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Justice Department Seeks Ebonics Experts 487

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 strokerace ( 912726 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:43PM (#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.
  • by John Pfeiffer ( 454131 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:46PM (#33344288) Homepage

    ENGLISH, motherfucker. DO YOU SPEAK IT?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:46PM (#33344294)

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

  • by at_slashdot ( 674436 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:52PM (#33344382)

    "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 dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:53PM (#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?

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:53PM (#33344416) Journal

    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.

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

    by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:56PM (#33344456) Homepage

    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.

  • by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:56PM (#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 @02:05PM (#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 hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:05PM (#33344606)
    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.
  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:09PM (#33344686)
    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.
  • Translation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twoallbeefpatties ( 615632 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:17PM (#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 snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:22PM (#33344924) Journal

    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 AnonymousClown ( 1788472 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:28PM (#33345020)
    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 population with the highest crime rate.

    And I find it interesting, when I'm being spoken to in AAVE (*rolls eyes at the PCness*) and find the speech incomprehensible, usually I hear very clearly, "What, you don't understand English?" - they're fucking with the white boy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:31PM (#33345062)

    Yeah, and the Amish need to GTFO and start their own country somewhere where it's still 1600. And the Welsh and Scots need to GTFO of the UK, and the Quebecois need to GTFO of Canada. (Wait, they want that already, and Canada won't let them.) And white folks need to GTFO out of America since they won't assimilate the native cultures. Basically, everybody needs to GTFO out of everywhere.. And maybe live in orbiting space bubbles or some shit.

      I have a song for you! Everybody, sing along!

      o/~ YOU ARE! AN IDIOT! o/~

  • by WiglyWorm ( 1139035 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:33PM (#33345094) Homepage

    Not really. leetspeak is just character substitution with letters or numbers that look like the original word. It is still English as we know it and just requires the mental gymnastics to realize the substitute characters.

    10 years ago, I'd have agreed with you. However, leetspeak has invented new words - perversions of standard english words in the same vein as ebonics - acronyms, and entire phrases to its vocabulary list. N00b, pwnd (i always pronounce this with a hard P, don't you?), kekeke, pr0n, h4x0r, sUx0r...

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:41PM (#33345208) Journal

    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.

  • by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:46PM (#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.

  • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:48PM (#33345298) Journal

    What is it with this attitude towards people of differing languages?

    Did you not see the XKCD comic where the guy is bitching about how if people don't want to learn English, they should leave the country, and then the girl behind him starts speaking Cherokee?

    It's incredibly hypocritical to claim that YOU have any more heritage or culture than African Americans, after all, some of them are 3rd of 4th Generation, some Great Grandparents brought over by slave trades and such. Does that make them less of a citizen somehow, being born and raised in America when their ancestors were forced here?

    Its one thing if "a certain group not assimilating" means a direct opposal of the laws and regulations in the country that was set forth by a democratic system. THEN you can tell those people to GTFO.

    Its another thing entirely if "not assimilating" means they want to preserve their heritage or speak their own language or whatever. Last time I checked, not speaking American* in America was not a crime.

    *PS, do you guys actually call it American? Don't get me wrong, its your call and everything, I'm not one to interfere with your culture and all. It just seems really cheesey, as if American is so different from all other Englishes that we couldn't possibly understand you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:50PM (#33345328)

    Then said group should GTFO

    Oh, use of a web acronym -- that's an incompatible dialect. Now you need to STFU and GTFO.

    Seriously, you're a fucking moron. Who gives a shit if not everybody speaks like you? Get over your self.

  • by robot256 ( 1635039 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:59PM (#33345450)
    But this is a democracy, and in a democracy power is always held by the majority! Sure, maybe the majority is only 20% of the population, but they're still the majority of ...important people? ;)
  • by dynamic_cast ( 250615 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:00PM (#33345460) Homepage

    Dre Got The Fuck Out.

