The LSA is delighted to announce the winner of the Best Paper in Language 2016 Award.  The award will be given to “Language and Linguistics on Trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and Other Vernacular Speakers) in the Courtroom and Beyond”: Language Volume 92, Number 4 (December, 2016), by John R. Rickford and Sharese King.

This paper reveals the critical role that prejudice against nonstandard dialects such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) can play in the criminal justice system. In 2013, George Zimmerman went on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, in Florida. The testimony of Rachel Jeantel, an “ear-witness” who speaks AAVE, was critical to the prosecution’s case, but her testimony was castigated in the press and on social media, characterized as unintelligible and not credible by juror B37, and totally disregarded in jury deliberations. Mis-hearings and misjudgments of AAVE and other vernacular speakers have potentially devastating consequences in courtrooms, but also in other domains, like police encounters, class rooms, apartment hunting, and job interviews. The authors argue that vernacular varieties should matter more than they do in these public domains, and linguists can and should play a bigger role in explaining them, and advocating for reforms where necessary.

This article is based on the Presidential Address delivered by John Rickford at the LSA's 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, and was also profiled in a news release about the December 2016 issue of Language.

The award will be presented during the Awards Ceremony on Saturday, January 7, 2017 at the LSA Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. 

This award, made for the first time in 2012, is given for the best paper published in the journal in any given year. All papers published in a given year are eligible for review and then ranked by the Awards Committee. Associate Editors of Language are invited to recommend specific articles in their areas of expertise for priority review by the Awards Committee.