Phonetic/radio alphabets (Alpha Bravo Charlie...)

Is there any sense to these things? One, 2, and 3 syllable words, easy-to-mispronounce words, sheesh…who makes these things up? Lima has 2 different pronunciations even in English, fer pete’s sake*. And who stuck Quebec in there? Most of it is just that you learn it, of course, so you hear what you’re used to hearing.

Not that I could do better, I’m sure, but there are people who study languages, and the way we hear them &c. who could, I would bet.

  • Capital of Peru=Leem-uh, bean=lime-ah

They are chosen because they are easy to distinguish from each other. The pronunciation is generally specified in various texts such as Airman’s manuals etc. The idea is that if someone says Sierra Delta Mike Bravo, there are no other letters in the phonetic alphabet that sound like those and therefore in poor radio reception conditions you can make out what each word is meant to be.

They’ve been developed for a while since radios have been used. Some words were chosen, then discarded, because some just didn’t seem to flow with certain nationalities. Check out wikipedia:

Trouble is, even in English, there is no consistency - your example above is typical of American English, for example, but in UK English, it would be Lee-mah for both cases (except that the beans are more commonly known as butterbeans).

Whatever standard words could be chosen, there would be different ways of saying them in different variants and dialects of English.

But either pronunciation clearly begins with an “L”, which is the reason for using these words.

I meant to add that there is no particularly good reason - beside habit - to pronounce Lima as Lime-uh, when discussing the beans - they originate from Peru and are named after its capital.

FWIW, NATO specifies “LEE-mah” as the official pronunciation.

In addition to starting with L, the important thing is that neither LEE-mah nor LIE-mah sound like any of the other letters in the system.

So which of the other code words do you think would be confused with either of those pronunciations?

As others have noted, the exact pronunciation of the code words isn’t that important, only that they be easily distinguishable from all the others. Regardless of which way you pronounce Lima, there are no other code words that could be mistaken for it. (And in any case, the codes do specify particular pronunciations.)

And people tend to say the words correctly even if it’s not their native pronunciation. To me the word “papa” should be pronounced PA-pa but the phonetic alphabet version is pa-PA with the emphasis on the second syllable and this is how I (and nearly everyone else) say it. The same goes for numbers, niner instead of nine, fife for five, and tree for three. I always use niner and fife but only use tree when the reception is poor.

It’s not so much about the words themselves as it is about having a communication understood in less than ideal transmission circumstances. Defective equipment leading to lots of static or dropouts. Excessive background noise making it hard to hear or be heard.

In many of the cases where someone would be using phonetics, lives are on the line and you do not want to be misunderstood.

Interestingly, the word ‘lima’ means the number 5 in Malay and Indonesian. This is obviously an unfortunate coincidence, especially in the context of aeronautical communications. Wiki claims that ‘London’ is used over there instead (which seems plausible).