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:00PM (#33345464) Journal

    "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 power". And I do agree with your assessment. An individual has a significantly better chance in life learning the language/dialect of power.

    However, the moral assertions applied about subcultures that actively discourage learning the language of power is something best left to people who study ethics, and not individuals like me, who study language.

    Clearly individuals are better off learning the language of power, but that should never justify the connotation that the language of power is "better". "More useful" perhaps, but I would categorically reject any depictions of an ethically or aesthetically superior position.

    And "utility" has its own weights... knowing how to cook is far more useful than not knowing how to cook, yet few people actually learn it. Thus ethically considerations cannot be unequivocally implied from utility.

    Demanding that a subculture learn SAE, is the same as demanding that every subculture of America be, or at least practice Christianity.

  • by shoehornjob ( 1632387 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:34PM (#33345958)

    It's incredibly hypocritical to claim that YOU have any more heritage or culture than African Americans

    This has nothing to do with heritage or culture. Everyone should feel free to keep their cultural identity. In my opinion that's one of the things that makes America great. But when you move to another country to live you should make some attempt to learn to speak the language.

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:37PM (#33345990)

    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.

  • by drsquare ( 530038 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:42PM (#33346060)

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

    Need to integrate? On the contrary, the main population don't want them to integrate. They build far-flung suburbs and gated communities at great cost to get away from having to integrate with them.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:40PM (#33346824) Journal

    The Québécois already voted 60% in favour of separation in 1995

    60% of francophones did. But anglophone residents of Quebec are also entitled to voice their opinion on independence of the province which has been their home for many years now. Why do you disregard their votes?

  • by Naked Jaybird ( 1190469 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:40PM (#33346826)
    Evolution is defined as a 'process of change in a certain direction.' Whether its evolving for the better or worse is not the point being made.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:46PM (#33346902)

    Just making sure.

  • Re:I HAS a Dream (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @05:23PM (#33347372)

    Exactly. If you're a minority living among a majority, and you create a new language to separate yourself, you're only going to succeed in separating yourself from them even more. Then, you won't get any jobs and will be dirt-poor.

    Balkanism is not a path to success.

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @05:43PM (#33347690) Journal

    If you want to speak your own weird language, then fine. Just don't complain about "racism" if no one will give you a job because they can't understand you.

    You most likely didn't choose to learn Standard American English. You picked it up from your parents. So, creating a situation where those who were raised in the dialect of power retain power, and those who were not raised in the dialect of power must go out of their way to learn the dialect of power, or be excluded, is wrong.

    All people are lazy, and blacks are no less "lazy" than anyone else. The white person who inherits his father's business can hardly be described really as anything but "lazy" himself.

    Disadvantaging someone politically and economically because of the circumstances of their birth, and upbringing is the very definition of irrational discrimination.

  • 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 strived to be an "underclass", or poor idiotic street thugs.

    I have two points with this anecdote, not speaking AAVE isn't related to higher education or income. Second being that it isn't like standard English, where it is a language passed down generationally. Most speakers of AAVE don't have parents who speak AAVE. Its nothing more than a youth culture thing gone wrong, and now for some reason we're all supposed to ignore the fact that it is an invented language that has only existed for a generation, and is largely based on a single youth culture. If, in a generation, we decide that text-speak (ami rite?), and LOLcat are valid languages, and we're discriminatory for not speaking it. I for one welcome the future language of the upcoming 4Chan-Americans.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @06:04PM (#33347934) Homepage Journal

    True enough, but do you know anyone who insists on speaking leet for job interviews, court, and with their grandmother even after it has clearly caused a difficulty in communication?

    Leet is merely a sort of slang.

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @06:05PM (#33347952) Journal

    Life isn't fair. Get over it. Having dozens of separate dialects and languages in one nation is impractical and unworkable.

    So, the Netherlands is unworkable? The UK is unworkable?

