Talk Like a Pirate and Be More Efficient

Ahoy, mateys! In case ye not be knowing, the 19th day of September be Talk Like A Pirate day, and ye be encouraged to bedazzle yer sentences with “avast ye” and “yo ho ho.”

From the linguistic point of view – and I am, of course, a Speech Pathologist so these things matter – talking like a pirate is a really good example of how we could make English easier by one simple change; remove all the morphological variants from the verb, to be, in a single stoke – or a single slash of the cutlass – we can consign these linguistic fossils to the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the conjugation table below for English versus Pirate English (PE):

Table of "to be" phrases

By replacing am/are/is with the single word be, we’ve both made the lexicon smaller and helped everyone learning the English language by removing all the complexities surrounding which form of to to use with which pronoun. [1]

For the negative forms, you have two choices – and both of them are equally simple!

1. NOT-insertion: PRON + “be” -> PRON + “not” + “be”

Example: He is drinking -> He not be drinking
You are not helping -> You not be helping

 2. AIN’T insertion: PRON + “be” -> PRON + “aint” + (“be”)

Example: He is leaving -> He ain’t be leaving

The question forms of the AIN’T insertion are also spectacularly easy:

Example: Ain’t we be needing to leave?
I ain’t be hungry now.

You’ll notice that I have marked the word be as optional in the AIN’T insertion rule because I think there are times that a pirate can get away with omitting it altogether – I may have to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies a few more times and take more notes for some “field data.” So if Captain Jack Sparrow were to say, “You ain’t stealing my ship, ye scury knave,” that’d be perfectly OK.

Pirate ship aflame

“No more Disney cruises for me!”

Another construction popular with pirates is the future. English, as we know, doesn’t actually have a future tense as such but marks future events by using the verb will, the phrase “be going to,” or conditional verbs (shall, could, would, might etc.) But in Pirate English, it’s standard to use the contacted form of will, as in “You’ll be wanting to come aboard, will ye?” or “Ah, he’ll be swabbing the deck now.”

Note that the general form is as follows:

PRON + ‘ll + “be” + VERB+ing

The negative simply requires the insertion of not before the be; “You’ll not be coming aboard” or “We’ll not be dropping anchor here, me hearties.”

These basic syntactic forms – and there be others [2] – can be augmented by learning a simple phonological rules:

Final /ŋ/ -> /n/: Velar fronting

OK, so this can happen in other forms of English but it appears to be particularly marked in PE. The sentence “He’ll be drowning” would be pronounced;

/ˌhil bɪ ˈdɹɑʊnɪn/

Or “They’ll be swimming with the sharks” would be /ˌðeɪl bɪ ˈswɪmɪn wɪ ðə ˈʃaɹks/, which is typically written in pirate literature as “They’ll be swimmin’ wi’ the sharks.” Notice how “with” also undergoes a final consonant deletion to /wɪ/.

But enough of the theory; how about some mindless practice 😉 For all of us with a Facebook account, here’s how to change your Facebook page to use Pirate English:

1. Click on the drop-down arrow at the top right of your page next to Home and find “Account Settings.”
Facebook Account Settings

2. Click on the Edit button for the Language settings.
Facebook Language Settings

3. From the drop-down button select English (Pirate).
Facebook language English (Pirate)

4. Choose the Save Changes  button.
Facebook Save Changes

Ye now be sailin’ as a pirate!

There are some “useful” resources to help you become more linguistically proficient on Talk Like a Pirate Day, and here’s a selection.

(a) Post Like a Pirate
Lets you type in text and have it coverted to Pirate English. Not 100% accurate but a good start!

(b) Website PE Converter
Turn any website into its Pirate English equivalent. Funny stuff indeed!

(c) The Five A’s of Piratese
Th’ Pirate Guys offer a video on Piratese.

(d) A Pirate Dictionary
What it says… a list of piratey words.

(e) Teaching With Pirates
UK resources for pirate-based teaching activities.

[1] This phenomenon is the basis for “The Case for Ain’t” or “Why Using ‘Ain’t’ Ain’t So Bad.” When someone use ain’t instead of “am not,” “are not,” or “is not,” they are not being lazy but efficient! Just as using be instead of am/are/is simplifies the system, so does using ain’t. This view ain’t going to score me any points with the grammatical prescriptivists but that doesn’t stop my point from being accurate.

[2] One obvious example is that the first person singular possessive determiner, my, and the first person singular object pronoun, me, become one morphological form, /mɪ/. That’s apparent in sentences such as, “Avast ye, me hearties” or “Pass me me grog.” In the case of “you” becoming “ye” (/ji/) that’s just a phonetic change of the /u/ sound to an /i/.


2 responses to “Talk Like a Pirate and Be More Efficient

  1. This be great! I’ll be talkin like a pirate come Wednesday!

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