You never know when you may find the need to spell something complex to someone. For instance, if you have to spell your car's VIN number to your insurance company over the phone, knowing how to spell alphabets can come really handy.
Fortunately there is the ICAO alphabet spelling system or the NATO phonetic alphabet system. This system is also popularly known as international radiotelephony spelling alphabet. There is a popular misconception that phonetic alphabets and spelling alphabets are the same thing. In fact, phonetic alphabets is the way each alphabet sounds, where as spelling alphabet is a way to make someone understand the alphabet you are using. The two have absolutely no connection between them.
ICAO stands for International Civil Aviation Organization. It is the ICAO that has assigned code words to each alphabet. This association is acrophonic, for instance Alfa for A, Kilo for K, Bravo for B and so on. The combination was first made in order to transmit and receive voice messages clearly through radio and telephone. Critical combinations of letters and alphabets can be understood clearly using the spelling alphabets.
Since the alphabets are international, they are primarily used during radio conversations between two persons who are of different nationalities. Native English speakers, or people who are communicating domestically, may use other codes for alphabets the phonetics of which are more domestic.
Though mostly used in military transmissions to get across messages quickly and swiftly, the civilian industry also used the ICAO system from time to time. The specific need of spelling alphabets is felt when a part of the message contains letters or specific numbers. When you are dictating your address to someone who is sending you a package, or spelling out your name to someone who is not able to understand what you are saying, the ICAO alphabet can help. When you specifically spell alphabets, it can be easier for the person on the other end to better understand what you are saying. Take for instance, if your name is Mila Kururova, you can explain the spellings of your name by spelling alphabet. This alphabet system can also be used to relay passenger name records in airlines industry of credit and serial numbers to discussing stock codes and shipment details.
The system itself has changed several times. The first system of alphabets was created to aid soldiers and help them relay confidential messages in the time of World War I. However, an internationally accepted alphabet system was first instated in 1927 by the International Telephonic Union, after which it was changed in 1932. This version incorporated changes recommended by those who had practised using the language. This new version was adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation as well. At this time, the militaries of different countries were still using local phonetic language and alphabets to relay their messages. The spelling alphabet therefore came to being for the first time and in 1956, military organizations all over the world adopted the ICAO spelling alphabet.
History of ICAO Spelling Alphabet
The ICAO spelling alphabet is a commonly used system which is internationally recognized. This system was experimented with by the International Telecommunications Union in 1927. However, though this system was internationally recognized, it was realized that there were several problems with it. The system was specifically used in communicating alphabets across by using words associated with them.
The system was found most useful by armed forces all over the world which were looking for a way to transmit their messages more clearly to the receiving parties. Sensitive information like the location of army bases or stranded soldiers could be effectively communicated only when the coordinates were understood properly.
In 1932 there were several changes that were made in this system by the ITU. The spelling alphabet which resulted was then adopted by military forces all over the world. Some of the leading military organizations like the International Commission for Air Navigation recognized the system as an excellent way to communicate internationally in an internationally accepted code.
This language was the predecessor to the currently used ICAO phonetic alphabet. This system was used till the end of the World War II and some organizations continue to use it even till 1965. Both British and American armed forces had already developed individual phonetic alphabets even before the ICAO alphabet system came into being. While the British Air Force adopted the RAF phonetic alphabet, the US forces adopted Joint Army/ Navy or JAN phonetic alphabet. These developments however began in 1941. During this time, the ICAO system was still being development and was under trial.
After the World War II, the civil aviation sector realized the need for an international phonetic alphabet system. The International Air Transport Association demanded for a single alphabet system which is common for airlines all over the world and therefore the ICAO became relevant to the modern needs of communication. The draft of the modern ICAO alphabet was first presented in 1947 and the sounds were common to English, Spanish and French. However this draft was studied by a approving body and several changes were made before the final approval to the system was given in 1951.
History of LAPD Spelling Alphabet
The LAPD phonetic alphabet, is not actually based on the use of phonetics. Instead, alphabet system is based on codes, in which each alphabet has a designated word with which it can be explained over a radio or a telephone signal. Just as the Army, Navy and the Air Force have their own specific phonetic alphabet system, the police departments too have specific alphabet systems. The Los Angeles Police Department phonetic alphabet system is not only used by the LAPD, but also is also used by the rest of the police departments across California.
The LAPD developed its own phonetic alphabet when the first emergency service mobile radio systems were put in place. This alphabet system was not developed strategically or in a manner which would suggest any deliberation. The phonetic alphabet was first used for the spelling license plate numbers, trying to make the communication as clear as possible.
The LAPD phonetic alphabet associates random words to letters and numbers. Even though the military forces put in some organization and thought into their phonetic alphabet, changing the lists several times to allow for easier communication, the LAPD continued to use the random words associated with letters and numbers. Even after the Joint Army/ Navy phonetic alphabet was introduced in 1941, and then subsequently replaced and enhanced in 1956, the LAPD continued to use its own spelling alphabet system.
In 1956, the ICAO or the NATO phonetic alphabet was first widely accepted. Even though this new spelling alphabet system was internationally recognized and widely accepted, the LAPD continued to use their own alphabet system. The system is also known as the APCA phonetic alphabet, named specifically after the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International. It was this organization that popularized the LAPD spelling alphabet system throughout California and got other police departments throughout the state to adopt it.
