Guyanese Professor John R. Rickford Awarded Highest Academic Honor in the U.S.A.


Prof. John Rickford

Guyanese-American Professor John R. Rickford of Stanford University was recently notified that he had been awarded one of the highest academic honors in the United States: Election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest and most prestigious learned societies and independent policy research centers in the U.S., convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing—and opportunities available to—the nation and the world.

The Academy’s work is advanced by its elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.    

Current and former members of the Academy include Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson,  Margaret Mead, Martin Luther King, Jr.,  John F. Kennedy, Georgia O’Keefe, John Hope Franklin, John Updike, Charles Darwin,  Albert Einstein,  Winston Churchill,  Laurence Olivier, Nelson Mandela, and more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.

 Academy research currently focuses on education, the humanities and the arts; science, engineering, and technology policy; global security and international affairs; and American institutions and the public good.

John R. Rickford is the J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Linguistics and the Humanities at Stanford University.  He is also professor, by courtesy, in Education, and Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education.  He has been at Stanford since 1980, after teaching Linguistics at the University of Guyana from 1974 to 1984 and serving as Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts there.  Prior to leaving Guyana for his university education on a US scholarship in 1968, he attended Sacred Heart RC elementary school and Queen’s College, where he also taught English for a year after completing his GCE “A” levels.

Professor Rickford received his BA with highest honors in Sociolinguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1971, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1979.  He won a Dean’s Award for distinguished teaching in 1984 and a Bing Fellowship for excellence in teaching in 1992.  He also served as President of the Linguistic Society of America in 2015, and in 2016 won the award for the Best Paper in the journal Language—one of the leading journals in his field—for a paper he authored with a graduate student on the systematic vernacular of Rachel Jeantel, a close friend of Trayvon Martin, and the reasons why her testimony was misunderstood and disregarded in the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman for Trayvon’s murder.

The primary focus of John’s research and teaching is Sociolinguistics: the relation between linguistic variation and change and social structure.  He is especially interested in the relation between language and ethnicity, social class and style, language variation and change, pidgin and creole languages, African American Vernacular English, and the applications of linguistics to educational and legal issues.

Professor Rickford is the author of numerous scholarly articles, and author or editor of several books, including A Festival of Guyanese Words (ed., 1978); Dimensions of a Creole Continuum (1987), Analyzing Variation in Language (co-ed., 1987), Sociolinguistics and Pidgin‑Creole Studies (ed., 1988); African American English: Structure, History and Use (co‑ed., 1998); African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution, Educational Implications (1999); Creole Genesis, Attitudes and Discourse (co-ed., 2000); Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English (co-authored, 2000, winner of an American Book Award); Style and Sociolinguistic Variation (co-ed., 2001); Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-First Century (co-ed., 2004); Language, Culture and Caribbean Identity (co-ed, 2012); African American, Creole and Other Vernacular Englishes: A Bibliographic Resource (co-authored, 2012); and Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race (co-edited, 2015).  A collection of his papers is scheduled for publication in 2018 by Cambridge University Press in a book, entitled Variation and Change in Sociolinguistics and Creole Studies: Theory and Analysis.

Professor Rickford stated that he was both exhilarated and humbled that the Academy had bestowed this signature honor on him.  Election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is the pinnacle of his long, distinguished career.  He will spend part of this summer at the Rockefeller Foundation’s research center in Bellagio, Italy, working to develop new ways to expand linguistic versatility among vernacular speakers while reducing dialect prejudice and discrimination against them in schools, courtrooms, workplaces and other gatekeeping institutions.

John is married to Angela Rickford, née Marshall, who attended Bishops High School (Guyana), and is now Professor of Education at San Jose State University.  They have four children:  Shiyama, Russell, Anakela and Luke.

Download: Amer Academy of Arts and Science ltr, 4.10.17

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 05/19/2017 at 12:55 pm

    Kudos to Professor Rickford!

  • Raelene Glasgow  On 05/19/2017 at 8:56 pm

    Congratulations Sir on your accomplishments.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/19/2017 at 9:26 pm

    Well done, Prof. Rickford! Pleased to see you have joined a very esteemed group.

  • Jennel Ramsook  On 05/19/2017 at 9:39 pm


  • Dhanpaul Narine  On 05/19/2017 at 11:13 pm

    Congratulations to this distinguished son of Guyana!

