.

April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This appears to be a thought discussion of black nerdiness in film. After reading the abstract, I would love to read the rest of the paper and see what films were used to represent the nerdiness factor. There have also been several television shows that also incorporated nerdy black characters in their casts.

    Comment by Jeri Pajor | April 15, 2013 | Reply

  2. This is really interesting to me, but I think it is the issues of power alluded to at the end of your abstract that interests me most. I would be curious to see how the contested perception that nerdiness=whiteness and the roll of black nerds in popular media tie into the legitimization and empowerment of black intelligence,

    Comment by H. Hatch | April 15, 2013 | Reply

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