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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 Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:42PM (#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?

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

    by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:48PM (#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?

  • by SlappyBastard ( 961143 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:49PM (#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?

  • by kurisuto ( 165784 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:36PM (#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.

  • What (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SnarfQuest ( 469614 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:55PM (#33345384)

    Is there really such a language as ebonics, or can any random grouping of black slang be thrown together and be called ebonics? Can any two "ebonics speakers" living across the country understand each other?

    I cannot find out if "ebonics" as a real language exists, or if the name just gets slapped on any black-related slang. I.e. would it be called ebonics if a black guy used valley-girl slang? "Hey ho-me, like gag me with a spoon, bro!"

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:19PM (#33345740) Journal

    It's not a black/white thing - it's a subculture thing. In the UK, don't you guys have regions where they speak in thick accents....Cockney? I'm not sure exactly what street slang and subcultures exist in the UK, but I would assume they do, even if they aren't aligned the same way as in the US.

    Accents vary from city to city and town to town, sometimes 30 miles seeing a huge change in dialect, particularly near coastal cities where there were outside influences historically. For example (and this is my theory) Newcastle's accent is heavily influenced by Scandinavia since that part of what is now England was once ruled by the Danes.

    The point I'm making is that accents in the UK vary by region, not by ethnic group. A black person living in Newcastle will have the same 'geordie' accent as whites in the same city. I black man living in Liverpool will have a 'scouse' accent just like a white scouser.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:27PM (#33345862)
    They're not disadvantaged, they are what they want to be. Africans come here with nothing and work their way up in our society. They consider African-Americans lazy - is this racism? African-Americans have everything and throw it away. Hell even Snoop Doggy Dogg, once he travelled the world a bit and saw how people lived, all of a sudden came to the realization that even when he was poor and "living in the hood" he had shoes on his feet, 3 squares a day, and a world of opportunity that people in the 3rd world only dream of. But as long as they have people like the above poster willing to make excuses for them, and a self-created culture that embraces and promotes ignorance and crime, they will remain a sub-culture that drags this nation down. They should just be honest and call it fool-speak or idiot-talk, instead we get this politically correct AAVE shit, which makes kids think it's OK if this is your only means of communication. Do not mistake people who willingly speak this way conversationally but are articulate and literate and know how to behave in context, with the misguided youth who are raised to speak hood-talk by their cultural idols and can not express themselves in any other way.
  • I HAS a Dream (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:45PM (#33346108) Journal

    I saw this poster [] in 1999 on a fellow's cubical wall at a place where the company I worked for was putting in a software system, in Rhode Island. The blog where the picture is hosted from provides the text [] below the picture. It was commissioned by The National Head Start Association []. For those that it matters to, the person who put up the poster was black. It was no surprise when I saw it for the first time, as I found previously that he placed a lot of emphasis on being able to communicate effectively with those around him.

    Your politically correct stance does not help people. In order to overcome prejudices it is best to focus on our similarities with others rather than on our differences. Once that is done, the differences don't matter as much. We cannot focus on anything if we cannot communicate. It doesn't help communication when one community works so hard on creating a wholly new dialect, if not language, just so that they can be more different.

    In case the site is not available, or for those that don't care to click, here is the text:

    "I HAS A DREAM" written over the image of the man. Below the image was the following text:

    "Does this bother you? It should. We've spent over 400 years fighting for the right to have a voice. Is this how we'll use it? More importantly, is this how we'll teach our children to use it? If we expect more of them, we must not throw our hands in the air and agree with those who say our children cannot be taught. By now, you've probably heard about Ebonics (aka black [sic] English). And if you think it's become a controversy because white America doesn't want us messing with their precious language, don't. White America couldn't care less what we do to segregate ourselves.

    The fact is language is power. And we can't take that power away from our children with Ebonics. Would Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and all the others who paid the price of obtaining our voice with the currency of their lives embrace this? If you haven't used your voice lately, consider this an invitation."

    ("SPEAK OUT AGAINST EBONICS", The National Head Start Association, 1651 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, The New York Times, October 9, 1998, A19 [National Edition])

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @07:54PM (#33349120)

    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.

    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. The tools are all there: remember, public education is free in this country (in SAE of course).

    The reason it's a "big deal" is because the AAVE-speakers (and their liberal apologists) are always complaining about being "marginalized", "underprivileged", etc. Well, they're doing it to themselves. And yes, AAVE speakers do it willfully. I've been around many black people who could switch automatically between "white English" and jive depending on who they were talking to. Again, public education is free in this country, and it's done in SAE.

    I grew up in the South, where people speak their own dialect. Speaking with a Southern accent is NOT a route to success in anywhere outside the South (or in many places inside it), as most Southerners will tell you. As someone more interested in being successful rather than "preserving" some dialect, I learned to speak proper SAE growing up, and never bothered with any regional accents. The way people spoke on national TV was the way I learned to speak, and made sure I spoke. I never complained about this.

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.