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Justice Department Seeks Ebonics Experts 487

Posted by samzenpus
from the my-mama-no-raise-no-dummies-I-dug-her-rap dept.
In addition to helping decipher their Lil Wayne albums, the Justice Department is seeking Ebonics experts to help monitor, translate and transcribe wire tapped conversations. The DEA wants to fill nine full time positions. From the article: "A maximum of nine Ebonics experts will work with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Atlanta field division, where the linguists, after obtaining a 'DEA Sensitive' security clearance, will help investigators decipher the results of 'telephonic monitoring of court ordered nonconsensual intercepts, consensual listening devices, and other media.'”
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Justice Department Seeks Ebonics Experts

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  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:42PM (#33344218) Homepage Journal

    Linguists say "African-American Vernacular English".

    What does it say about our society if a group we need to integrate is so isolated it's developing an incompatible dialect?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:46PM (#33344294)

      It says said group does not want to be assimilated and would instead prefer retaining certain unique cultural and linguistic elements.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        > It says said group does not want to be assimilated and would instead prefer retaining certain unique cultural and linguistic elements.

        Meanwhile, the Vietnamese are buying up their neighborhood.

      • This. I think South Park provided [southparkstudios.com] the best insight when Chef was telling Mr. Garrison about how black people kept adjusting their vocabulary based on when white people starting imitating it.
    • by WiglyWorm (1139035) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:46PM (#33344298) Homepage
      s3r10usLY, t3h 1MPl1c4T10NS 0f 4 Su8CUltur3 D3V3L0p1N' 1t's 0wN l4n9U493 R S3R10USLY d1sTur81n'. truLy 4M3r1c4 h4S F41L3d tH3Z3 c1T1Z3ns.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by at_slashdot (674436)

      "it's developing an incompatible dialect" -- this is not a recent development, I interpret "it's developing" as "now", while actually the A-A vernacular has been developing for centuries with most of its characteristic features probably established long time ago.

      • by kurisuto (165784) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:10PM (#33344698) Homepage

        Actually, it appears that AAVE is a product of the Great Northern Migration of African-Americans in the early 20th century. Prior to that time, there was little to no distinction between the dialects of southern whites and southern blacks.

        The pieces of evidence for this claim include:

        • Phonograph recordings made in the 1930's of former slaves
        • Diaries and letters written by semi-literate slaves and former slaves in the 19th century. Since the writers were semi-literate, the spelling is a better indication of the pronunciation than standard spelling would be.
        • Something which linguists call "age grading". If you take speakers of AAVE today and compare younger speakers with older speakers, the younger speakers actually have a higher percentage occurrence of the distinctive features of AAVE. This suggests that AAVE is becoming increasingly distinct from standard American English over time.

        There are other pieces of evidence as well, but those are some of the important ones.

        • Informative response, thanks.

          "This suggests that AAVE is becoming increasingly distinct from standard American English over time."

          I wonder if this "age grading" doesn't just suggest that young people will eventually learn standard English better when they get to a certain age instead of the opposite conclusion, it's always hard to compare apples with oranges.

          • "opposite conclusion" is not the right choice of words, I meant: instead of assuming that older people speech is a good indication of how they were speaking when they were young.

            Also should have said "learn standard English better by the time they get to a certain age" -- English is not my first language, it plays tricks on me.

          • by kurisuto (165784) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:36PM (#33345128) Homepage

            To answer your question about age grading, you have to look at a population at more than one point in time. In cases where this has been done (e.g. speakers of central American Spanish), what we find is that young adults have the highest percentage of the incoming feature (higher than both children and older adults). As those same young adults get older, their use of the incoming feature does decline some, but not down to the levels of the previous generation. The 40-year-olds today have a higher percentage of the incoming variant than the 40-year-olds twenty years ago.

            Variants in speech can serve as social markers which you use to identify yourself as a member of a group. As a guess, I imagine that the slight decline in use of the incoming variant as you get older has less to do with "learning standard English better", and more to do with it not being quite as important to sound cool as you get older. As a 40-year-old, you probably still wear clothes which identify you as a member of a certain group, but you probably don't dress in quite as trendy a way as you did when you were 20.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:53PM (#33344392) Homepage

      So-called "Standard English" and AAVE are mutually comprehensible languages, and always have been. Even in Airplane!, where they're deliberately exaggerating the differences for comic effect, you can understand the meaning of "My momma no raise no dummies, I dug her rap!" perfectly well.

