[NetBehaviour] INTERNATIONAL CODE OF SIGNALS and Level Intermingling

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Wed Jul 20 20:02:07 CEST 2005



I've been poring over this book, which presents signals by sound, flag,
semaphore, morse, and flashing light. Each medium has similar problems:
1 How to accommodate other languages than English (which is the
default); 2 How to distinguish code from meta-code.

In terms of the latter, for example, the International Flags and
Pennants, are the following:

Afirm, Baker, Cast, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, Hypo, Int, Jig, King, Love,
Mike, Negat, Option, Prep, Queen, Roger, Sail, Tare, Unit, Victor,
Gillian, Xray, Yoke, and Zed; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0. But there
are also Repeaters: 1st Repeat, 2nd Repeat, and 3rd Repeat; and a CODE
or answering pennant (red and white vertical stripes).

So that for example:

Art. 69. When several flag hoists are displayed simultaneously they are
to be read in the following order: (a) Masthead, (b) Triatic stay, (c)
Starboard yardarm, (d) Port yardarm.

Art. 70. When more groups than one are shown on the same halyard, they
must be separated by the tackline and be read in the numerical order of
their superiority.

Physical support, meta-symbol, symbol, and image/imaginary intertwine.

Art. 78. Similarly, if she [the ship] can distinguish the signal but
can not _understand the purport_ of it, she should hoist the
appropriate signal VB, signifying, "Signal is not understood though
flags are distinguished."

The Use of Substitutes (Repeaters)

Art. 79. The use of substitutes is to enable the same signal flag to be
repeated one or more times in the same group while still only carrying
one set of flags. For instance, it is obvious that without substitutes
such a group as AAA or 1000 could only be made if three sets of signal
flags were carried. By the use, however, of three additional signal
flags, called substitutes (named first, second, and third substitutes
respectively), any 2, 3, or 4 letter group can be hoisted by means of
a single set of flags.

How to Spell

Art. 86. Names in the text of a message which is being signaled by
flags are to be spelled out by means of the alphabetical signals which
consist of--

Answering pennant over E (Alphabetical signal No. 1.) Indicates that
until alphabetical signal No. 3 is made, the letters following do not
represent signals from the code, but represent the letters of the
alphabet spelling a word.

Answering pennant over F (Alphabetical signal No. 2.) Indicates the end
of a word being spelled or the dot between initials.

Answering pennant over G (Alphabetical signal No. 3.) Indicates that
the spelling of words is completed, and that the signals which follow
are to be looked up in the code in the usual manner.

In Morse Signaling, beyond the Alphabet, Numerals, and Punctuation,
there are Procedure Signals and Signs:

Call for unknown ship and general call - AA AA .- .-   .- .-
Answering sign - TTTTTTTTTTT... ---------...
Space sign - II ..   ..
Break Sign - BT -...-
Erase sign - EEEEEEEEE... ..........
Repeat Sign - UD ..--..
Repeat word or group before WB .-- -...
Ending sign - AR .-.-.
> From - De -.. .
You are correct - C -.-.
Repeat back - G --.
Message received - R .-.
Word (plain language) received T -
I am unable to read your message owing to light not being properly
trained or light burning badly - W .--
International Code groups follow - PRB .--. .-. -...

Semaphore Alphabet signaling consists of the following:

A, B, C (answering sign), D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R,

The _Signal Code_ itself is complex - 1, 2, and 3 letter combinations
for content, 4 letter combinations for location (i.e. AODR = Cape
Sacratif) and name (i.e. ship name).

The _content_ is based on an alphabetical listing of English phrases
equated with the letter combinations, both in _independent alphabetical

Single letter signals are used for primary communication and begin:

A - I am undergoing a speed trial.
B - I am taking in or discharging explosive.
C - Yes (affirmative).
D - Keep clear of me - I am maneuvering with difficulty.

and so forth.

Double letter signals are based on major _alphabetical thematic
content_ - for example the first several themes are:


and the last several themes are:


So for example:


ZK - I shall signal with whistle or siren during fog.
ZL - You should sound whistle or siren at intervals.


ZM - Direction and force of wind is.
ZN - What is the wind direction and force?
ZO - I am dazzled by your searchlight,s; douse or lift it, them.

The three letter codes begin with numerous lists:

Points of the compass:

NE by N - JUO


ABH - 2 points on the starboard bow.
ABI - 3 points on the starboard bow.


ACA - 60 degrees to starboard
ACB - 70 degrees to starboard

Standard Times:

ACS - + 9 Japanese central.
ACT - + 8 Chinese (Japanese western).
ACU - + 7 Straits Settlements

and so forth. Grammatical meta-symbols:

ADW (An order); AEW Do not; ADX I (do); AEY (He, she, or it, does not);

AFW do I?; AGG Did I? etc. - all followed by the proper verb.


