Wanted: Ebonics Translators for DEA

And the language debate flares up again.

By Jamilah King Aug 23, 2010

The Department of Justice is hiring linguists fluent in Ebonics. 

From the Smoking Gun:

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.

Of course, the news is shifting spotlight back onto the debate over whether Ebonics is a credible language, or merely another English dialect. Back in the ’90’s, a massive national controversy broke out after the Oakland Unified School District passed a resolution in California to recognize Ebonics as a language of its own. Although the resolution was intended as away to provide more culturally relevant ways of teaching standardized English to students in a then-predominately black school district, the board was quickly accused of giving up on black students "ghettoize" black youth. The school board was then forced to pass an amended resolution.

There’s sure to be fallout from this latest news, but so far, it’s telling. Ebonics is a legitimate language when we’re trying to lock folks up, not when we’re trying to teach kids.