“Grammar Nazis never sleep”: Facebook humor and the management of standard written language

Abstract

This paper uses Language Management Theory (Nekvapil and Sherman, Language management in contact situations. Perspectives from three continents. Peter Lang, Frankfurt/Main, 2009) to investigate Facebook pages as a site and instrument of behavior-toward-language, focusing specifically on the use of humor. The language in question is Czech, which is not the subject of extensive formal language policy. We show how standard written Czech is promoted on the micro level of everyday humorous interactions on Facebook, specifically those which correspond to the superiority theory of humor (Billig, Laughter and ridicule: towards a social critique of humour. Sage, London, 2005). We examine two pages which declare their affiliation with the idea of “Grammar Nazis”. These pages were created in order to support the noting and evaluation of deviations from standard written Czech for humorous purposes, primarily through collections of individual mistakes found in both online and offline communication. A qualitative analysis of 550 posts from these two pages investigated (a) the linguistic phenomena which were managed, (b) the actors, settings and genres which were the sources of the noted deviations, (c) the humorous character of the management and (d) the depiction of the actors in organized management in regard to the “Nazi” metaphor and perceived norm authorities in the Czech context. The analysis revealed that the practices of individuals organizing under the title Grammar Nazis on Czech Facebook represent a necessarily incomplete language management process cycle, performed by non-experts, driven by standard language ideology, and associating “grammar” primarily with orthography. Given that the knowledge of orthography is related to one’s education and cultural capital, it thus serves as an instrument of social differentiation.

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Correspondence to Tamah Sherman.

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Sherman, T., Švelch, J. “Grammar Nazis never sleep”: Facebook humor and the management of standard written language. Lang Policy 14, 315–334 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-014-9344-9

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Keywords

  • Grammar Nazis
  • Facebook
  • Czech
  • Language management
  • Online humor
  • Orthography