    Funny, I didn't get the memo.

  • by Estanislao Martínez ( 203477 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @07:41PM (#33348992) Homepage

    Wrong. I don't think many people are demanding that anyone learn SAE; they just don't want to hear any complaints when people who refuse to learn and speak SAE can't get a job, can't talk to anyone, etc.

    The problem with this claim is that right here in the discussion for this Slashdot article you're going to find, far more often than what you're saying here, claims that people who speak AAVE do so out of willful ignorance and that use of AAVE automatically marks a person negatively. Those folks are, effectively, demanding that African-Americans speak SAE all the time, or else be judged negatively. There's precious little allowance for the idea that AAVE might be the appropriate speech variety in many contexts, or that maybe one ought to not make such a big fucking deal of the fact that a bunch of underprivileged people in this country speak a dialect different than yours.

  • by Estanislao Martínez ( 203477 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:34PM (#33349400) Homepage

    If they don't speak the same language, they can't get a decent job. Then, they stay poor, and liberal whiners claim that these people are "underprivileged". Sorry, but you can't have it both ways. If you want to speak a different language from the de facto language of economy in your nation, then you can't complain when you don't get to take part in the economy and raise yourself out of poverty.

    I have to refer you to this post I made a bit ago [], and also to this one []. Basically, your assumption that African-Americans don't speak the "same language" as the rest of the nation is an arbitrary rejection and stigmatization of a dialect that's really not very different from Standard English. The range of speech varieties that are "de facto" considered standard language is not a logically or linguistically preordained fact; it is pure social prejudice.

    Spanish speakers, for example, routinely accept dialectal differences that are comparable to those between SAE and AAVE. The verbal tense-aspect systems of Spain and Latin America are different, yet in Spain they don't think that, say, García Márquez speaks and writes substandard Spanish because of it.

  • by indiechild ( 541156 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:46PM (#33350246)

    So I take it you speak Cherokee?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @12:36AM (#33350894)

    Switzerland has done pretty well the last several centuries, despite four official languages, and a bajillion barely mutually-comprehensible dialects. Turns out that not having a stick up their arse about what dialect everyone could speak works out pretty well!

  • by benedict ( 9959 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @10:35AM (#33355014)

    Rap's been around for decades, too!

    Not that I couldn't predict it, but the ignorance on display in this thread is mind-blowing. Especially from a group of people which likes to think it has exceptional intelligence and command of facts.

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:39PM (#33388506) Journal

    I see, I didn't catch that you didn't think it was English.

    Well, it's difficult to classify exactly what it is. It is a form of English, in the same way that English and German are both Germanic languages. Similarly, a Russian Blue is still a cat, but it's definitely not a Calico.

    So you'd have it be treated as a separate language altogether? We'd have DMV forms written in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Ebonics?

    "Languages are dialects with an army and a navy". It's difficult to draw the line between what is and is not a language. However, if a language/dialect is sufficiently different so as to make it difficult to properly fill out a DMV form, then yes, we should provide them in that dialect/language.

    You really think it has the legitimacy of an actual language? Does hillbilly or cajun get the same status in your book?

    "Legitimacy" is retarded sometimes. Depending on your opinion about the legitimacy of things, either only Taiwan or China exist. This legitimacy of only one China denies reality, where
    de facto, there are two.

    My opinions on the matter do not matter, de facto, AAVE presents difficulties of communication, and is sufficiently different enough to deserve consideration.

    I was not aware that it had rules or grammar in actual use, always figured it was just a slang way of talking. Are you sure that these "rules" and "grammar" aren't just being applied by linguists to help yourselves make sense of something that doesn't?

    Linguists are actually quite easily able to detect the lack of grammar and syntax. These are widely known as pigeons. AAVE is not simply "slang" or a "lazy way of speaking". In fact, it has some aspects of verbs that must be expressed in English with circumlocution.

This is an unauthorized cybernetic announcement.