Wanted: Ebonics Translator for Federal DEA Job

The Department of Justics has revived debate over Ebonics with DEA job offer.

ByABC News
August 23, 2010, 2:43 PM

Aug. 23 ,2010— -- The U.S. Department of Justice is looking for fluent Ebonics speakers to fill nine drug enforcement jobs, giving merit to a dialect that experts say is often mimicked and little understood.

The federal Drug Enforcment Administration translators would work out of the Atlanta field office according to a Justice Department request, posted online today by The Smoking Gun.

The request is again drawing attention to the form of speech that was hotly debated in the '90s after a California school district passed a resolution recognizing the legitimacy of what is now more commonly referred to as "African-American English."

Ebonics detractors often characterize the speech as poor grammar or lazy English, but linguists say it has an important place in history.

John Braugh, a leading expert on African-American English, and chairman of the Linguistic Society of America's public relations committee, said having trained translators on staff with the DEA could provide an invaluable service.

Such experts, he said, would likely be used -- as with many federal linguists -- to assist with wiretaps and linguistic profiling, when a person's accent or dialect can help lead investigators to the criminal.

"They probably want reliable expertise to make sure they've got an accurate interpretation for what is said," he said."Because there's the perception in many minds that you don't need a translator, people believe they've understood something when they haven't."

Though Baugh applauded the Justice Department for recognizing the relevance of Ebonics in society, he questioned whether it may be unwittingly throwing itself back into a political debate by using the term "Ebonics."

The word still carries a negative connotation more than a decade after the Oakland, Calif., school board ignited a national firestorm of debate when it proposed teaching some students in Ebonics. Political figures and pundits from then Education Secretary William Bennett to the Rev. Jesse Jackson blasted the decision at the time. The debate later became fodder for late night comedians.