Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Maybe I should go to work for the government...

The Department of Justice wants someone who can translate what Black folks say.


According to news reports:
The US Department of Justice is looking for linguists fluent in "Ebonics" to help monitor, translate and transcribe covertly recorded conversations of the subjects of drug investigations, according to federal contracting documents.

Up to nine experts will work with the Drug Enforcement Administration's Atlanta field office helping to translate telephone conversations and "maintain a list of slang words and codes," according to the contracting information released by the DEA.
I could do that job. I've done it before, just not for the government.


Let me explain. And, keep in mind, I am not making any of this up.

Back in the 1980s, I worked in Jacksonville at a truckstop. The main areas were the restaurant, the shop, the travel store, and the fuel/service desk. I ran the fuel/service desk.

At the truckstop, some of the people that worked there were familiar with the road, and with life on the road. Many had family members who were in the trucking industry, or were former truckers or otherwise involved in trucking.

That meant that, not only were the people who worked there familiar with the daily routines and experiences of the truckers, the primary customer, but they came from all over.

In fact, about half the people who worked at the service desk weren't from the south.

Another thing you may need to know is that pulpwood trucks are pretty common in the south. Particularly in south Georgia or north Florida. And, in many parts of the south, Blacks make up 30-40% of the population, a much higher percentage than much of the rest of the country.

Which means that around 40% of the pulpwood truck drivers are Black.

And, in rural areas of south Georgia, where you're more likely to find trees, many in the Black community speak Gullah or Geechee dialects.

Now, if you aren't familiar with those, those dialects are centered around the Low Country of South Carolina -- but aren't limited to South Carolina.

And, if you're from up north, and you work at a truckstop in Jacksonville, and if a Gullah- or Geechee-speaking person asks you a question, you're probably going to be lost.

Unless, the manager of the service desk is from south Georgia and grew up knowing people that spoke that dialect.

That manager was me.

Anyway, I would be called on to translate between Yankee and Geechee/Gullah.

The Yankees would be totally amazed that I could understand the dialect-speaking driver.

And the drivers were totally amazed that I could stand to be around the Yankees.

So, I have experience speaking Black dialects. Or, at least, understanding and translating Black dialects.

Which means I could go to work for the government.

I just don't like the idea of having to speak government. The words are easy, but the meaning will drive you crazy.


  1. Basil, I know where you're comin' at. I think most of us from down here can interpret at least one or two regional dialects.

    But honestly, I don't think I could do the job the Feds are trying to fill. I'm pretty good at ebonics, but I'm so far out of the loop that the slang would ex me from success at it. However, I have a couple of co-workers that I am POSITIVE would fit the bill. They are young people that can turn it off, and on in an instant.

    I'm gonna tell them about this opportunity.

  2. I have no idea what those two dialects are, but I understand Southern black folks. Maybe I should apply, too.

    You know, since Obama and the Democrat Congress are trying to make sure that no one can work in the private sector at all.

  3. Andy:
    Glad to help out your co-workers. I think.

    Geechee & Gullah aren't the same thing as Ebonics. Geechee is often associated with the Low Country. Words aren't all that different, just the pronunciation. Gullah is similar, but it has more hybrid words, to my experience, and is more associated with Blacks. Gechee is spoken by Black and White.

  4. Why, oh why am I not surprised? Is Ebonics going to be on future telephone menu options?

  5. I remember watching a documentary on inner city life once, and they had to had to use sub-titles when they interviewed the locals because their "english" was so bad that you couldn't understand them. No only a unique dialect, but the words so mushed and slurred that it compounded the problem. Kind of like the thick, welsh brogue in parts of England. Supposedly english, but good luck understanding it if you aren't from there.

    So I can certainly see the need for a translator!

  6. Yeah, I'm thinking they're looking for folks who speak LA gang slang. Probably not you, since you speak an actual dialect, as opposed to pure ignorance of English due to a sub-standard public education.


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