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The ‘Alphabets’ of Military


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Does The Military Really Have An “Alphabet”?

It’s not an alphabet as much as a list of words used to aid in pronunciation over a radio. It’s called the NATO phonetic alphabet, more formally the International Radio-telephony Spelling Alphabet, is the most widely used spelling alphabet. Though often called “phonetic alphabets”, spelling alphabets have no connection to phonetic transcription systems like the International Phonetic Alphabet. Instead, the NATO alphabet assigns code words to the letters of the English alphabet acrophonically (Alfa for A, Bravo for B, etc.). A phonetic alphabet is a list of words used to identify letters in a message transmitted by radio or telephone, so that critical combination of letters (and numbers) can be pronounced and understood by those who transmit and receive voice messages by radio or telephone regardless of their native language, especially when the safety of navigation or persons is essential. The paramount reason is to ensure intelligibility of voice signals over radio links.

Spoken words from an approved list are substituted for letters. For example, the word “Army” would be “Alfa Romeo Mike Yankee” when spelled in the phonetic alphabet. This practice helps to prevent confusion between similar sounding letters, such as “m” and “n”, and to clarify communications that may be garbled during transmission. It just all makes it easier to spell things on a radio when there may be bad comms, background noise, explosions or anything else that adds to confusion you don’t need.

An early version of the phonetic alphabet appears in the 1913 edition of The Bluejackets’ Manual. Found in the Signals section, it was paired with the Alphabetical Code Flags defined in the International Code. Both the meanings of the flags (the letter which they represent) and their names (which make up the phonetic alphabet) were selected by international agreement. Later editions included the Morse code signal as well.

The words chosen to represent some letters have changed since the phonetic alphabet was introduced. When these changes occur, they are made by international agreement. The current phonetic alphabet was adopted in 1957.

Below is the phonetic alphabet currently in use by military:

Letter 1957-Present Morse Code 1913 1927 1938 World War II
A Alfa (or Alpha) . _ Able Affirmative Afirm Afirm (Able)
B Bravo _ . . . Boy Baker Baker Baker
C Charlie _ . _ . Cast Cast Cast Charlie
D Delta _ . . Dog Dog Dog Dog
E Echo . Easy Easy Easy Easy
F Foxtrot . . _ . Fox Fox Fox Fox
G Golf _ _ . George George George George
H Hotel . . . . Have Hypo Hypo How
I India . . Item Interrogatory Int Int (Item)
J Juliett . _ _ _ Jig Jig Jig Jig
K Kilo _ . _ King King King King
L Lima . _ . . Love Love Love Love
M Mike _ _ Mike Mike Mike Mike
N November _ . Nan Negative Negat Negat (Nan)
O Oscar _ _ _ Oboe Option Option Option (Oboe)
P Papa . _ _ . Pup Preparatory Prep Prep (Peter)
Q Quebec _ _ . _ Quack Quack Queen Queen
R Romeo . _ . Rush Roger Roger Roger
S Sierra . . . Sail Sail Sail Sugar
T Tango _ Tare Tare Tare Tare
U Uniform . . _ Unit Unit Unit Uncle
V Victor . . . _ Vice Vice Victor Victor
W Whiskey . _ _ Watch William William William
X X-ray _ . . _ X-ray X-ray X-ray X-ray
Y Yankee _ . _ _ Yoke Yoke Yoke Yoke
Z Zulu _ _ . . Zed Zed Zed Zebra

5 comments

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