Seaspeak


Buoy and boat
Kai Schreiber, via Flickr

Learn a new language called Seaspeak in today's programme. Colin Lowther and Marina Santee introduce us to a special kind of English used at sea.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.

Voice 2 

And I’m Marina Santee. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

How do I get a message to you? I say some words. You hear them. I pass a message to you. People pass messages to each other every day. Some we understand, some we do not. It is not an exact science. If we are just discussing what film to see, then it does not matter if we take a little time to understand each other. But what if we are on a ship and we need to send a message? What if we are the crew of the ship and it is sinking?

Voice 3 

Mayday, mayday. Mayday mayday. M V Maria aground at Bishop Rock. Mayday, mayday. Mayday mayday. MV Maria aground at Bishop Rock. Mayday, mayday.

Voice 2 

In the 1960s the United States and Britain were the world’s greatest sea-going nations. Eighty percent of crews were native English speakers. By the end of the 1970s, the situation was the opposite. Eighty percent of crews did not speak English as a first language. Even on a ship, crews did not all speak the same language.

Voice 1 

The problem was clear. Miscommunication could cause serious accidents. To keep the seas safe, the shipping industry would have to find a new way to communicate. This method could be used on a ship, and between ships.

Voice 2 

Experts in language worked closely with experts in shipping. They produced a new way of speaking. The new language was called Seaspeak. The International Maritime Organisation made Seaspeak the official language of the seas in 1988. Seaspeak defined the rules of how to talk on the radio between ships.

Voice 1 

In the official book of Seaspeak, it says that messages between ships should be of direct interest to the crew. Messages should be short and clear. Such messages should be in words simple enough for a non-native speaker of English to understand.

Voice 2 

There is a list of about 5000 words in Seaspeak. Some of these words are in general use by all English speakers. And some of the words are special to ships and the sea. But there is another very important thing about Seaspeak. It uses seven really important words, called ‘message markers’. A message marker tells the listener what kind of message is coming. Message markers are words such as; Question, Warning, Information. We will  try an example. But first, we should talk about buoys.

Voice 1 

Buoys are not young men! This kind of buoy is spelled B-U-O-Y. Buoys are the colourful metal objects floating in the water where ships pass by. These metal buoys stay in the same place. Ropes tie them to a fixed point at the bottom of the sea. Buoys help the crew of a ship to know where they are - to know their position. Sometimes they mark dangerous places - like places that are not deep enough for big ships.

Voice 2 

Now here is the example of Seaspeak;

Voice 3 

Warning; buoy number two five and buoy number two six have no lights.

Voice 4 

Warning; received. Two five and two six, no lights.

Voice 2 

You can hear how this works. The man on the first ship begins with a message marker. In this example the message marker is the word ‘warning’. The message that follows is a warning. The ship tells another ship that there is some danger. The buoy normally has a light, but today the light is out. Here is another message marker;

Voice 3 

Question; what is your estimated time of arrival at buoy number two five?

Voice 4 

Answer; estimated time of arrival at buoy number two five, one four three zero UTC.

Voice 1 

This example is a question, not a warning. One ship is asking what time the other ship will arrive at buoy number 25. The other ship then says Answer. The word, ‘answer’ is another message marker. It shows that the information that follows is the answer to the question.

Voice 2 

Did you observe another thing about Seaspeak? Numbers in English have lots of names. Numbers from one to 20 all have their own names. Every tenth number after that has a name; 20, 30, 40 and so on. Some of the names sound alike; such as 30 and 13. Seaspeak keeps it simple! You just say the number by its individual parts. Twenty-five becomes two five. Twenty-six becomes two six. You tell the time by giving four numbers. One four three zero means 14:30 hours, or half past two. This makes life much easier for crews who do not normally use the English language.

Voice 1 

It also makes life safer. Using Seaspeak, ships can give information about their position in the sea. This can prevent crashes between ships. In an accident, good communication can help another ship to arrive quickly. It can also help crews on the ship to communicate and follow safety rules. Close to land, controllers use Seaspeak to guide ships. Using Seaspeak means that all the ships can follow their guidance.

Voice 2 

Edward Johnson is a professor from Wolfson College in Cambridge, England. He is one of the people who created Seaspeak. Edward Johnson has been interested in languages since he was a young man. He also has a great love of the sea. As a young man, he spent a lot of time sailing with friends. In Seaspeak, Johnson combined his love of the sea with being an expert in languages. This meant that his young life as a sailor was not wasted time!

Voice 1 

Johnson has gone on to design special kinds of English for the police, medical workers and fire fighters. Maybe we could all help each other by speaking more simply. If I met one of my friends, I could have my message marker ready!

Voice 3 

Question; how are you today?

Voice 4 

Answer; I am all right.

Voice 3

Information; the cafe is open at one zero zero zero.

Voice 4 

Information received.

Voice 3 

Request; can I buy you a coffee?

Voice 4 

Request received, yes, buy me a coffee, thank you.

Voice 2 

It is a bit strange to talk this way. But it is worth thinking about. How well do we send and receive messages? It could improve communication if we used the simplest, clearest words. And if we answer clearly when a person asks a question, that also would make it easier for them to understand .

Voice 1 

Let us say goodbye to Spotlight listeners in our new language, Seaspeak. Are you ready?

Voice 2 

Yes I am ready.

Voice 1 

Information; Peter Laverock wrote this programme. Nick Mangeolles produced this programme.

Voice 2 

Information received. Peter Laverock and Nick Mangeolles .

Voice 1 

Request; go to the website to listen and read. Website is www.radioenglish.net

Voice 2 

Request received; going to website www.radioenglish.net

Voice 1 

Advice; the name of this programme is Seaspeak.

Voice 2 

Advice received; the name is Seaspeak.

Voice 1

Bon voyage Spotlight.

Voice 2 

Spotlight standing by.
 

Question:

What do you think is the best way to communicate? Do you like to communicate clearly?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Rain Bows
said on November 20, 2012

I think it was a great idea for the sailors to simplify their language.
My grand dad used to work on ships, now he is retired.
He said man for different parts of the world worked with him.
So I’m glad I joined in this program and hear from my grad dad’s old profession.
Information received.
Manta-Ecuador.

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abozenka
said on November 20, 2012

This is excellent.Thank you.

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on November 20, 2012

The messages of help of the fishermen allow to save his lives.
Good program
Thanks spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
georgino
said on November 21, 2012

Thanks for this important topic. I did not know this seaspeak language on the sea, and I believe is a way to communicate better in clear form.
The language is a great help for ships on the sea so, they can warn and give information about path for safe sailing.
Bye friends.

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hoaaof
said on May 27, 2013

i do not understand this Seaspeak. Hi hi.

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P-toonia
said on December 09, 2013

jajaja I really liked how the speakers said goodbye. I didn’t know too much about it. But now I’m happy for this, i learnt something new.

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timetobealive
said on December 10, 2013

Languages around the world separate every nation with their own language, but If you want to understand, you only need practice and being patient to finally understand that language.

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Honneur
said on July 30, 2018

Human language is the best way to communicate. The myth of the Tower of Babel shows us the importance of communication. It does not matter whether humans, in special or simple language, survive better than other animals by the ability to elaborate complex messages using only a few phonemes.