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Miscommunication and pragmatics in Maritime English: An analysis of the Standard Marine Communication Phrases

Current Research Projects

Miscommunication and pragmatics in Maritime English: An analysis of the Standard Marine Communication Phrases

Nicole Ziegler

In order to provide L2 seafarers with a common language, Maritime English, a combination of specific registers that vary according to field or subject matter, was adopted in 1995 as a simplified version of English for maritime purposes. To further reduce miscommunication caused accidents, such as the collision between the Lykes Voyager and the Washington Senator due to the lack of proper identification procedures, the Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP), a prescriptive phraseology with reduced syntax and vocabulary for common and routine interactions, were adopted in 2001. Despite these measures, accidents caused by miscommunication have continued to increase (Ziarati, 2009). 

This project examines the effectiveness of the SMCP’s Message Markers. These classifications, such as warning or advice, were designed to clarify communicative intentions and improve the predictability of speech acts between interlocutors by clearly identifying the intended purpose of the utterance. Potential illocutionary mismatches are analyzed and presented in terms of the influences on speakers’ speech act choices, such as cultural and pragmatic beliefs, possible hearer interpretations, and the potentially dangerous consequences of these misunderstandings. These descriptive analyses demonstrate the need for the revision or removal of the Message Markers due to the potential misinterpretations regarding perlocutionary intent and illocutionary force. Results demonstrate the need for continued investigations from an applied linguistic perspective into the communicative and pragmatic needs of the multi-national shipping industry.