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A.D. White Professor-at-Large to speak on race, class, speech

John Rickford

Linguist and A.D. White Professor-at-Large John Rickford will address race, class and speech in a series of campus events Sept. 17-21 that include public talks and a screening of his 2017 film, “Talking Black in America.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 4:30 p.m., Rickford will speak on “Class and Race in the Analysis of Language Variation and the Struggle for Social Justice,” in Rhodes-Rawling Auditorium, Klarman Hall. The talk is free, and the public is invited.

Rickford will address theoretical understandings of the roles of race and class in socio-linguistic variation, as well as efforts to curtail the discrimination and injustice experienced by African-American and other vernacular speakers in schools, police interactions, courtrooms, job hunts and other aspects of social life. He will also examine the nature of ethnicity as a socio-linguistic boundary and why and how race came to triumph over class as the basis of socio-political action in the U.S.

“There is recent evidence that re-segregation is increasing in the U.S. since court-ordered efforts against it have been relaxed, with dire consequences for literacy education and unjust incarceration among black and brown populations,” said Rickford. “How linguists can best respond to these challenges is something we urgently need to decide and act on.”

The screening of “Talking Black in America,” followed by a discussion, will be Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 3:45 p.m. in the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Rickford’s primary research focus is the relation between linguistic variation and change and social structure. He is especially interested in the relationship 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 problems.

The J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Linguistics and the Humanities and professor by courtesy in education at Stanford University, Rickford received his bachelor’s degree in socio-linguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1971, and his doctorate in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1979.

His publications include the co-edited “Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race” and “African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution, Educational Implications.” “Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English,” co-authored with his son, Russell Rickford, Cornell associate professor of history, won the American Book Award in 2000. He is a fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and served as its president in 2015.

Additional events during Rickford’s visit:

  • Linguistics colloquium on Thursday, Sept. 20: “How I Got Into Socio-linguistics, and What I’m (Still) Tryna Get Out of It,” Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall;
  • Conversation with undergraduates at Keeton House on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 7:15 p.m., “Setbacks and Failures”;
  • Presentation to local high school teachers on Sept. 17, 3:45 pm, on “Working With Speakers of African-American Vernacular (Ebonics): Four Strategies,” in Ithaca High School’s Kulp Auditorium.

Rickford’s visit is sponsored by A.D. White Professor at Large Program and is co-hosted by the Departments of Linguistics and Africana Studies.

Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Jeff Tyson