The Study of Language for Aviation Purposes

by Anna P. Borowska (Author)
©2017 Monographs 332 Pages


The book presents the first comprehensive description of avialinguistics. The author analyses this new interdisciplinary branch of applied linguistics that recognises the role of language for aviation purposes. She provides an integrated approach to Aeronautical English and proffers insights into aviation discourse, discussing its current linguistic errors and providing suggestions for aviation English communication improvement. The author tests theoretical considerations against illustrative real-life examples so as to facilitate an interpretation of regular pilot-controller communications.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction and Overview of the Book
  • Chapter 1: The Origins of Aviation English
  • 1.1 Early beginnings
  • 1.2 Radiotelephony English
  • 1.3 Testing procedures
  • Chapter 2: Avialinguistics
  • 2.1 Overview of research on Aviation English
  • 2.2 Avialinguistics as an interdisciplinary language science
  • 2.3 The definition and object of avialinguistics
  • 2.4 The aims and tasks of avialinguistics
  • 2.5 Aviation Language (AL) and its aeronautical variety
  • 2.5.1 Aviation English as a specialised sublanguage and its constraints
  • 2.5.2 Aeronautical Standard Phraseology vs. a specialised sublanguage
  • 2.5.3 Simplified Aviation English (SAE) vs. a specialised sublanguage
  • 2.5.4 Plain Aeronautical English (PAE) as a specialised sublanguage
  • 2.5.5 Aviation English as lingua franca in intercultural communication
  • Native speakers’ adaptation
  • The role of Aeronautical English in intercultural communication
  • Chapter 3: Delimiting the Scope of Aviation Communication and Aeronautical Communication
  • 3.1 Aviation communication
  • 3.2 Aeronautical communication
  • 3.2.1 Principles and purpose of aeronautical communication
  • 3.2.2 Effectiveness in aeronautical communication
  • 3.3 A new approach to aviation text
  • 3.3.1 Aviation text typology
  • 3.3.2 Aviation text producers and aviation text receivers
  • 3.4 Towards aviation discourse analysis
  • 3.5 The essence of aeronautical discourse
  • 3.6 From a speech act to an aeronautical dialogue
  • Chapter 4: Linguistic Segmentation of Aeronautical English (AeE)
  • 4.1 Linguistic nature of standard phraseology (SP)
  • 4.1.1 Intonation
  • 4.1.2 Syntactic structures
  • SP sentence
  • Functions of syntactic patterns
  • Utterance structure
  • 4.1.3 Standard phraseology lexemes
  • The verb
  • The noun
  • The adjective
  • The adverb
  • The pronoun
  • The preposition
  • 4.1.4 SP prominent grammar issues
  • Aspect
  • Passive voice
  • Ellipsis
  • 4.2 The linguistic nature of Plain Aeronautical English (PAE)
  • 4.2.1 PAE lexis
  • 4.2.2 PAE syntax
  • 4.2.3 PAE grammatical structures in use
  • Chapter 5: Beyond the Prescribed System
  • 5.1 The nature of an aeronautical language error
  • 5.2 Types of aeronautical linguistic errors
  • 5.2.1 Deviation from SP
  • 5.2.2 Errors of commission and omission
  • 5.2.3 Expectation bias
  • 5.2.4 An insufficient command of general English
  • 5.2.5 AeE influenced by mother-tongue
  • 5.2.6 Inadequate communication strategies
  • 5.2.7 Code-switching
  • 5.3 Limitations of English
  • Chapter 6: Improving Aeronautical English Communication
  • 6.1 Improving Aeronautical English communication through language use
  • 6.2 Improving Aeronautical English communication through professional training
  • 6.2.1 AeE learners
  • 6.2.2 Building language awareness
  • 6.2.3 Building cross-cultural awareness
  • 6.2.4 The role of an Aeronautical English trainer
  • 6.2.5 Proper methodology
  • Communicative approach
  • Needs analysis
  • Voice articulation and intonation
  • EGP reinforcement (for NNS)
  • Integration of SP and PAE
  • Training resources
  • Language behaviour training
  • Attitude toward errors
  • Concluding remarks and perspectives
  • Chapter 7: Aeronautical Communication Investigation Results
  • 7.1 The scope of the study
  • 7.2 Method
  • 7.2.1 Participants
  • 7.2.2 Material
  • 7.2.3 Procedure
  • 7.3 Results
  • 7.3.1 Section 1: Your profile
  • Job
  • Nationality
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Work experience in aviation communication in years
  • Current ICAO level of English and what test it is based on
  • You are a …
  • Working knowledge of foreign languages other than English
  • Which region do you use Aviation English in?
  • 7.3.2 Section 2: Aviation English users’ linguistic behaviour
  • NS’ linguistic behaviour
  • NNS’ linguistic behaviour
  • 7.3.3 Section 3: Standard Phraseology
  • Have you ever noticed a speaker on the radio who deviates from standard phraseology?
  • Have you ever noticed a speaker on the radio who does not comply with Aviation English language rules in their use of standard phraseology?
  • 7.3.4 Section 4: Plain Aviation English
  • Have you ever communicated with somebody over the radio who does not have enough control or English proficiency to communicate effectively?
  • How often do you notice misunderstandings?
  • Have you ever communicated with somebody over the radio who had a strong native (English or other) accent that was difficult to understand?
  • Have you ever noticed a speaker on the radio who does not comply with English language rules in their use of Plain Aviation English?
  • 7.3.5 Section 5: Your communicative attitude
  • Do you think the ICAO level 4 is the appropriate language level for operational personnel?
  • Is there anything you would like to have modified about the ICAO rating scale?
  • Do you notice communication problems on a regular basis?
  • If a communication problem happens, how often do you try to sort it out?
  • When you are not sure about the information provided, do you ask for readback?
  • Have you experienced an expectation bias on your part (you heard what you expected to hear rather than what is actually happening)?
  • Are you sure you would effectively use Aviation English in a sudden non-routine occurrence?
  • Are you calm during unexpected situations as you can rely on your linguistic skills?
  • Have you ever made a linguistic error?
  • How do you assess aviation communication in general?
  • Is there anything which aviation communication is missing?
  • Are there any words/phrases you find particularly problematic?
  • Do you ever happen to deviate from standard phraseology?
  • Would you like any aspects of Aviation English communication to be improved upon?
  • 7.3.6 Section 6: Aviation English Training
  • What is, in your opinion, the most important aspect of Aviation English training?
  • Would you like to see any more components included in Aviation English training courses in the future that are missing now?
  • Do you undertake any activities towards the further development of your language skills beyond your work environment?
  • 7.3.7 Section 7: Participants’ general remarks
  • 7.4 Conclusion
  • Conclusions and Implications
  • References
  • Appendix: Questionnaire
  • Subject Index
  • Series index

