dangers of dialect

James A. Landau <JJJRLandau@netscape.com> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Tue Jan 27 23:15:47 UTC 2009

On Sat, 24 Jan 2009 23:48:35 Tom Zurinskas wrote:

>> A lifelong resident of Connecticut in his 80's said he saw a "hock".
>> I said "a hawk? Yes, hock. That was a new awe-dropping from CN.
>> Lately we just had the in-NOGGER-ation of the Pres as one reporter
>>said it.
>> There are I believe as many "nogs" as "naugs" for "inauguration" in
>> news media. Florida has several awe droppers in the media.
>> To say you predict no problem for "on" and "off" if they are said
>> with the same vowel "ah", is dangerous. We know that "five"
>> and "nine" are close enough because they have the same vowel
>> that "nine" is modified to "niner" in ATC [Air Traffic Control].
>> I would say that insisting on pronunciation of "on" and "off"
>> with different vowels be mandatory in any critical vocal environment,
>> especially a noisy one.

By international agreement, a pilot communicates with ATC in either the language of the local country or in English.  It's not the native English speakers who drop /aw/ (I believe the jargon term is "cot/caught merger").  It's all those pilots and controllers who are not native English speakers trying to communicate in English.

I checked with a co-worker who is a former controller.  She worked military control in New Jersey so she said she rarely had trouble with non-native English speakers, although there was one Air France pilot whose callsign she and the other controller on duty could only interpret as "African".  However, she says that European controllers have plenty of horror stories.

In the highly stylized English of ATC (I am tempted to consider it a separate language), the words "on" and "off" are rarely used.  "On" is used only in "on approach xxx" and "off" appears only in "takeoff", a word unlikely to cause confusion.  (A pilot is never "off course" but rather more specifically is "right of course" or "left of course".)

           James A. Landau
           test engineer
           Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
           8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
           West Atlantic City NJ 08232 USA

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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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