      Another way of thinking about it: which is easier for your average Standard English speaker to understand: AAVE or a cell phone contract?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851)
        Indeed, however some of the dialects down south are less comprehensible. Cajuns have their own language which is a challenge to say the least for people that aren't familiar with it. But even the relatively easy to understand AAVE does have disadvantages and does carry with it a limitation on gainful employment in some sectors, unless the individual is able to use standard English or whatever dialect the local well to do use.
      • Well, look at it this way:

        Is it possible for most English speakers to follow most of it, figuring out words they don't know from context cues, etc.? Sure, I think it is.

        Is it also possible to lose possibly important nuances in the process? I think that's the case, too. For example, a hooptie is a car but there's also a fair amount of connotation to that choice of word.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Another way of thinking about it: which is easier for your average Standard English speaker to understand: AAVE or a cell phone contract?

        Given that most people I know have never understood the contract much beyond "how much must I pay, how long am I stuck with you and what would I have to pay to get out early?" I don't think you made a good point.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Americano (920576)

          I think that's exactly the point he was trying to make - the characterization of AAVE & "Standard English" as "incompatible" dialects is probably a little overblown, when people are less likely to understand a contract written in "standard english" than they are to somebody speaking a vernacular form.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by snowgirl (978879)

      What does it say about our society if a group we need to integrate is so isolated it's developing an incompatible dialect?

      Not "is developing", "has developed".

      And it says nothing at all... separated groups will develop separate dialects. The issue of "dialect" even to the point of unintelligibility has been a pervasive issue throughout Europe in the modern age. America (all of it) is so new, that separate unintelligible dialects are rare due to everyone having such a recent base language to develop from.

    • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:56PM (#33344458)

      AFAIK, this kind of thing happens all over the place. Pidgin in Hawaii, Creole in Louisiana...most localities have slang, dialects and accents that can be terribly confusing for outsiders. I'd bet even with the "African-American Vernacular English" you've got slang variations between regions.

      Part of the problem here is that speaking proper english is often seen as "selling out", and any attempts to crawl out of poverty or to get educated are harshly treated by peers. With groups that consider their suffering a badge of pride, and dissuade others from escaping the cycles of poverty and violence often associated with those groups, it's really difficult to make any headway. It may not be politically correct to mention, but a lot of the damage done in impoverished communities is self inflicted.

      • by snowgirl (978879) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:05PM (#33344596) Journal

        "Proper english" is a misnomer. The proper way to say it is, "Speaking English in the dialect of power is often seen as 'selling out'."

        There is nothing more "proper" or "correct" about Standard American English as opposed to AAVE. Both have their own (ofttimes overlapping) rules of grammar and vocabulary.

        • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:46PM (#33345276)

          I understand the semantic argument you're making, using the term "dialect of power" instead of "proper" in order to symmetrically oppose any positive connotations of "proper", but this kind of argument is the kind of intellectualism that actually keeps people from escaping the poverty and violence of "non-power" subcultures.

          Both have their own (ofttimes overlapping) rules of grammar and vocabulary.

          I would submit that Standard American English has clearly codified rules, and AAVE has merely observations of the language in action, at best. Since AAVE is something that is taught without little in the way of literacy (that is to say, it is a predominantly oral tradition), it is difficult to equate it to something like Standard American English.

          There is nothing more "proper" or "correct" about Standard American English

          But there is something much more useful about Standard American English - it is the key to education, employment, and as you so cleverly put it, "power". Now perhaps the escape of poverty is not "proper" or "correct", and I accept your critique of my use of the term "proper" - but surely you must agree that learning Standard American English is beneficial on a myriad number of levels, and those subcultures that denigrate learning it are inflicting harm upon themselves.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by snowgirl (978879)

            "Codified rules"? You mean the arbitrary laws that prescriptivists continue to attempt to impose on speakers despite all indications that these rules have no logical or meaningful basis?

            Like double negatives, split infinitives, or dangling prepositions?

            These "codified rules" are not actually a part of Standard American English. They are instead artificially imposed rules for a specific subset of language use.

            But there is something much more useful about Standard American English - it is the key to education, employment, and as you so cleverly put it, "power". ... but surely you must agree that learning Standard American English is beneficial on a myriad number of levels, and those subcultures that denigrate learning it are inflicting harm upon themselves.

            I wish I could take credit for it, but the linguistic term is "language of power" or "dialect of po

      • AFAIK, this kind of thing happens all over the place.

        Blacks in the UK talk no differently than whites.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ISoldat53 (977164)
      Do they have a name for NASCARonics? I can't understand a thing they say.
    • by raddan (519638) *
      I think it is rather remarkable that the United States and much of Canada share mostly-comprehensible dialects of the same language. If you look at the same land area anywhere else in the world, you don't have as much homogeneity as we have here. Even China has two main dialects (although their written language has the curious property of being readable by everyone).

