Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The vocabulary of aviation radiotelephony communication in simulator emergencies and the contradictions in air traffic controller beliefs about language use

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posted on 2023-09-27, 00:00 authored by Drayton, Jennifer

This thesis encompasses a mixed methods enquiry into the language used in air traffic control in simulated emergency situations in the United Arab Emirates. The workplaces studied employ pilots and controllers from a diverse range of language backgrounds. This research sets out to answer three questions: 1. What is the technical vocabulary of aviation radiotelephony in emergency training in the simulator? 2. To what extent is technical vocabulary used in radiotelephony in emergency training in the simulator? 3. What factors influence the use of technical vocabulary in speaking? The first part of the study investigates the nature of technical language in aviation radiotelephony. Two spoken corpora were created from recordings of three air traffic controllers from two different workplaces (Ghaf and Sandy aerodromes), undergoing emergency simulator training. Mandated standard phraseology formed a written corpus. Standard phraseology is an international language defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and adopted by governments for use in radiotelephony communication. Quantitative analysis showed that the technical vocabulary in aviation radiotelephony consists of proper nouns, numbers, aviation alphabet, acronyms, technical word types and multiword units. The technical word types included purely technical words e.g. taxiway and cryptotechnical vocabulary (high, medium and low frequency words with a technical meaning (Fraser, 2009)) e.g. approach. Multiword units included ICAO standard phraseology e.g. hold short or subsidiary and local phraseology in the spoken corpora e.g. Do you have any question (subsidiary) and engine start approved (local).  The second part of the study examines sources of difference in language use by controllers. Technical vocabulary coverage differed between the spoken corpora at 70.52% for Ghaf Aerodrome and 51.61% for Sandy Aerodrome. Two explanations for this were: differences in the purpose of emergency training in each aerodrome; and differences in linguistic style by the Sandy controller which was established through keyword analysis. Interviews with nine controllers established further factors which are likely to affect the use of technical vocabulary in radiotelephony communication including: communication styles of native English speakers (NES) and non-native English speakers (NNES). Further examination of interview data also revealed contradictory beliefs underlying language use by controllers. Their beliefs diverge around the role of standard phraseology, its use (or not) in emergencies and the value of language training for emergencies. This divergence reflects the contradictions in definitions of standard phraseology and plain language in the literature. Differences in language use can lead to frequent miscommunication and the need for clarification of meaning in these UAE workplaces. The present study makes two contributions to the significant body of research on aviation radiotelephony. The first is an Aviation Radiotelephony Word and Number List. It is used to clarify the role of technical vocabulary and plain language in radiotelephony and to show how the technical vocabulary coverage of radiotelephony communication, in an extract from the simulator emergency training and another extract from an ICAO document, is high compared to other professions. Second, a Model of Controller Beliefs and Outcomes is presented and suggests a way to interpret divergent language outcomes in radiotelephony. The model summarises two contradictory sets of controller beliefs about standard phraseology, language in emergencies, and training. Further, the language and training outcomes reflect those beliefs. The investigation concludes with implications for training and testing in aviation for ab initio and experienced controllers. The corpora, word and number list and model all provide useful tools for the training and testing needs in these UAE workplaces. The chapter concludes with limitations of the study and future research directions.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Coxhead, Averil