Arrrr! Ahoy mateys, today be Talk Like a Pirate Day. This be the day those who be scallywags talk like true buccaneers not like lubbers.
Of course, the pirates of the Caribbean didn’t really talk like that The real language spoken by a pirate crew would have depended on the nationality of the crew, an English crew would have spoken English, French would have spoken French, and so on. Whatever language they spoke, the crews of a pirate ship would probably have spoken a lower class sailor’s dialect, not too different from the workingmen’s speech of their native country, though with nautical jargon. Of course, the Caribbean was a melting pot of races and nationalities and I suppose pirate crews reflected that diversity. There were a number of pidgins and creoles spoken in the region, which were spoken on pirate ships and which didn’t sound much like the language we associate with pirates.
So, where did our ideas about talking like a pirate come from? Most likely from the same place most of our other ideas about pirates, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island. That children’s adventure story is responsible for most of ideas about pirates, buried treasure, parrots, pirate ships,pieces of eight, the whole genre. Treasure Island is where you can find such expressions as “shiver me timbers” and “avast, matey” not to mention the dead man’s chest.
The actual sounds and wording what we think of as pirate language seems to have come from the actor Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. He reprised the role of Long John Silver in an 1954 Australian film of that name. Newton also portrayed Blackbeard in Blackbeard the Pirate. Newton was originally from Dorset, in south-west England and he was educated in Cornwall. For his pirate roles, Newton opted to use an exaggerated version of his native West Country dialect with its rolling r’s or Arrrr’s. Robert Newton’s portrayals of pirates were popular enough that his speech became established as the real pirate speech in popular culture. Thus we have a Talk Like a Pirate Day in which people don’t really talk much like pirates at all.
Then again, Robert Newton’s dialect may not have been that far off. A lot of sailors came from south-west England and the region was a center of shipping and trade and it is likely that many pirates came from the region, including Blackbeard. Of course, we have no recordings of the way eighteenth century pirates or sailors spoke, so there is no way to know for sure. Still, it’s fun and we could all use some more fun in our lives.
Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
- Ahoy, matey! Is the pirate life for you? (vancouversun.com)
- Ahoy, it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day: Popular pirate lingo, words & phrases, mateys (examiner.com)
- International Talk Like a Pirate Day: Free donuts, events & pirate speak, mateys (examiner.com)
- Celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day (examiner.com)