The Phonetic Alphabet

The history, use, and terminology of the phonetic alphabet


What is The Phonetic Alphabet?

The phonetic alphabet is also known as a word-spelling alphabet or radio alphabet. It is a set of words used for the letters of an alphabet in oral communication.

It is used to spell out words when speaking to someone not able to see the speaker because the lack of visual cues during oral communication can cause confusion. For example, lips are closed at the start of saying the letter "B" but open at the beginning of the letter "D" making these otherwise similar-sounding letters more easily discriminated when looking at the speaker. Without these visual cues, such as during announcements of airline gate numbers "B3" and "D3" at an airport, "B" may be confused with "D" by the listener.

The phonetic alphabet is also used to distinguish between different homonyms or words that sound alike but have different meanings. Words like “site” and “sight”, or “way” and “weigh” have very different meanings. It is also used for spelling proper nouns like last names.

Military History

The Allied military radio spelling alphabets were created prior to World War I and evolved separately in the United States and the United Kingdom. They were used separately among the individual military services in the two countries until being merged during World War II. The last WWII spelling alphabet continued to be used through the Korean War, being replaced in 1956 as a result of both countries adopting the ICAO/ITU Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, with the NATO members calling it the "NATO Phonetic Alphabet".

The Phonetic Alphabet

A – Alpha

B – Bravo

C – Charlie

D – Delta

E – Echo

F – Foxtrot

G – Golf

H – Hotel

I – India

J – Juliet

K – Kilo

L – Lima

M – Mike

N – November

O – Oscar

P – Papa

Q – Quebec

R – Romeo

S – Sierra

T – Tango

U – Uniform

V – Victor

W – Whiskey

X – X-ray

Y – Yankee

Z – Zulu

4 February 2020