AGQ - Period (FULL STOP).
AGS - The following is in PLAIN LANGUAGE.
AGT - The following is a REQUEST.
AGU - The following is ADVICE or a SUGGESTION.

and so forth.

The GENERAL VOCABULARY proper is doubly alphabetized. For example:

LTV - QUESTION, s (Interrogate, ion).
Questioning - Am, Is, Are.
LTW - Questioned - Has, have, ing.
LTX - QUICK, ly, ness.
LTY - As quickly as possible.
LTZ - Too quick, ly, for, to.
LUC - QUIET, ly, ness.
Race,s (Tide race) - RLJ
LUH - Race,s (Propellers, Engines, etc.).
Racing - Is, Are.
LUE - Raced - Has, Have, ing.
LUJ - Radiator,s (Cooling).
Radioing - Am, Is, Are.
LUM - By radio.
Operator,s - KEO
Receiver,s - MAB
Transmitter,s - PHU
Radio apparatus - BCP
LUN - Radio direction finder,s.
LUO - Fitted with radio - Am, Is, Are.
LUP - Not fitted with radio - Am, Is, Are.

This double-indexing depends, with the triplets, on strict dictionary
ordering; and, with the referent, on SUBJECT / examples in dictionary
form. There is no implicit link between signifier and signified; for

NSD - SOS. (Interestingly, the SOS triplet is omitted.)

After the triplets, the book presents a DECODE section, which contains
additional symbols useful for "decoding messages from ships or stations
not using the English edition." For example:

SPP Dressing, a (Surgical).
SPQ The least.
SPR Last month.
SPS Half way.

These would be used by an English speaker working with incoming partly
in another language.

So far we are only dealing with a. English language and b. standardized
punctuation. It should be noted in terms of the latter, for example:

Art. 147. There is no equivalent of the apostrophe "s" (possessive) in
most foreign languages, and it has, therefore, been omitted from the
code. The possessive sense must be expressed by means of the possessive
"Of (Belonging to)." ...

and in terms of the former:

Art. 139. It is obvious that when making up the Italian edition of the
code, each of these Italian words, which, it will be appreciated, have
other meanings not expressed by the English word "report," must be
allotted a different code group. The following procedure has therefore
been adopted. If a word, say, in English, requires more than one word
to express its meaning in, say, Italian, and these Italian words are
quite distinct from one another, the code group which has been
allotted to the English word is inserted only in the Italian _decode,_
with the necessary Italian equivalents against it. These Italian
words, when and if inserted in the Italian code, are assigned
different code groups, which are then printed in the English decode
but not in the English code. ...

Example 9. - Specimen decoded message.

STN - Picked up (Has, Have, ing) , Collected - Has, Have, ing.
EDR - Crew, s.
3 - 3.
CEC - Boat, s.
RCZ - Belonging to. , Of.
IBNS - S. S. Leme
RHL - Sunk - Has, Have, ing.
13 - 13th.
VFB - Instant. Current. Existing.
AGQ - Full stop.
RKD - Mine. My.
LDK - Next port of call.
AACF - Aden.
AGQ - Full stop.
AEM - I will <  >
OTB - Telegraph, s. , Telegraphing - Am, Is, Are.
TVJ - Name, s.
KVP - Person, s.
MWJ - Saved - Has, Have, ing.

Have picked up crews three boats belonging to S. S. Leme, sunk 13th
instant. My next port of call Aden. I will telegraph names persons

In all of the above, codes/metacodes/referent-trees all intermingle.
Distinctions among the categories blur in favor of other exigencies. In
some cases, i.e. signal flags, it's possible to add an additional
pennant for clarification (i.e. CODE). In other cases, i.e. morse code,
distinctions are more problematic, since they are made within the
primary code lexicon of dot/dash/space.

The ordering of the general vocabulary leaves no room for additional
terms; i.e. between MXA and MXB there is nothing; to this extent the
code remains highly discrete. (MXAA already implies either place or
ship name.) The code encapsulates the major situations that might occur
among mariners at sea (or air); everything else is spelled out. With
the thousands of entries in the International Code of Signals, decoding
occurs by means of lookup; it would be impossible to memorize all of
them. There are parallels between this system and Chinese characters;
in this sense, the International Code contains only 26 radicals,
arranged in one to four groupings.

The "messiness" of the system has implications for anyone hoping for a
clean and clear reading of "discrete" or "symbol" in relation to
code-work - as in many other systems, heuristics takes over. While the
system remains discrete on one hand (i.e. a limited number of signal
elements), the referent "splatters" - it's difficult to contain, and
the strategies of containment extend the usage of signal elements to
meta-levels and beyond.


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