The LAPD phonetic language has also been depicted in popular culture several times. It is popular to come across the use of this system in televised series and Hollywood movies in which police departments are shown. It is because of the use in popular culture that the LAPD spelling alphabet has become popular throughout the country.
History of RAF Spelling Alphabet
The RAF phonetic alphabet is actually a misnomer. Contrary to what its name suggests, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) phonetic alphabet is not a set of phonetics or a system which is used for transcribing the sounds of speech. Instead, it is a system based on spelling alphabets, just like the ICAO or NATO alphabet system. There are specific phonetic notations that are accepted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and then used by the RAF.
The signals of armed forces can easily be intercepted during war time and to over come this problem, and to relay positions and other sensitive information over the radio, the RAF designed a system of spelling alphabet. The RAF too devised an alphabet system for itself after using a long succession of spelling alphabet. This system was simply devised to ease the communication between various parties and have better clarity.
The spelling alphabets were used in phrases, specifically aimed at identifying the aircraft type. For instance, F-Freddie and K-King were used to identify airplanes with specific alphabets. The letter was not usually the serial number or the license plate number painted on the tail of the aircraft. Instead, these codes were the designation code of the squadron and were painted on the side of the aircrafts. This system worked for the RAF at the time, because none of the squadrons had more than 26 aircrafts at any given time.
The first RAF alphabet was formed at the time of World War I. However, there were certain alphabets like Ack, Done and Emma that kept on changing through the years. Most of these words were kicked out of the system because they were already in use in some phrases. Also, when radio was finally taken up, the RAF used several spelling alphabets in quick and long successions. However, finally all of these were superseded by the ICAO spelling alphabet, which was also approved and accepted by the TUI.
The final RAF phonetic alphabet system was discarded in 1956, when it was finally completely replaced by the ICAO spelling alphabet, which was easier to communicate on the radio.
History of Royal Navy Spelling Alphabet
During times of war or duress, the signals of military communications tend to get compromised and intercepted by other signals. Therefore to communicate clearly with each other in the field areas, the British Army and the Royal Navy began to explore the potential of using wireless radio signals and telephones to transmit important messages. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the British Army was deployed in South Africa, trying to contain a war and it was during this time that the first wireless set was tried.
In both the medium of telephones and radios, there were frequent distortions due to the temporary nature of the telephony wiring. The spelling alphabet was first introduced during this time to improve the communication and to relay messages with higher clarity. The signalling regulations of the year 1904 were the first equivalent of the spelling alphabet in which phonetic equivalents were used. The system started with 7 words and in 1914, these 7 words were repeated again. During the period of 1914 to 1918, these 7 words formed the basis of the radio and telephone communication. The success rate of this new alphabet system was high enough to be used as an accepted form of communication in the Royal Navy. Slowly, 6 more words were added to this alphabet system.
The Royal Navy had its own version of phonetic alphabet and even though both the Army and the Navy worked the system out simultaneously, only the letter I has the same associated word in both of these systems. In 1921, an agreement was reached between the Air Ministry, the War Office and the Royal Admiralty on the use of an alphabet system which could be used commonly amongst these services. A resulting spelling alphabet system which was formed used 26 naval terms but then later incorporated some of the common terms used in the Army. After the First World War, some of the alphabets were changed; however, these were then retained in the World War II. A final change in the phonetic alphabet was made in 1952, when a better system was required for effective communication amongst the Anglo - American alliance.
History of US Army Spelling Alphabet
Every time a country was involved in a war or a war like situation, military communication became extremely vital to pass sensitive information and plan strategy accordingly. However, during the time of war, having a fool proof communication system which could clearly pass along messages or was strong enough to not get intercepted was extremely difficult. It was easy for the communication to get intercepted. What was even more unfortunate was when important messages were not relayed on time because of disturbance in the radio signals or the difficulty faced in understanding the message itself. There were regular disturbances and distortions in the signals, which caused loss of information.
To overcome these issues, military forces throughout the world struggled to better their communication channels such as telephones and radios. However, in the late nineteenth century, the technology was not conducive to having completely faultless signalling systems, because of which more stress began to be laid on the communication itself, rather than the modes used.
The US Army phonetic alphabet is a misnomer. Though the term ‘phonetic’ is used to describe this system, in reality, there is no phonetic use for transcribing sounds of the speech. The alphabet system, in fact was developed in 1941, and was used by both the army and the navy jointly. Since the phonetic alphabet system was joint, it was also known as the Joint Army/ Navy phonetic alphabet or the JAN phonetic alphabet. Before the JAN phonetic alphabet evolved, each branch of the armed forces used its own phonetic alphabet system.
The system for spelling alphabets started a little late in the United States. It was only when the United States Army joined hands with the allies in the second world war, that the need of such a spelling alphabet system was first felt. The US army used this system along with the Canadian and the British armies, in order to make communication between the soldiers of the three different countries clearer.
From 1950 to 1952, the alphabet used hurricane names from the Atlantic basin. However, the alphabet names were soon replaced with female names.