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DEA wants Ebonics Translation Experts. Justice Department Seeks Black English, AAVE, Ebonics Experts.

Tags: Ebonics, John R. Rickford, DEA, Drug enforcement, ebonics translator

 

 

Source: DEA wants Black English linguists to decipher bugged calls.

DEA Contract 2010
Ebonics U.S.
Jamaiacan patois Jamaica

Present 2013

DEA Contract 2012 - Washington, District of Columbia 20537
Primary Point of Contact Justice Parker, Contract Specialist
justice.parker@usdoj.gov
Phone: 202-307-4221 Fax: 202-307-4877

Ebonics is among the 114 languages--categorized as either “common” or “exotic”— for which the DEA's Regional Linguist Services is presently seeking contract translators.  In addition to the 9 Ebonics translators, the Atlanta division of DEA wants 4 translators of "Jamaican Patois."
But if you look at the DEA announcement/ad the Florida divisions want even more: 24 in the Weston Office (and 14 in Haitian Creole), while the Orlando office wants 18 for Jamaican and 18 for Haitian, and all other Miami offices need 6 more for Jcan and 6 for Haitian.Just to clarify, "linguist" in most military and governmental usage has the limited sense of "one trained to use a foreign language for purposes of translation / interpretation".
Military personnel are sent for intensive language training at places such as the Defense Language Institute to become "linguists", but receive no training in linguistics. In the case of this RFP, it appears that the usage is being broadened
to include native speakers rather than non-native speakers with training.
According to the foreign language requirements of the DEA, Ebonics is classed as exotic, as it is “newly identified.” 
"A lot of times people think you're just dealing with a few slang words, and that you can finesse your way around it," said John Rickford, a Stanford University linguistics professor." And it's not — it's a big vocabulary. You'll have some significant differences" from English.
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.

Why the DEA's embrace of Ebonics is lost in translation
In the DEA's list of languages, it is both interesting and instructive that "Ebonics" falls right in between "Ebo," a Nigerian language often referred to as Igbo, and "English." What many do not know is that much of the distinctiveness of the language of African-Americans is due to the language contact situation created by slavery, where African languages (with Igbo being one of them) came into contact with European languages (in this case, English). The language variety developed in a unique manner due to centuries of de jure and de facto segregation and is now the most widely studied variety in the United States. African-Americans continue to develop the language variety, as it has become an important symbol of ethnic identity, political solidarity, and cultural pride.

Educational Issues

There is a serious educational point to be made here and it is perhaps the most tragic irony highlighted by the DEA's decision to hire experts in "Ebonics." For decades, linguists and educators, including their leading national organizations, have maintained the position that the language of African-Americans (as well as "Chicano English," "Puerto Rican English," varieties of Spanish and indigenous varieties), can be a powerful and effective tool be used in classrooms in order teach students how to transition between "African-American language" and "standard English." Globally, we have research that supports this fact: Wherever you have students who speak marginalized language varieties that are different from the "standard," it is actually beneficial to use the language of the students as a resource to learn the "standard."

So, the tragic irony is that while schools and educational policy-makers continue to deny the legitimacy of African-American language, the DEA has no problem doing so. Rather than waiting until youth turn to criminal activity as a way out of poverty, we first need to recognize the pedagogical value of African-American language in schools as a way to stop America's "school-to-prison" pipeline before it begins. In short, the legitimacy of African-American language is needed from the educational arm of the federal government, not the enforcement arm.

Since all language varieties, including "Ebonics," Igbo and English, are deemed equal by linguists (folks who devote their lives to studying language), it is only our prejudice and the lack of political will that prevents us from valuing and legitimizing a given language. Standard English is not the standard because it is superior, but because it was and is the language of the powerful.


Houston Independent School District (HISD) police officer circulated the Ghetto Handbook:  Ebonics 101which was filled with racist stereotypes, in 2007

 


DEA wants “Black English” linguists to decipher bugged calls

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).

 

The pervasiveness of the issue. [source]
Patois/English Communication Trouble:
An Example Brown-Blake and Chambers examined audio and written transcripts of pre-trial interviews between functionaries in the UK criminal justice system and patois speakers. In some cases there were no interpreters. In others where interpreters had been provided, interpretation occurred only when there was an obvious communication breakdown in the interview. The researchers identified several instances of lack of communication and miscommunications which are explained by linguistic differences between patois and English. A striking example came from an official written transcript of an interview between a police officer and a patois-speaking witness. The relevant part quotes the witness as saying, “When I heard the shot (bap, bap) I drop the gun and then I run”. The audio equivalent of this transcription was: “Wen mi ier di bap bap, mi drap a groun an den mi staat ron” (Gloss: “When I heard the bap bap [the shots], I fell to the ground and then I started to run”.).
Legal Problems
The researchers explain that language-based communication problems can have significant legal consequences. Contrary to what the witness's statement actually implies, the incorrect transcription noted above puts the witness in an unfavourable legal position – possessing an illegal firearm or being an accomplice to a shooting.

 

Personal Experience [source annon ]
I also experienced the language difference problem as a juror in a murder case in Jamaican court where the defence lawyer played on the temporal marking differences beween SJE (with court affectation) and hard core Princess Street Jamaican Creole to try to diminish the credibility of a Crown witness.
 The witness eventually protested" mi nuh care weh yuh seh sah  mi see da man deh tan up inna di street an shoot di policeman truu di bak glass."
  It took some other person to make the mistake which led to a mistrial. Interesting that there are four vacancies for patois translators in Atlanta.

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