For Hire, Ebonics Translators
And now he wants to understand you.
Okay, so we are being a little facetious. But the point is that African American English, familiarly known as Ebonics, is again in the psyche of the U.S. government. On August 23rd, The Smoking Gun (via Gawker) reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Atlanta Division, is looking to hire nine linguists specializing in African American English (among other languages). These individuals would help decode wiretaps collected during investigations that could be used for prosecution.
But this isn’t the first time that AAE has been acknowledged by the U.S. government. It first showed up in the U.S. courts just over 30 years ago, in 1979, during what is labeled as the ‘Black English Case’. Judge Charles W. Joiner ruled that teachers at the Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School in Ann Arbor Michigan be sensitized to the ‘black English system’, which he deemed a ‘distinct, definable version of English…[with] definite language patterns, syntax, grammar and history’. By not being educated about AAE and taking it into consideration in preparing the curriculum, teachers were seen as disadvantaging or discriminating against AAE-speaking students.
Since the ‘Black English Case’, linguists, psychologists and educators have attempted to educate the public and government about AAE, their voices oftentimes falling on deaf ears. We wonder if the acknowledgment of AAE by the DEA, in terms of deviant behavior, helps or hurts in the education about issues pertaining to African Americans who speak this variety of English. What do you think?