To the average John Doe, the military slang used over walkie-talkies sounds foreign and categorical-ly absurd. You have probably come across the code language from movies such as “We are Oscar Mike” where a serviceman would be busy talking on the radio using a distinct code while tracking the activities of an enemy camp through a walkie talkie. Although used a little bit loosely in today’s world, the military phonetic language is respected among army men. It has been in use since 1927 and still finds meaning not only in civil aviation but ordinary civilian life as well.
Unclear communication over walkie-talkies led to the creation of the international military phonet-ic alphabet. With it, sounds are clearer over long distances and against extreme background noise. In addition, the code discourages panic and unnecessary acts of spreading rumors in the heat of emergency response. Lastly, it enhances discipline over radio communication (avoids two people speaking at the same time).
The Military Phonetic Alphabet
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet, also known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alphabet, is the commonly used radiotelephone alphabet. It uses code words corresponding to the usual English alphabet with the intention of combining the words in a way that can only be understood by military persons only. Most people know it as the Alpha-Bravo code reason being that the first letter A stands for “Alpha” while the second one B stands for “Bravo.” Although most codewords in the alphabet are English, there are a few French and Spanish words in there. This is what makes it universal.
How is the word “NO” spelled in the NATO phonetic alphabet?
According to the ICAO alphabet, the correct spelling would be November Oscar. The code word for the letter N is November, and that of the letter O is Oscar. Earlier versions of the alphabet would spell the word NO as Nevada October, Navy Orange, and North Oxygen.
The History of the Military Phonetic Alphabet
The military phonetic alphabet has been in use for over eight decades now. The first International Phonetic Alphabet was utilized by ITU in the year1927. Over time and as people gained experience using the alphabet, more changes were made and adopted by 1932 by ICAO’s processor Interna-tional Commission for Air Navigation until World War II.
The British and American military forces used the NATO alphabet in the heat of battle to make communication easy. Apart from throwing their enemies off, these allies noticed that some English letters such as B, C, D, and P sometimes sounded similar over long distances. Making communica-tion mistakes during combat was a bit too costly.
These brilliant minds also noticed that consonants were quite hard to distinguish, particularly over a noisy background. As a result, the vowel sequence of the military phonetic alphabet played a vital code during the invention of the code.
After World War II, the U.S alphabet which by then had been branded the “Able Baker” code after the letters A and B, kept being used in civil aviation. However, since most of the sounds were unique to the English language, a substitute “Ana Brazil” alphabet was developed and adopted in Latin America. A few other versions were created to cater to more universal languages, but in the end, the International Spelling alphabet was adopted by NATO on January 1, 1956.
Who Created The Code?
The ICAO, being an agent of the United Nations, was responsible for the creation of a universally standardized alphabet. Even if it was predominantly made of words from the English language, the code had sounds that could relate to all major languages in the world. This means it could be spo-ken and pronounced by all military men regardless of their nationality.
Jean-Paul Vinay, a professor of Linguistics at the University of Montreal, created another alphabet equivalency list in 1951 while working closely with the ICAO. In essence, he was given all instruc-tions concerning the words to be used. Some of the instructions were that all words must be live in the three working languages used, should be easy to pronounce, have a clear radio transmission, and have zero associations with objectionable meanings. He got to work and came up with a spec-tacular code that was accepted by the ICAO.
After further modification and study from a series of approving bodies, the revised alphabet was adopted on November 1, 1951, scheduled to be used in civil aviation on 1 April 1952. However, that was not to be as the alphabet suffered many rejections when many pilots opposed it and went back to the version they had used before. The ICAO conducted further studies and tests among thirty ICAO member countries and ended up with the final version, which was made official on March 1, 1956.
After the CIAO had developed the NATO alphabet, many other bodies such as the International Te-lecommunication Union (ITU), the United States Federal Government, and the International Mari-time Organization (IMO) adopted it. The same code words were used by all these agencies, but each created some modifications. For example, the NATO alphabet utilizes English numeric words with alternative pronunciations whereas the ITU (Started on April 1, 1969) and the IMO describe compound numeric words as Unaone, Nadazero, Nissotwo
How Is The Alphabet Used Today?
As mentioned before, the ICAO phonetic alphabet is used to enhance clarity, avoid dragging the public in military affairs and enhance communication discipline. Additionally, the code is also used by civilians as a solution to telephone transmission issues. A good example is a retail industry where site or customer details are communicated by telephone (for the purposes of confirming stock codes and authorizing credit agreements). IT workers also use the code to make communica-tions of long serial codes or any other specialized information. A majority of airlines also use the military phonetic alphabet to circulate passenger records (PNRs) internally and sometimes with customers.
The military phonetic language has truly come a long way. Its inherent benefits make it a valuable asset in military and civilian applications. Without it, communication would be unclear, predicta-ble, and downright chaotic.