Air-to-Ground Discourse: Teaching the Language of Manned Space Flight

Colleen McQuillen, Johnson Space Center at NASA

The language used in radio communications between cosmonauts in space and Russian Mission Control is technical and telegraphic, full of acronyms and sub-standard speech. These particularities create additional barriers to comprehension for American astronauts collaborating on joint space missions with the Russian Space Agency.

This paper will explore the ways in which the language used in manned space flight differs from standard spoken Russian and how this ramifies for teacher and student. Using tapes and transcripts of conversations between cosmonauts on MIR and Russian Mission Control as well as other recorded speech samples as the basis for my study, I will summarize the qualities that mark the language of cosmonauts and flight controllers. In particular, I will focus on the use of prefixed verbs of motion in a microgravity environment where directions such as up, down, left and right, are no longer meaningful.

Finally, I will draw some general conclusions about how to meet the challenges (including limited reference resources and teaching materials) of teaching foreign professional jargon.