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Justice Department Looking For Experts in 'Ebonics'

12:45 PM, Aug 24, 2010   |    comments
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ATLANTA - The US Department of Justice is looking for linguists fluent in "Ebonics" to help monitor, translate and transcribe covertly recorded conversations of the subjects of drug investigations, according to federal contracting documents.

Up to nine experts will work with the Drug Enforcement Administration's Atlanta field office helping to translate telephone conversations and "maintain a list of slang words and codes," according to the contracting information released by the DEA.

Ebonics - more commonly known as black American slang -- is listed among 114 languages for which the DEA is looking for experts. The languages are listed as "common" and "exotic" languages. Ebonics is listed as a "common" language, spoken in the United States.

"They would be basically translating any of the language that the agent is unable to understand," DEA Special Agent Michael Sanders said. "It would be like a Spanish speaking wire or a Vietnamese speaking wire."

Critics of the language, including noted linguist, John McWhorter, insist that the dialect is nothing more than poor grammar or lazy English, and not a separate language, as the DEA search would indicate.

"It's almost laughable when you see ebonics elevated to Vietnamese, Farsi and other legitimate languages," community activist and former city councilman Derrick Boazman said. "What it says is the DEA is out of touch with reality. Certainly they need to understand the vernacular of the street. But to elevate and recruit individuals who speak Ebonics? It's almost funny."

"It crosses all different types of geography, culture, and race," Special Agent Sanders said. "It's not isolated to any one of those three."

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