John R. Rickford began his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1968. This was a precarious and yet hopeful time for Black and brown people in the post–civil rights United States that Rickford entered and the post-independence Guyana he left. This year also marked the John Wiley publication of Language Problems of Developing Nations, edited by Joshua A. Fishman, Charles A. Ferguson, and Jyotirindra Das Gupta, which included theoretical, descriptive and applied research in the rapidly developing field of sociolinguistics regarding the complex problems of linguistic diversity in what was then referred to as ‘developing’ nations throughout the world. Robert B. LePage’s contribution to this volume, ‘Problems to Be Faced in the Use of English as the Medium of Education in Four West Indian Territories,’ would profoundly change the course of Rickford’s intellectual life. As Rickford (1997: 162) notes,
what really helped me to abandon English literature and design my own major in sociolinguistics was a paper by Le Page 1968 which dealt with the high failure rate (70% to 90%) of Caribbean high school students on the English language GCE (General Certificate of Education) ‘O’ level exam set by London and Cambridge Universities. Having worked as a high school teacher in Guyana for one year before setting off for college, I was aware of the problem, and I was convinced by Le Page’s arguments that it resulted partly from the fact that teachers could not recognize the differences between local Creole and Standard English, nor help students to shift smoothly between the two varieties.Thus, the stage was set for a half-century of work by John R. Rickford studying the nonstandard varieties of English of both the Anglophone Caribbean (Creoles) and the United States (African American Languages), with the goal of improving the educational experiences and outcomes of the poor and marginalized, and championing the legitimacy of their languages, as well as their intellectual capacity. The result has been solid and significant theoretical research backed with sound empirical approaches and scholarly rigor to the applied implementation of this work.