August 24, 2010 by staff
The Drug Enforcement Administration has sent letters asking companies that provide translation services to help you find new translators in the southeast who are fluent in Ebonics, Special Agent Michael Sanders said Monday.
The psychologist who coined the term as the combination of English with African language structure has described ebonics, also known as African American Vernacular English.
Some agents of the DEA and help translate Ebonics, Sanders said. But he said he was not sure whether he has ever hired outside experts Ebonics as contractors.
“They saw a need for this in a couple of his research,” he said. “And when you see the need – may not be necessary now – but we want the contractors to provide us with nine people in case.”
The DEA’s decision, first reported by The Smoking Gun, evokes memories of the debate in 1996 when the Oakland, California, the school board suggested that black English was a separate language. Although the board later dropped the proposal amid criticism provoked a national debate over whether Ebonics is a language, dialect or none.
The search for translators covers a broad swath of the southeastern United States, including offices in Atlanta, Washington, New Orleans, Miami and the Caribbean, said Sanders. He said sure why other regions Ebonics translators are not hiring, but said research is under way in the southeast that need dedicated Ebonics translators.
The linguists said Ebonics could be more complicated than it sounds, partly because the vocabulary is evolving so quickly.
“Many times people think you are dealing only with a few slang words, and can refine your way around it,” said John Rickford, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University. “And it is – is a large vocabulary. You will have some significant differences” in English.
Critics worry that the DEA’s actions could set a precedent.
“Recruitment of translators for the languages that are of dubious merit to start is just going in the wrong direction,” said Aloysius Hogan, director of government relations for English First, a national advocacy group that promotes the use of English.
“I’m not aware of Ebonics training schools or testing. I do not know how someone talks had shown that Ebonics” he said. “I support the concept of pursuing drug traffickers, if they are using code words, but this is definitely going in the wrong direction.”
H. Samy Alim, a linguistics professor at Stanford who specializes in black language and hip-hop culture, said he thought that the recruitment effort was a joke when he first heard about it, but it highlights a serious problem.
“It seems ironic that the schools they serve and educate black children did not recognize the legitimacy of this language. However, the authorities and the police are recognizing that this is a language that does not understand,” he said. “It really tells us much about where we are socially in terms of recognizing African-American speech.”
Rickford said the hiring of experts Ebonics might be useful to the DEA, but said it is difficult to determine whether a prospective employee can speak well enough to translate because there are no standardized tests. He said the ideal candidate would be a native speaker who has also had some kind of language training.
Find the right of translators can be the difference between the successes of an investigation or not once, said Sanders. Although he said many listeners can get the gist of what they are saying Ebonics speakers, it could take an expert to define it in court.
“You can perhaps have a general idea of what they are saying, but you must understand that this has to be held in the court,” he said. “You need someone to say, ‘I know what I mean when they say” Ballin’ or ‘pinching pennies. ”
(This version CORRECTS corrects name of the DEA to ‘Administration’ instead of ‘Agency’.)
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