The Drug Enforcement Administration is seeking Ebonics translators to interpret wire-tapped conversations. Critics fear the move by a federal agency could set a precedent. But linguist John McWhorter argues that, while any conversation about Ebonics is charged, the DEA is on the right track.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
Now, the Opinion Page.
It seemed routine enough. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, recently sent out a call, soliciting translators in more than 100 languages and dialects. Those translators are needed to help interpret wiretapped conversations for investigations. But one of the languages in the posting took many by surprise. The DEA wants nine Ebonics translators. They would help with investigations across the Southeast.
Fourteen years ago, the school board in Oakland, California, sparked a national debate when it recognized Ebonics as a language. Faced with a backlash, the school board backed down. But the new buzz about the DEA posting is a reminder that the debate isn't over about whether Ebonics is a language, a dialect or simply, as some contend, poorly spoken English. John McWhorter is a linguist and a contributor to The Root and The New Republic. He's also a lecturer at Columbia University. And he says, whatever you call it, black English is complex and indistinct, and the DEA is on the right track.
We've posted a link to his op-ed at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And we'd like to hear from law enforcement officers in our audience. Does hiring Ebonics translators sound like a good idea for investigations? Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Or you can reach out by email: email@example.com.