The sociolinguistic approach to the speech community engages individual speakers in conversation that touches on the most vital concerns of everyday life. The linguist begins as a stranger, but is drawn closer to the speaker as the conversation goes deeper into matters of greatest concern. Members of local communities often see the interview as an avenue by which their views and experience will be heard by a wider world. John R. Rickford’s study of plantation workers in Canewalk, Guyana, is a model of research that gives voice to these local speakers. Irene is a strong and articulate woman, a vigorous exemplar of estate class language and culture. Reefer is the prototypical cane cutter and defiant leader of the estate class in their struggles with the management of the plantations. Granny is a retired weeder who speaks for all estate workers in crying out against the misery of plantation life. These eloquent speakers are also the most consistent exponents of the basilectal forms of Guyanese Creole.

In the decades that followed, Rickford has continued to give voice to the many speakers he has encountered in applying linguistic research to the social and political issues of greatest importance to speakers of African American English.