      But it's not surprising to me that dialects develop. I think, after the black-white school-integration era, people realized that there wa
      • by snowgirl (978879)

        You're spot on about the craziness of the lack of dialectal differences in the US/Canada area. However, China only has "dialects" because of the aphorism "a dialect is a language with an army and a navy."

        China has two main "dialects": Mandarin and Cantonese. These two "dialects" are mutually unintelligible, and significantly different from each other when compared to the Scandinavian "langauges".

        "Jeg er snowgirl" (Norwegian) vs. "Jag är snowgirl" (Swedish) vs. "Jeg er snowgirl". (Danish)

        The reason wh

    • I know plenty of Africans (People from Nigeria and there about - real African Americans) and people of African decent (also with a history of slavery no less) who speak perfect English and are also highly educated - have Dr. as a title many times. If you call them "African Americans" they take it as an insult, btw. And then there are educated American blacks who speak perfectly.

      It's more of a sub set of our black population that doesn't want to learn or get educated; which also happens to be the part of the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by snowgirl (978879)

        It's more of a sub set of our black population that doesn't want to learn or get educated; which also happens to be the part of the population with the highest crime rate.

        "Subset" is one word.

        Now, the interesting thing here, is that people who are disadvantaged in life, regardless of will or desire, tend to have the highest crime rates. They're also the most likely to be least educated.

        Funny how people attribute these disadvantaged as being "lazy" or lacking desire, when in reality, they're simply given a shitty hand to play.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Omestes (471991)

        In the neighborhood I used to live in, there was an older black guy down the road. He was a truck driver lacking even most of a high school education. He spoke standard English better than most of the other people on the block. His pre-teen children (just the boys, not the girl) spoke "AAVE", and you could hear him screaming at them from time to time to act educated, he hated the fact that he worked hard to get where he was (coming from a very poor southern background) and his children sounded like they

  • by strokerace (912726) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:43PM (#33344228)
    There aren't enough mod points in the universe to mod down all the trolls that are going to be posting on this topic.
  • Airplane! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:44PM (#33344252)

    Oh, stewardess, I speak jive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhJDvI3gUO8

  • awesome! (Score:5, Funny)

    by larry bagina (561269) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:44PM (#33344254) Journal
    all those years of wigger training is finally going to pay off! YOU HEAR THAT MOM?!?!?!?!
  • I mean...really. Wow.

    Ebonics is not like "jive" from the 70s. Anyone who really listens can understand it - its just a butchering of southern USA english.
    • by Amouth (879122)

      No it isn't "southern" - i'm not sure what it is but i know southern and it isn't this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851)
        It's derived from the dialects of the south, but that doesn't mean that it's likely to bear much of a resemblance. I mean after all, down south for a really long time there were limitations on education, employment and just general mixing of the races. Suggesting that a linguistic grouping would be derived in a straightforward way is ignorant. If you don't believe me, try comparing the dialects of Korean between the speakers from the North and the speakers from the South and you'd get the picture.
    • by rickb928 (945187)

      "its just a butchering of southern USA english"

      If that were true, the Justice Department would need translators to watch Paula Deen. [pauladeen.com]

      You cannot make this stuff up. Not even Colbert can make this stuff up.

    • Anyone who really listens can understand it - its just a butchering of southern USA english.

      Au contraire, I watched a movie called American Pimp, much of which was in Ebonics, and I could barely understand a word of it.

      Just because you can understand it doesn't mean everyone else can.

  • What it do pimpinz? We be keepin it real in dis bitch. All yo' base iz belong to us, go tell that homie. Be real, be ez /.ers

    Similarly, this [theonion.com] just in. Looks like the administration is taking a page out of the Onion's book.
  • by John Pfeiffer (454131) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:46PM (#33344288) Homepage

    ENGLISH, motherfucker. DO YOU SPEAK IT?

  • I'm curious... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:48PM (#33344328)

    First, how does the Justice Department, as part of their interviewing process, figure out if someone legitimately has this skill or is faking it? This can't be that far from being the linguistic equivalent of a non-technical company trying to hire a programmer or IT person with a particular kind of expertise. In the tech world those situations are dailywtf's waiting to happen -- it can't be much better in this one.

    Second, if you had this expertise, how would you keep it current? Spend an hour a day riding public transportation in Oakland?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PCM2 (4486)

      First, how does the Justice Department, as part of their interviewing process, figure out if someone legitimately has this skill or is faking it?

      Have them translate something. It's not like this skill does not exist already. You have an expert write up a dialogue (or get one from a wire tap) and then have applicants decipher it. If they're right, they're in.

      Second, if you had this expertise, how would you keep it current? Spend an hour a day riding public transportation in Oakland?