| 15 →

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

AC aviation communication

AE Aviation English

AeD Aeronautical Discourse

AeE Aeronautical English

AeL Aeronautical Language

AL Aviation Language

AS aviation specialists

ASRS Aviation Safety Reporting System

AT aviation text

ATC air traffic control

ATCO air traffic controller

ATM air traffic management

CAA Civil Aviation Authority

CPDLC Controller/pilot data link communication

ELF English as lingua franca

ESL English as second language

FAA Federal Aviation Administration

GE general English

ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization

ITU International Telecommunication Union

LF Lingua Franca

LPRs language proficiency requirements

LSP Language for Specific Purposes

NP noun phrase

NS native speakers of English

NNS non-native speakers of English

PAE Plain Aeronautical English

PAL Plain Aeronautical Language

PM professional message

QNH Query No Height

RT radiotelephony

S Subject

SAE Simplified Aviation English ← 15 | 16 →

SARPs ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices

SP Standard Phraseology

STAR Standard Terminal Arrival Route

SIR Standard Instrument Departure

| 17 →

List of Illustrations


Figure 1.1: Characteristics of performance assessment

Figure 2.1: Creation process of avialinguistics

Figure 2.2: Scientific interest of avialinguistics

Figure 2.3: Object of avialinguistics

Figure 2.4: Relations among GE, AE and AeE based on set theory

Figure 2.5: AE hierarchy as specialised sublanguage

Figure 2.6: Radiotelephony language (Aeronautical language)

