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« Borat - A Big Bore | Main | Justice for Macacas and Monkeys »

November 15, 2006


A very enlightening post, Ruchira. The vicissitudes of language—even seemingly precisely encoded language like Code 10—will never be overcome, a fact for which I am grateful. It would seem entirely counterintuitive to deploy "plain English" to accomplish what the nation's law enforcement seeks to accomplish, but I think there is an important dynamic at work in the decision. Although regional variations are bound to emerge, thereby ultimately undermining the search for a universal language, for the time being the very effort to use a new language, even one that is relatively inefficient as compared to Code 10, will urge its speakers to focus more carefully on using it. In other words, the nation's cops could have decided to use a substitute code, such as street slang, or hip hop or rap slang, instead of "plain English." These, too, would have put law enforcement in a position of having to learn a new (or at least mostly new) vocabulary.

"10-4," Dean.. :-) I had a feeling you might find this story intriguing. I certainly did.

I wonder why they didn't just clean up the existing code by removing the ambiguity in codes such as 10-40 and making a uniform new system for all police AND the FBI. They could in fact introduce new codes for newer concerns such as those arising out of a terrorist attack and do away with non-emergency codes like "lunch" and "dinner." (Do they have a 10 code for doughnuts and coffee too?) That way, the police would have to re-learn some new 10 codes without having to forget the common ones currently in use by all police forces. For non- emergency situations which fall "outside" the code, plain English can be used. For example, for cows on the highway, a situation which is likely to be encountered in rural Nebraska but not in Washington D.C, the police can communicate in plain English.

I don't know. But plain English may not be so plain either. What about regional accents and vocabulary? That too can cause confusion during a stressful event. Discarding the entire system of numerical code seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is not a matter of secrecy either because as the article says, the codes are available on the internet. Rather, it's an efficient method of communication when speed and precision are of utmost value.

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