On AUGUST 23–The Department of Justice published an article stating that it “is seeking to hire linguists fluent in Ebonics to help monitor, translate, and transcribe the secretly recorded conversations of subjects of narcotics investigations, according to federal records.”
The article caught my attention and I must admit I began to laugh – at first. Having spent time in federal prison (not something I am proud of) I know the frustration of dealing with a second language. As a white well educated male I found quickly that I did not possess the language skills needed to successfully navigate the time before me I was to spend in prison. I knew English and fractured “Southern” – red neck some folks would call it. What I did not know was Spanish and – more importantly – Ebonics.
When my cell mate spoke first to me – asking me what I was in here “fo”? I responded, “I’m a theif.” His response was “Word?” I suppose I looked dumbfounded as I repeated what he said back to him with a questioning look. “Word?” Now to read this doesn’t do it justice. You have to have the dialect and intonation to get the message. In short, we weren’t communicating.
Then Buck – that was my cell mates name. Buck and Chuck – don’t know if the guards did that for comic relief, but we did make a good pair. Anyway, Buck, realizing the lack of communication said he’d make me a deal. He’d teach me Ebonics (and/or how to survive in prison) if I’d teach him “how to speak correctly” so he could get a real job when he got out. Deal!
But back to Federal Government Job Opportunities…
The article goes on to state:
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”
The DEA’s need for full-time linguists specializing in Ebonics is detailed in bid documents related to the agency’s mid-May issuance of a request for proposal (RFP) covering the provision of as many as 2100 linguists for the drug agency’s various field offices. Answers to the proposal were due from contractors on July 29.
Ebonics has widely been described as a nonstandard variant of English spoken largely by African Americans. John R. Rickford, a Stanford University professor of linguistics, has described it as “Black English” and noted that “Ebonics pronunciation includes features like the omission of the final consonant in words like ‘past’ (pas’ ) and ‘hand’ (han’), the pronunciation of the th in ‘bath’ as t (bat) or f (baf), and the pronunciation of the vowel in words like ‘my’ and ‘ride’ as a long ah (mah, rahd).”
O.K. it’s funny to read or try to read how white folks describe and write Ebonics…sorry, but this just cracks me up…!
The Department of Justice RFP does not, of course, address questions of vernacular, dialect, or linguistic merit. It simply sought proposals covering the award of separate linguist contracts for seven DEA regions. The agency spends about $70 million annually on linguistic service programs, according to contract records.
In addition to the nine Ebonics experts, the DEA’s Atlanta office also requires linguists for eight other languages, including Spanish (144 linguists needed); Vietnamese (12); Korean (9); Farsi (9); and Jamaican patois (4). The Atlanta field division, one of the DEA’s busiest, is the only office seeking linguists well-versed in Ebonics. Overall, the “majority of DEA’s language requirements will be for Spanish originating in Central and South America and the Caribbean,” according to one contract document.
The Department of Justice RFP includes a detailed description of the crucial role a linguist can play in narcotics investigations. They are responsible for listening to “oral intercepts in English and foreign languages,” from which they provide verbal and typed summaries. “Subsequently, all pertinent calls identified by the supervising law enforcement officer will be transcribed verbatim in the required federal or state format,” the RFP notes.
Additionally, while “technology plays a major role in the DEA’s efforts, much of its success is increasingly dependent upon rapid and meticulous understanding of foreign languages used in conversations by speakers of languages other than English and in the translation, transcription and preparation of written documents.”
So here’s the deal…
If the government is truly serious about hiring folks to have a legitimate job helping with Ebonics…they should look to the inner city youth, inmates being released from prison or other folks who find Ebonics their first language and English (or talking to white folks) their second language. And if readers think I’m kidding…I’m not. Why not go to Detroit or inner city Miami or other Ebonics hot spots and offer a job to someone who otherwise might find themselves on the wrong side of the law some day.
If Frank Abagnale (of Catch Me If You Can – the movie – fame) can turn crime into crime stopping support – so can inner city youth. Let’s put stimulus dollars to work in a productive way.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!