Figure 2.7: Aeronautical English Model with reference to ESP and EGP

Figure 3.1: Aeronautical verbal communications

Figure 3.2: Pilot-controller communication loop (Eurocontrol 2006)

Figure 3.3: Aeronautical communication model

Figure 3.4: Utterance features

Figure 3.5: Aeronautical communication dialogue model

Figure 4.1: Aeronautical English utterance production and interpretation process

Figure 4.2: Most frequent PAE grammatical structures

Figure 5.1: Contributors to ATM incidents – all phases of flight (EVAIR 2010–2014)

Figure 6.1: Language behaviour stimuli in aeronautical context

Figure 6.2: Key elements of improving NS linguistic behaviour

Figure 6.3: Aeronautical English training methodology

Figure 7.1: Respondents

Figure 7.2: Nationalities

Figure 7.3: Work experience in aviation communication

Figure 7.4: Distribution by regions

Figures 7.5 and 7.6: NS’ linguistic behaviour

Figures 7.7 and 7.8: NNS’ linguistic behaviour

Figure 7.9: SP deviation

Figure 7.10: SP deviation contributors

Figure 7.11: Faulty SP communication elements

Figure 7.12: Reasons for misunderstandings in PAE

Figure 7.13: Strong native accent (English or other)

Figure 7.14: PAE common problems ← 17 | 18 →

Figure 7.15: Frequency of sorting out communication problems by respondents

Figure 7.16: Frequency of sorting out communication problems by conversational partners

Figure 7.17: Asking for readback

Figure 7.18: Effective AeE use in a sudden non-routine occurrence

Figure 7.19: Relying on linguistic skills during unexpected situations

Figure 7.20: Aviation communication in general

Figure 7.21: Aeronautical communication aspects evaluated

Figure 7.22: Key aspects of AeE training

Figure 7.23: More components in future AeE training


Table 1.1: Aviation English military alphabet before 1956


Table 2.1: Specialised sublanguage, AE and SP features

Table 2.2: Phonetic discrepancies between general English and aeronautical phraseology

Table 2.3: Verb template in SAE

Table 2.4: Sample extract from an ASD-STE100 Dictionary page (2013)

Table 3.1: Poor and good aeronautical communication

Table 4.1: Examples of UK/USA differences to ICAO radiotelephony procedures

Table 4.2: Aeronautical verbal communication division criteria

Table 4.3: SP sentences and their general English equivalents

Table 4.4: SP utterance structure patterns

Table 4.5: Standard phraseology verbal forms

Table 4.6: Comparison of PAE and natural English phrases

Table 5.1: Communication failures

Table 5.2: Types and sources of AeE errors

Table 6.1: AeE training modules

Table 6.2: NS basic communicative strategies

Table 6.3: A checklist for AeE lesson planning

| 19 →

Introduction and Overview of the Book

This book has grown out of my long-standing and great research interest in understanding Aeronautical English transmissions, wherein the coded phrases are mixed with specialist aviation vocabulary and simplified general English. Such a mixture exists in order to guarantee safety on the ground and during each phase of the flight. It seems to be an interesting issue as to whether the operational personnel feel comfortable with the requirements of aeronautical communication and the language they use, called Aviation or Aeronautical English. Effective communication becomes even more critical as the amount and complexity of air traffic increases. As a result of a rising demand for the free movement of people and goods, and military operations, aviation communication affects us all in one way or another. This book is concerned with an important topic in modern applied linguistics, namely the globalisation of Aviation English and the linguistic and applied consequences of this process.

