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10.a Crystal Eng as a global lang

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is developing, and the language
used to the cameras is almost always English. But is it likely that an
English-language presence of a few months, or even years, would
have a long-term influence on local language awareness? We can
only speculate.
International safety
A special aspect of safety is the way that the language has come to
be used as a means of controlling international transport opera-
tions, especially on water and in the air. As world travel has grown,
more people and goods are being transported more quickly and
simultaneously to more places than ever before. The communica-
tive demands placed on air and sea personnel, given the variety
of language backgrounds involved, have thus grown correspond-
ingly. In such circumstances, the use of a lingua franca has proved
of great worth.
English has long been recognized as the international language
of the sea, and in recent years there have been attempts to re-
fine its use to make it as efficient as possible. Larger and faster
ships pose greater navigational hazards. Shipping routes contin-
ually alter and present fresh problems of traffic flow. Radio and
satellite systems have greatly extended a ship’s communicative
range. In such circumstances, mariners need to make their speech
clear and unambiguous, to reduce the possibility of confusion in
the sending and receiving of messages.
In 1980, a project was set up to produce Essential English for
International Maritime Use – often referred to as ‘Seaspeak’.20
20 Weeks, Glover, Strevens and Johnson (1984).
Why English? The cultural legacy
The recommendations related mainly to communication by VHF
radio, and included procedures for initiating, maintaining, and
terminating conversations, as well as a recommended grammar,
vocabulary and structure for messages on a wide range of mar-
itime subjects. For example, instead of saying ‘What did you say?’,
‘I didn’t hear you’, ‘Would you please say that once more’, and
many other possibilities, Seaspeak recommends a single phrase:
‘Say again’. Likewise, bearings and courses are given with three-
figure values (‘009 degrees’, not ‘9 degrees’) and dates are sig-
nalled using prefixes (‘day one-three, month zero-five, year one-
nine-nine-six’). Though it is far more restricted than everyday
language, Seaspeak has considerable expressive power.
Progress has also been made in recent years in devising systems
of unambiguous communication between organizationswhich are
involved in handling emergencies on the ground – notably, the fire
service, the ambulance service and the police. When the Channel
Tunnel between Britain and France came into operation for the
first time in 1994, it presented new possibilities for international
confusion. Research has therefore been ongoing into a way of
standardizing communication between theUK and theContinent
of Europe: it is called ‘Police Speak’.21
A great deal of the motivation for these restricted languages –
and a major influence on their phraseology – has come from the
language of air traffic control, which presents international safety
with its greatest challenge. Far more nations are forced to make
routine daily communications with each other in relation to air
transportation than ever occurs on the sea. Only a handful of
nations are truly seafaring; but all nations are nowadays airborne.
And the pace of change here has been truly phenomenal. In 1940,
US air carriers were handling around 2 million passengers a year
in about 350 planes; in 1950 the totals had grown to some 17
million in over 1,000 planes. In 2000 the number of passengers
worldwide exceeded 1,650 million.22
The official use of English as the language of international air-
craft control did not emerge until after the Second World War.
21 Johnson (1993).
22 Annual report of the International Civil Aviation Organization (2001).
Allied leaders organized a conference in Chicago in 1944 at which
they laid the foundations for the post-war global civil aviation sys-
tem, creating the International Civil AviationOrganization. Seven
years later they agreed that English should be the international
language of aviation when pilots and controllers speak different
languages. This would have been the obvious choice for a lingua
franca. The leaders of the Allies were English-speaking; the ma-
jor aircraft manufacturers were English-speaking; and most of the
post-war pilots in the West (largely ex-military personnel) were
The arguments in favour of a single language of air traffic con-
trol are obvious. It is safer if all pilots understand all conversations.
Pilots who have a two-way radio are required to keep a listening
watch at all times on the appropriate frequency. They listen not
only to messages addressed to themselves, but also to messages
being sent to and from other pilots in their neighbourhood. In
this way they can learn about weather and traffic conditions from
other pilots, without having to keep referring to air traffic control.
Furthermore, if they hear an error in someone else’s conversa-
tion, they can draw attention to it. If more than one language is
being used, the risk of a breakdown in communication inevitably
There have however been several cases where the case for
bilingual air traffic control has been strongly argued, and some-
times this has led to a difficult political situation (such as the
strike by pilots and air traffic controllers over a bilingual policy
in Quebec, Canada, in 1976). Supporters of bilingual air traffic
control stress the fact that not all pilots have a good command
of English. They may have a poor pronunciation, which is made
even more difficult for a controller to understand by the presence
of background aircraft noise and the effects of stress on the voice.
Pilots also may have difficulty understanding a controller, for the
same reasons. Under such circumstances, it has been argued, it
may actually be safer if both parties are allowed to communi-
cate fluently with each other in a language they both understand
These arguments are still encountered in parts of the world
where bilingual identity is critical, and two languages are officially
Why English? The cultural legacy
used in certain localities (such as the use of French at Montreal).
But in general the strength of the argument for a single language
of air traffic control is not questioned, nor is the role of English.
However, the issue is not simply to do with choosing one lan-
guage; it is far more to do with moulding that language so that it
is suitable for its purpose – economical and precise communica-
tion, to ensure safety at all times.
Even within a single language, terminology and phrasing need
to be standardized, to avoid ambiguity, and great efforts have
been made to develop such a system for English, widely called
‘Airspeak’. Everyone knows – if only from the movies – that pilots
do not talk in a normal way to air traffic control. They use a
restricted vocabulary and a fixed set of sentence patternswhich aim
to express unambiguously all possible air situations. They include
terms such as ‘Roger’, ‘Wilco’, and ‘Mayday’; phrases such as
‘Maintaining 2500 feet’ and ‘Runway in sight’; and the use of a
phonetic alphabet to spell out codenames (‘Alpha, Bravo, Charlie,
Delta . . . ’).23
Over 180 nations have adopted the recommendations of the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) about English
terminology. However, there is nothing mandatory about them
(nor about Seaspeak, and other such systems). Even the US Fed-
eral Aviation Administration uses wording which differs from
ICAO’s in many instances. A proposal for a new international
glossary has been discussed for some time. The problem is plain:
it is relatively easy to set up a working party which will compile a
single terminology for world use; the difficulty