Help Wanted at DOJ: Ebonics Speakers

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With unofficial unemployment in double digits, it’s good to know there are job opportunities at Eric Holder’s Department of Justice — if you’re conversant in the vernacular (spoken) Black English known as Ebonics. The DOJ needs you to decipher the Ebonics spoken by criminals whose phonecalls are being bugged by the government!
How long before Ebonics will be declared a separate language?
H/t beloved fellows May and Steve.

Justice Department Seeks Ebonics Experts

The Smoking Gun – August 23, 2010
The Department of Justice 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.
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.
In contract documents, which are excerpted here, Ebonics is listed among 114 languages for which prospective contractors must be able to provide linguists. The 114 languages are divided between “common languages” and “exotic languages.” Ebonics is listed as a “common language” spoken solely in the United States.
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).”
Detractors reject the notion that Ebonics is a dialect, instead considering it a bastardization of the English language.
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.” (11 pages).

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0 responses to “Help Wanted at DOJ: Ebonics Speakers

  1. Fo’ shizzle? Word! (Really? Truly!)

  2. just recently kenosha,wi hired a new school superintendent (a black woman from oakland,ca) anyway she said because hispanic students have the choice of getting their tests in english or spanish and the white and asian students have the option of english. to help black students break the racial barrier of 70% on tests should have the option of having their tests given to them in ebonics. also in a previous life i worked for the govt at the great lakes navy base and across the hall from my office was (fast) a program that attempted to bring recruits up to speed academically anyway on a slow day the petty officer in charge brought over a stack of applications that some of the recruits had filled out and one of the questions was list the different languages that you are fluent in and ebonics was listed on every ap that looked like it had been filled out by a first grader.

  3. I can’t stand this. The massacre of the english language. Since when do we legitimize illiteracy and ignorance? Is this one of the great additions to society the black population has brought us, along with gangsta rap and fashion? Now we cater to the ignorant, illegals and criminals, what’s next? I guess Obama is looking for votes from his homeys.

  4. Was talking last week with daughter-in-law to be about understanding the language of some of the mountain people in our area. I was not insulting her, but she does come from generations in these mountains, and some are almost impossible to understand. She explained to me that it has beem proven that this language is the closest there is to the pure Elizabethan English spoken. She then went on to elaborate with certain words and phrases. I learned a lot. Quite a bit different from Ebonics, or whatever it is.

  5. I read an article several years ago now, if I recall correctly, written by Thomas Sowell, in which he cited a linguistics study of ebonics that concluded it was derived from the speech patterns of rural, white, and mostly illiterate segments of southerners during the antebellum era, and which was then inculcated/ taught to their slaves upon arrival from west Africa. In other words, the “black thing” is a remnant of an introduction to slave language, by their white, illiterate owners. No wonder they are so determined to keep it alive (sarcasm-meter alert).
    Of course, Rizzle (real), “dizzle” and the like are more recent innovations, while older “jive” words like “cool”, “funk” and “jazz” which have worked their way into mainstream usage for a long time now, derive from West African roots, by way of West Indies Santeria and Voodoo brought to the U.S. through the slave trade in New Orleans. Cool referred to attitude, naturally, one of calm and grace under pressure, but specifically tied to the practitioners of Voodoo as the priest or priestess was in the ecstatic dance of the serpent (Loa). Funk is a reference to spiritual power or rank within Voodoo (West African variety which became slang once it arrived in America), and Jazz, believe it or not, refers to the ejaculation of verbal responses to the Loa (gods or “riders”) taking possession of the priest/priestess or “horse” during ceremonies. Note the similarity between Jazz and a slang word for male sexual ejaculation.
    So, a large part of the speech of Blacks in the U.S., perhaps the largest in instances of ebonics/ghetto language, is either derived from the history of slavery (being taught a slang version of English by their masters) or from West African animist traditions/Santeria (which is usually more Spanish-tinged, but still evident in Black languages) and Voodoo.
    In fact, rock and roll (which was once “ebonics” for having sexual intercourse) owes it’s origins to an admixture of Irish and Scottish folk music and West African Voodoo rhythms mingled first as ceremonial music for Voodoo practitioners, and later as blues (with the additional influence of Negro spirituals) and Jazz. That instinct to tap your toes is tied directly to the possession within Voodoo that occurs with the ceremonial drumming, which invites the Loa (the gods, or horsemen) who possess or “ride” the practitioner, which is simply the West African version of the Kundalini force within Hinduism. It is believed that the dance unleashes the “serpent” at the base of the spine, which then possesses the body in the quest for oneness with the gods or enlightenment, or channeling their presence. Think simply of the initial inspiration of the Beatles, which lies in American blues and rock and roll, and how easily they followed that up with the introduction of Hindu mysticism into the Western conscience, as well as Eastern rhythms and instrumentation.
    It’s a ‘black thing” that has spread throughout American and Western culture, one hit record at a time.

    • E.C., this is fascinating! How ironic that so much of ebonics is actually slave language. As for the rest of ebonics being rooted in the Santeria voodoo cult, which to Christians is devil worship (Loa the Serpent! Can it be more explicitly demonic?), I will never use the word “cool” again.
      Somehow, through the years, these black slave-Voodoo-derived words have not only seeped into mainstream English usage, but also taken on a “with-it” hipness, via pop music and pop culture. A commentator on FotM wrote that Lucifer, before its fall, was an Angel of Music. Fr. John Corapi, a gifted speaker/homilist whose personal fall-and-redemption story can be read HERE, repeatedly reminds us that the Devil is an opportunist. We humans are dealing with an ancient, highly intelligent, malevolent creature whose specialty is music and, with its minions, have been watching us since our birth and therefore know us and all our weaknesses/vulnerabilities much better than we do ourselves. 🙁


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