  • Ron Saywack  On 05/20/2017 at 2:56 pm

    I’d like to take this opportunity to commend and thank Mr. Cyril Bryan for his indomitable, pioneering spirit and extraordinary vision to see the (actionary) need to create Guyanese Online (7 years ago). Mr. Bryan is a great son of Guyana.

    This medium has made it possible for us all to learn about the lives and accomplishments of several great and distinguished Guyanese (past and present) working and living all over the world.

    On this site, I’d like to single out two outstanding Guyanese: Dr. Dhanpaul Narine and Mr. Veda Nath Mohabir as men of great intellect. Their contributions are, invariably, informative, inspirational and educational.

    Thank you, Cyril for creating a window of opportunity to showcase (in real time) the lives and accomplishments of the many talented sons and daughters of Guyana.

    • guyaneseonline  On 05/20/2017 at 6:35 pm

      Thank you Ron for your support regarding Guyanese Online.
      Thank you also for your comments to various entries.
      We need the spirited debates and exchange of ideas.

      I have known Veda in GT, and in the late 1960’s when we both worked at Mercers, the Pension Plan Consultants. Even then, I was impressed by his intelligence and knowledge in many areas.

      I only met Dr Dhanpaul Narine recently, when he agreed for Guyanese Online to republish some of the articles that he has written for “The West Indian”, We all know how good they are. He has completed his 14th year publishing his
      weekly articles (without a break} in that publication.
      Congratulations Dhanpaul..

      Best regards,

      • Ron Saywack  On 05/24/2017 at 6:11 am

        It is an honor, Cyril, to have the opportunity to have a say on this forum. Your warmth, geniality, class and accessibility make the site not only attractive but a fun place to share ideas and commentaries.

        Veda, you are a modest man. As a matter of fact, plaudits and commendations aren’t things I’m in the habit of tossing around lightly. I only disseminate when warranted.

        Cheers Gents,


  • James A. Kilkenny  On 05/21/2017 at 9:48 am

    Most sincere congratulations on the fruits of your many years of labor. Well deserved!

    James A. Kilkenny
    Michigan USA

  • Deborah  On 05/21/2017 at 9:48 am

    I feel inspired to continue in my own academic pursuits from your achievements. Being a born Guyanese myself makes me feel so proud and encouraged by your strength. Congratulations.

  • Dhanpaul Narine  On 05/22/2017 at 6:06 am

    Many thanks Cyril for your kind words. I wish to thank my colleagues on this site for their comments and for advancing and discussing ideas on different subjects. The list is too long for me to mention all the names. These honorable men and women should be commended for their efforts. High praise and gratitude should be extended to our friend Cyril Bryan for his generosity and foresight in creating a medium for us to share our thoughts. This site has become a vehicle for us to ventilate and elucidate and to disagree agreeably. Yes, Cyril is a true pioneer! I am but your humble servant and I am grateful that you take the time to read some of the sentences that I string together. Thanks again and do have a blessed day.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 05/23/2017 at 11:18 pm

    Apologies for the tardy reaction. I just saw your comments, Ron and Cyril. Thank you for the (undue) recognition.
    Ron: Perhaps because I tackle arcane/esoteric topics such as eastern/Indian philosophy linked to cosmological ideas and prehistory that the arguments appear intellectual. Anyone more knowledgeable in these topics would clearly see how peripheral my ideas are.
    Cyril: I am pleased that you give recognition to our sixties’ association. I have been tempted to say so in some posts but didn’t want to appear too important by claiming association with a “pioneer’ such as you. Yes, we knew each other in GT and during our Civil Service days. Then, surprisingly, in my first 1969 job with Wm Mercer, Actuarial Consultants in Canada I ran in to you there as computer operators. (Note that we operated the first commercial mainframe IBM 360 20-30 card, tape and disk systems). Once again you were the ‘pioneer’; and when the bosses learned that we knew each other my acceptance at Mercer was guaranteed. Many Thx, my friend!
    As for GuyaneseOnline, indeed, you do provide a huge opportunity and forum for Guyanese abroad to keep in touch with happenings in Guyana and around the world while encouraging brisk exchange of ideas and debates. Kudos!

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