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John R. Rickford
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John R. Rickford

J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Linguistics and the Humanities
Stanford University

Two Bills: Pursuing Basic and Applied Research, Scholarship and Service
In linguistics, as in many sciences, a distinction is often made between Basic and Applied Research, people tend to do either Basic or Applied Research, but not both. Moreover, those doing Basic Research sometimes under-value the work of those doing Applied Research, and to a lesser extent, the opposite is true as well.

In this paper, I’ll talk about two Bills who defy convention by combining Basic and Applied Research. Their accomplishments and goals over their careers should inspire us to explore new ways in which we can build on and develop scientific scholarship in the service of our local, national, and global communities.

The first Bill is Bill Gates, whose pioneering work on the development of the computer language BASIC, and of software (WINDOWS) and hardware for personal computers since 1975 is well-known, but whose dedication to Applied Research and service world-wide through the Gates Foundation since 2000 is less familiar. I discovered and was inspired by this “other Bill” through his bold statements (on Sixty Minutes, May 2013) that his foundation was working to eliminate polio by 2018, tuberculosis by 2020, and malaria by 2028.

The second Bill is Bill Labov, whose theoretical principles, methods and findings concerning linguistic variation and change, and the study of language in its social setting are well known. However, his innovative work (often with school districts and textbook publishers) to improve the teaching and learning of reading, especially to speakers of African American Vernacular English and other ethnic English vernaculars, is less familiar.

We should use the models of these two Bills, I suggest, to redouble our efforts to combine Basic and Applied Research in our own work, and to extend Applied Research to areas like criminal justice where the need for solutions is acute, but the Basic Research is severely lacking.

John R. Rickford is the J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Linguistics and the Humanities at Stanford University, where he has worked since 1980. He is also professor by courtesy in Education, and Pritzker University Fellow in Undergraduate Education.

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 currently serves as the President of the Linguistic Society of America.

The primary focus of Professor Rickford’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 problems.

Professor Rickford is the author of numerous scholarly articles, and author or editor of several books, including A Festival of Guyanese Words (1978); Dimensions of a Creole Continuum (1987); Sociolinguistics and Pidgin-Creole Studies (1988); African American English: Structure, History and Use (co-edited with S. Mufwene, John Baugh, and Guy Bailey, 1998); African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution, Educational Implications (1999); Creole Genesis, Attitudes and Discourse: Studies Celebrating Charlene J. Sato (co-edited with Suzanne Romaine, 2000); Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English (co-authored with Russell John Rickford, 2000, winner of an American Book Award); and Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-First Century (co-edited with Edward Finegan, 2004); Language, Culture and Caribbean Identity (co-edited with Jeannette Allsopp, 2012); and African American, Creole and Other Vernacular Englishes: A Bibliographic Resource (co-authored with Julie Sweetland, Angela E. Rickford, and Tommy Grano 2012).
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