Following an in-depth analysis of theoretical references and having attending thematic conferences, it became clear that my research on Aeronautical English may lead further than anticipated as Aviation English domain has lacked systematic theoretical investigation. The research literature in this context mainly describes aeronautical communication in emergency situations. Most studies are also devoted to training and testing, while theoretical aspects of what is being taught and tested tend to be ignored. Thus, I began with systematising the received knowledge on Aviation English and aviation communication in order to pave the way for further discussion in this area. Step by step, I realised that the selected domain with its prescribed strict rules in every aspect, including the language rules, is so hermetic and so at variance from any other fields of knowledge that it can successfully be perceived as a new, and independent discipline. I have chosen to call it avialinguistics, and this term is used for the first time in this book; referring as it does to the interdisciplinary science that covers the linguistic study of aviation language in use. Having said that, avialinguistics draws its strength directly from general, applied and specialised linguistics, as well as aviation communication and aviation knowledge. Consequently, the book puts together and elicits a comprehensive theoretical and applied introduction to avialinguistics.

A theoretical approach to aviation language aspects should be practice-oriented. Thus, acts of real-life communication are analysed in this study. Recognising that it is not possible to provide detailed descriptions of all the uses of aviation languages, Aviation English, or the possibilities of aeronautical contexts in which we ← 19 | 20 → face controller-pilot interactions, I have chosen to focus on the communication between pilots of commercially operated aircraft and civil air traffic controllers, for whom the spoken word remains the most important resource available for the interpersonal exchange of information. This analysis is not removed from the reality of aeronautical operations. Data presented here are taken from recorded communications from www.liveatc.net, which feature actual pilot-controller dialogues, and from aviation incident/accident descriptions, where verbal communications have constituted a contributory factor. Both sources are supported by the results of the Aeronautical English communication investigation presented in Chapter 7.

The goal of this study is to maintain a balance between theory – providing background information and relevant research, and practice – providing some practical suggestions to enhance the effectiveness of aeronautical verbal communications. I have also looked to cover all the areas that I consider critical in developing avialinguistics: from the birth of aviation language, i.e. Aviation English, through the shaping radiotelephony English, to Aviation English training, testing and real-life use. Concerned about the grave consequences of miscommunication occasioned by past linguistic pitfalls, I propose that not only the language with its rules, but also cultural aspects must be considered. Therefore, the approach adopted here is theoretical as well as applied, though with an emphasis on authentic data in their linguistic and cultural contexts.

This book has two main objectives. The theoretical objective is to provide a comprehensive description of avialinguistics, its objects, aims and tasks, while the applied objective aims to support and advocate the improvement of the training process and the quality of aeronautical communication in order to enhance global safety. To this end, I have used data from daily commercial aviation communications between native speaking (NS) and non-native speaking (NNS) pilots and controllers. There are three groups that interact on a regular basis: NS–NNS, NNS–NNS, and NS–NS. Moreover, I observe some discrepancies in the way the language is used by NS and NNS. All the collected, observed and analysed pilot-controller exchanges took place after the introduction of binding language exams by the International Civil Aviation Organization, i.e. the period of 2011–2016, and some of the dialogues are quoted in their original form in this study. I focused on analysing the current shape of Aeronautical English, and not its prescribed model.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (July)
Aeronautical English Linguistic segmentation Aviation discourse Improving communication Language awareness Native speakers
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 332 S., 41 b/w ill., 18 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Anna P. Borowska (Author)

Anna P. Borowska is an Assistant Professor at the University of Warsaw where she also heads the Aviation Communication Research Centre. Her research focuses on aviation language and aviation verbal communication. She is also an Aviation English trainer.


Title: Avialinguistics
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336 pages