chapter  16
Introduction
WithAlicia Beckford Wassink
Pages 6

This section of the volume focuses on the political implications and impacts of John R. Rickford’s work. Relating Rickford’s own work directly to changes in law or the administration of it, to public policy, or to aspects of federal, state, or local governance is not what is meant here. Instead, the following several chapters are more rightly considered as pertaining to Rickford’s public presence in legal cases, fight for the rights of marginalized individuals and speakers of stigmatized varieties, and influence on other scholars to address linguistic aspects of social injustice—efforts that may be considered ‘political.’ An earlier piece in this volume by Ewart A.C. Thomas notes many contributory factors to Rickford’s early development and career-long devotion to the notion of ‘scholar as community servant.’ Among these were a strong emphasis at Queens College, Guyana, on leadership, exposure to ‘learning expositions’ in marginalized communities, to protests over the Vietnam war and racial injustice, and undoubtedly, a strong family and personal ethic. This essay makes evident the fact that John’s academic work has never stood far apart from the community, and has always shown a concern for his speakers and for his students. These latter issues, we may say, are part of Rickford’s politic. Thus, we may view the political implications of Rickford’s work in four separate domains, each of which on its own is an attestation to the far-reach of his scholarship:

Giving voice to speakers who have been misrepresented, unheard or discredited

Engaging the public controversy around African American English and generating attitudinal change

Promoting research into marginalized language varieties and awareness of their settings of use

Stimulating linguistic work in public spaces: awakening scholarly response to linguistic dimensions of injustice

Rickford enlarged the space for researchers of color and from underrepresented groups to advance the field. Beginning with earlier work by Labov, doors had begun to open in an unprecedented way in the 1960s for native speakers of underrepresented, sometimes stigmatized varieties, to broaden the set of language varieties studied in linguistics, and to contribute to linguistic research as analysts (e.g., Rickford himself, Clarence Robbins, etc.). These analysts leveraged their own community membership and linguistic expertise for deeper-reaching variationist research into the structures and settings of use of these languages, as Rickford did in the Cane Walk work. He also influenced a new generation of creolists to investigate the multivalent language attitudes (covert and overt) at work in their communities. This is evident in this section in the writings of Sharese King and Jonathan Rosa, 156and Alicia Beckford Wassink. It is a part of Rickford’s politic to build a support system for scholars of color, linking their careers, testing their skills, and strengthening the field.