Ebonics be wack, yo


The News & Observer recently reported on a linguistic debate growing in the Drug Enforcement Administration. Officials are having more and more trouble incriminating drug dealers and users because of their dialect, commonly known as Ebonics.

Apparently this “language” is far too foreign for normal English-speakers to comprehend, as the DEA is now spending government funds to hire nine Ebonics translators. They will listen to tapped phone lines and translate the speakers’ cryptic meanings.

My suggestion: let the DEA officials walk through a public high school for a few days, and they will quickly learn that “yo, whaddup” means “hello, how are you?” and “lemme aks you a kestion” means “may I please ask you a question?”

At first, the N&O article reads like a parody. It sounds exactly like the scene out of the movie Airplane! where an elderly lady translates a conversation two black men are having in “jive,” another word for Ebonics, into English for the white flight attendant:

Attendant: Can I get you something?
Jive Man 2 : S’mo fo butter layin’ to the bone. Jackin’ me up.
Attendant: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
Jive Man 1: Cutty say he cant hang.
Old Lady: Oh stewardess, I speak jive.
Attendant: Oh, good.
Old Lady: He said that he’s in great pain and he wants to know if you can help him.
Attendant: Would you tell him to just relax and I’ll be back as soon as I can with some medicine.
Old Lady: Jus’ hang loose blooood. She gonna catch up on the rebound a de medcide.

There is absolutely no need for so-called “experts” to translate English into English. This is like asking someone who was raised in the south to translate everything George W. Bush says into plain English. The accent may sound stupid, but it’s not a language separate from English.

Obviously, most drug dealers are not going to speak in proper grammar-school English. Never have I heard on a cop show or action movie, “Please tell my clients that their mind-altering substance of choice, cocaine, is in shipment and will arrive soon. We shall engage in negotiations thus.” If people working for the DEA can not wrap their heads around how people “in the hood” speak, then is this really the right job for them? Are we sure they wouldn’t be better off working as copy editors for the New York Times or something?

Surely there is a better use for government funds besides English-to-English translators. Here’s a thought: ask DEA officials to step outside their cubicle and interact with the people they are trying to put in jail. You feel me, homes?


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