      Probably a little more than that, but essentially, yeah. You need to speak to the people in question on a regular basis. Social workers might be good candidates.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eristone (146133) *

        Second, if you had this expertise, how would you keep it current? Spend an hour a day riding public transportation in Oakland?

        Probably a little more than that, but essentially, yeah. You need to speak to the people in question on a regular basis. Social workers might be good candidates.

        Black: Check.
        Work Downtown Oakland: Check.
        Ride Public Transport: Check.
        For One Hour: (roundtrip) Check.
        Ability to Translate: Sporadic at best. Happily references UrbanDictionary as needed.

        With all do respect to some posters (and not the ones I'm replying to here) - skin pigmentation does not denote linguistic ability or accents.

    • by retchdog (1319261)

      A group of the moderately skilled can, through consensus and planning, quite efficiently evaluate an individual of higher skill. For example, psychometricians generally speaking aren't geniuses but their IQ tests are pretty good at detecting them.

    • by JamesP (688957)

      Shoe size?!

      Just kidding... if they are looking for linguists they are probably going to base their skill assessment on actual research published by the candidate.

  • by SlappyBastard (961143) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:49PM (#33344348) Homepage

    Because, ya know, as a white dude I'd hate to lose my job translating negrospeak because I used the N-word.

    Is it really that hard to understand negrospeak? Or are all the old guys who the DoJ just starting fossilize? Will this lead to black street gangs using Valley Girl Talk to throw the police off their trail?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bsDaemon (87307)

      As a white guy, you're probably more likely to get in trouble for referring to it as "negrospeak" in casual conversation. I'm pretty sure that's not a technical term... outside of Amos and Andy.

  • Robin Hood. this fin' might 'eaven and 'ell lead ter the bloody Cozzer's makin' less unfounded 'rrests. 'cause sometimes a Sexton Blake recipe is just a Sexton Blake recipe.
  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:56PM (#33344460)

    on your merry way towards the ve-nak-u-lar

    "Damn- that shit is DOPE".
    That is a wonderful concept/object/action.
    "Can't FADE that".
    I am unable to comprehend or assimilate that concept at this time.
    "Shante ain't havin' it".
    This is not something that Shante will allow to occur.
    "Homey- Boo was dropping PHAT beats".
    Our friend Boo was playing some wonderful music.
    "YO!- Let me GAFFLE that BLUNT"!
    Might I be able to indulge in your marijuana cigarette?
    "JIMMY was on and I was HITTIN' it"!
    I had in my possession a condom, which was used in my engagement of sexual activity.

    http://www.ebonics-translator.com/ebonics_101.php [ebonics-translator.com]

  • http://humor.beecy.net/misc/ebonics/ [beecy.net]

    how many credit hours would that be? and I am wondering what the topic would be in Advanced Ebonics classes?

    • by Zeek40 (1017978)
      I'm pretty sure the 'Advanced Ebonics' classes would involve making up new nonsense words until one of them becomes popular, then repeating that word until most of society can recognize it as an 'idiot indicator'.
  • This [wordpress.com] comes to mind...
  • by hessian (467078) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:15PM (#33344798) Homepage Journal

    This is an excellent development as it further legitimizes the idea that:

    (a) African-Americans are a separate group that should not be assimilated;
    (b) African-Americans have their own culture, values and heritage that is distinct from the majority;
    (c) African-Americans are best treated as a self-governing cultural community within the political entity "USA".

    In other words, it's a step forward for true African-American autonomy, and an implicit recognition of Pan-Nationalism [pan-nationalism.org].

    • Respectfully, I think you're choosing to read a lot more into this story than is really there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by snowgirl (978879)

      a) They are a separate group, but being so does not mean that they "should not be assimilated".
      b) They do have their own culture, values and heritage that is distinct from the majority... this is fact. Ignoring it, or refusing it does not make it less of a fact.
      c) What what?

      Ah crap, I'm arguing with a nut job conspiracist... :(

    • by blair1q (305137)

      There's a Mr. Eminem here and he'd like to disagree with you that African-Americans are separate, have their own culture, or should be treated different.

  • Translation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:17PM (#33344840)
    In other words, we have a dialect of English that is generally spoken in the inner-city areas that have a predominance of crime, and we need someone who understands this dialect to help us make sure that we understand what's being talked about when we intercept criminals speaking that way. You dig?
  • by Naked Jaybird (1190469) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:09PM (#33345606)
    In Oakland, CA, ebonics originated because some educators were making a point that language was evolving in some communities, and the education system must recognize that the common language young people are speaking is changing. The goal of these educators was to get the educational funding they need to teach these students English and English grammar, not to legitimatize yet another language the California educational system would have to support.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell

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