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Pirate Dialect

Who uses this dialect?

Pirates, of course! Are ye daft? Who else would have so much salt in their speech?

Rhythm and Music

This dialect has a definite up-and-down rhythm to it, like waves on the sea.

Sea-Dog Syntax

  1. Pirates conjugate slightly differently than most folks. The only real difference is that theay add and '-s' to the end of the First Person Singular, as below.
    I plays
    thou playest
    he/she/it playeth
    we play
    you play
    they play
  2. Pirates use a lot of extra reflexives, even more so than usual in Early Modern English. Moreover, the Pirate Reflexive tends to be in an extra phrase at the end of the sentence, as in: "We hung the scurvy dog from the yardarm, we did."

Sound Changes

Each of the links below is a ".mp3" file demonstrating a sound change. Listen to the example as many times as you need to, repeating it on your own afterwards. Take as much time as you need to with each sound. If you take the examples in order, you will sometimes run into sounds you haven't gotten to yet. Don't worry about it, just do the best you can until you've gone through all the sounds. Then go back and listen to the examples again, and make whatever corrections you need to.

I have included notes where appropriate.

  1. This one is pretty straightforward. The 'o' sound in words like 'hot' darkens to the 'ough' sound in words like 'ought.'
    You've got a lot of pots.

  2. This one is tricky. There are actually two different sounds involved, but you'll have to practice a bit to learn to hear them. The first is the 'a' sound in words like 'master' and 'demand.'
    Another draught, master craftsman.

    The second is the 'a' sound in words like 'map' and 'hand.'
    Flap not thy hand like that.

    So which is which? To most folks, the two sounds seem alike in their native dialect. There is a general rule, but it's pretty complicated: make the first change (as in 'master'), when the 'a' comes before 'f,' 's,' 'th,' and 'n,' unless the 'n' is followed by a 'd,' as in 'hand.' See? I told you it was complicated. To make things worse, there are a few exceptions, such as 'command.' This rule is only designed to get you through until your ear gets used to hearing these sounds.

  3. We now come to one of the fun changes, the "j-u glide." The gist of this is to insert a 'y' sound before a long 'u' sound, unless doing so would change the meaning of the word.
    Do tell the Duke's student what a fool is due.

    Notice the difference between 'do' and 'due.'

  4. In any word that is written with a 'wh-,' swap the two sounds to 'hw.'
    I know not the why's and wherefores of his wandering.

  5. The 'r' sound is very hard. This is the classic pirate sound.
    The martyr's heart was never hard.

  6. The 'uh' sound in 'pub' becomes a short 'ah' sound, as in 'father.'
    Come, Jim, have a cup with me in the pub.

  7. The long 'i' sound in words like 'fight' becomes 'oi', as in 'toy.'
    I should like a bite of that pie.

  8. The long 'o' sound in words like 'go' is stretched out a bit.
    Go over to the row boat.

  9. The 'ow' sound in words like 'cow' becomes an 'aow.' This is a very Scottish sound, although it is not taken so far as the Scots do.
    Art thou going down to the town?

  10. Drop the final 'g' from words that end in '-ing.'
    We had wonderous dancing and singing, Jim.

  11. The 'a' sound in words like 'bake' is stretched, as well.
    She made a fake cake, and put a file in it for me, she did.

  12. The sound 'all' is slightly lilted.
    He called at the hall every fall.

  13. Initial 'h' is dropped in this dialect.
    He had a hard-worn hat.

Tag Line.

Finally, here's a line from Muppet Treasure Island to practice with. I recommend using this line to get into dialect before rehearsal or performance.
Ah, Jim. Smollet sails by rules and laws, that's what being a captain's all about. Me, I sails by the stars.

And there you have it, all the changes thou shalt need to speak like a Pirate. I wishes you much joy of it, I does!

Links

Pirate Speak -- This site has some other suggestions for "pirateizing" your speech, as well as a good vocabulary list of nautical terms. An excellent compliment to this page!
Talk like a Pirate Day -- I couldn't add links to this page with out adding this one! This is inspired by a Dave Barry column, so as you might expect, it's a touch cheesy, but there are still lots of great ideas here. Plus they link back to Central Florida Pirate Festival, with whom I am currently associated.

Back to the dialect page.