Speaking like a pirate

After taking a fascinating historical journey through Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”, I was wondering just how everyone came to the conclusion that pirates speak the way they do, with lots of “Arrghs” and “Avast ye!” and “Matey”.
I know that some of it came from Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, but where did he get that speech pattern from?

I think it’s mostly common nautical terms from the 18th century english navy.

If you’re lucky, UrsaMajor, expert on all things marine, will visit your thread and give you the definitive answer.

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Thanks for the intro, Arnold.

To the best of my knowledge, it all dates back to RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Stevenson wasn’t a slacker with the research, though. There may be some half-literate scrawlings, somewhere, penned by an actual pirate.

…but my guess is that, the expressions he used were selectively drawn from the vocabularies of various seafarers Stevenson met in England and abroad.

I think a lot of speech-patterns popularly associated with pirates are derived from Welsh and Scottish regionalisms. A lot of Welshmen and Scotsmen seemed to be aboard British ships during the 1690-1725 era, and I can’t remember why. Perhaps those regions were so poor that seafaring seemed like a decent alternative to landlubbing; more likely I think English officers preferred kidnapping “foreigners” for nautical service.

So it was natural that a merchant crew of Scotsmen, Welshmen, and Irishmen would take great pleasure in dumping their English captain overboard and going a-piratin’. The problem with this theory is that mutiny on naval ships was not common enough to be a source of pirates, and pirates almost never attacked the navy. Pirates would be drawn from merchant crews, and I don’t think merchant captains had the power to legal impress (shanghai) men for sea service.

Well, Stevenson was born in Scotland…

I’m fairly certain that “pirate speak” has more to do with Treasure Island and the actor who played Long John Silver (Newly? Newman?) than with how pirates actually spoke 200 years before the book was writen.

Sorry, but I keep thinking of new wags the second after I hit “submit”.

RLS had traveled and lived all over the world (France, California, Germany) before he wrote TI at the age of 33. His first trip to the States was in steerage. He had ample opportunity in these travels to hear how tars of that age spoke. My theory is that if you had a recording of a 19th century sailor, he would sound just like our modern conception of a pirate.

Many of RLSs “piratisms” are very similar to the dialects of the south and south west of England: Devon, Dorset and Cornwall.

Being coastal areas, many Royal Navy sailors were recruited (or forcibly ‘pressed’). These areas also produced many smugglers–perhaps RLS felt that it was a short step from one to the other!

Launcher may train without warning.

In fact, here’s a fascinating link on the various dialects of the English language:


Launcher may train without warning.

So then, which parts of RLS are borrowed from the regional dialects.
Is it the pirate catchphrases like “Shiver me timbers!” or “Avast, ye matey!”
Or is it the consistently nonstandard conjugation of verbs (“Where be the treasure?”)

Go here http://www.acronet.net/~robokopp/shanty.html to read the lyrics to about a zillion sailor songs. You don’t see much irregular verb conjugation in them. Perhaps RLS was trying to underscore the ignorance and lowly class of the pirate by having him use lousy grammar.

Thanks for the help. However, none of the songs included “Yo ho, Yo ho, a Pirates’ Life for Me!” which plays over and over again during the Disneyland ride.

(It’s one of my favorite rides and I actually find the tune sort of catchy.)

The Sea Captain character on “The Simpsons” is also helping to keep “pirate talk” alive/

Thanks everyone for the help.

Thanks for the pirate song link. I think my favorite is the one called “Albertina”

It’s all there! http://www.acronet.net/~robokopp/shanty/albertna.htm

Faugh! ye scurvy dogs! I’ll not having ye leerin’ at Albertina in your speckled shirts with the rum fumes lingerin’ ‘round you like the smokes of hell around Ol’ Nick himself! The glint in your eyes is not fit to fall upon her bilges! Be off w’ye, or I’ll take all your rum and replace it with brandy! Lean dogs, ye are, and lusty!

In Mystic, CT you can, under the right circumstances, see a film shot by Irving Johnson around (IIRC) 1911. It documents his voyage around Cape Horn on one of the last of the commercial sailing ships operating basically in 19th-century fashion, the Peking. It’s a fascinating film, and both the ship and the film can be found in truncated form at South Street Seaport in New York City. Johnson narrates the film, and he starts off the full-length version with the statement “Arrrgh…it was a faar wind, but not a haaard wind…” a la Long John Silver himself, and he clearly meant it. That is, he wasn’t joking or trying to “seem nautical”. It is obvious that the pattern was at least a little genuine as late as the turn of the century.
BTW, there’s a book about pirates called “Under The Black Flag” by…I forget. Some English guy. It’s not the best organized or written book in the world, but it is an easy read and sustains the interest in a fascinating topic right to the end.

On rereading the above message, I think I should clarify. Johnson wasn’t a director, he was a sailor, and he shot the film on the Peking, which he had signed onto, with a very very early version of a home movie camera. It’s a marvelous historical document and a great little film.

This thread reminds me of a comic panel in my old college newspaper.

Pirate [storming through the front door]: Haarrr, we’re here to be tellin’ ya 'bout the Lord!

Caption: Yo Ho Hova’s Witness

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