Updating the International Phonetic Alphabet

The ‘phonetic alphabet’ is a ‘spelling alphabet’ used by various organizations, civilian and military, for ‘over the air’ communication.  I learned it as a kid, and have used it ever since.

At some point I also learned that the alphabet used by the military community is different from that of the civilian community.  For example, the military word for ‘B’ is Bravo, the civilian word is “Boy;” “Juliet” for the military, “John” for the civilians.  Of the 26 letters there are 24 differences! 

Often when there is interaction between the military and civil authorities, there is some confusion between the use of these two different phonetic alphabets.  This also showed up with “9/11.”  I think it is now time to standardize the two systems. 

I also have another observation: for the most part, the two phonetic alphabets are biased toward the names of white males.  In the case of the civilian phonetic alphabet, 15 of 26 names could be construed as “white male” names.  Only 3 are female names.  On the military side, 5 letters are represented with white male names; perhaps only 1 is a female name.  Not an Ahmed, Lakisha or Lamont among the any of the 52 letters.  Unconscionable, in today’s world!  It is way beyond the time for change!  

There is precedence.  Until the 1940s, hurricanes were not normally named.  They were known more often from where they hit, or when they occurred.  The first ‘official’ name used for a hurricane was ‘Geroge,’ in 1947.  The next hurricane was called “Bess,” after Bess Truman.  From then on, only women’s names were used – until 1979.  Then male names began alternating with women’s names for the storms.  And here of late, we’ve seen “cultural diversity” reflected in the annual names of hurricanes; instead of just the names of ‘white males.’

I humbly offer that it is now time to integrate the two phonetic alphabets into a single, standardized one – using names reflective of our great world culture! 

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One Response to Updating the International Phonetic Alphabet

  1. You mean you’re going to pose this without offering us your suggestions for the new and improved alphabet? How cruel …

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