DEA Hiring Ebonics Translators

US-DrugEnforcementAdministration-SealIn the ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ category, via CNN:

Wanted by the Drug Enforcement Administration: Ebonics translators.

It might sound like a punch line, as “Ebonics” — the common name for what linguists call African-American English — has long been the butt of jokes, as well as the subject of controversy.

But the agency is serious about needing nine people to translate conversations picked up on wiretaps during investigations, Special Agent Michael Sanders said Tuesday. A solicitation was sent to contractors as part of a request to companies to provide hundreds of translators in 114 languages.

“DEA’s position is, it’s a language form we have a need for,” Sanders said. “I think it’s a language form that DEA recognizes a need to have someone versed in to conduct investigations.”

The translators, being hired in the agency’s Southeast Region — which includes Atlanta, Georgia; Washington; New Orleans, Louisiana; Miami, Florida; and the Caribbean — would listen to wiretaps, translate what was said and be able to testify in court if necessary, he said.

“The concept is right and good,” said Walt Wolfram, distinguished professor of English linguistics at North Carolina State University. “Why wouldn’t you want experts who can help you understand what people are communicating?”

“On one level, it’s no different than someone from the Outer Banks of North Carolina who speaks a distinct brogue,” he said. “The problem is that even the term ‘Ebonics’ is so controversial and politicized that it becomes sort of a free-for-all.”

And Ebonics is no longer spoken only by African-Americans, Sanders said, referring to it as “urban language” or “street language.”…

[continues at CNN]

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  • Your Mom

    Try Barbara Billingsly. She's quite fluent in jive.

  • Mr. Noisy

    DEA is going to outlaw i-drugs next. Techno deejays you better run and hide now, bitches!

  • Dirtgrain

    I believe the term ebonics was initially used to describe African American dialect (it has been debated among linguists if it actually is a dialect, by their technical rules). This is based on words and grammatical structures, unique to ebonics. That is quite different than slang or street language. People are often misusing “ebonics” to refer to slang used by African Americans. Maybe that's just what the word ebonics has become, but perhaps the DEA should make the distinction.

    This story reminds me of the White police officer character on Sanford and Son who always needed Lamont to translate for him.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I lawled. I could just picture some ex-service member with a crew cut and a family in the suburbs sitting at a desk and listening to recordings of conversations from urban cellphones…

    …and pulling his hair out after ten minutes because he can only make out one word out of twenty…even though he and the subjects on the phone live 20 miles apart. Wittgenstein would gut laugh…if he’d ever laughed.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I lawled. I could just picture some ex-service member with a crew cut and a family in the suburbs sitting at a desk and listening to recordings of conversations from urban cellphones…

    …and pulling his hair out after ten minutes because he can only make out one word out of twenty…even though he and the subjects on the phone live 20 miles apart. Wittgenstein would gut laugh…if he'd ever laughed.

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