Pirate Accents
June 29, 2004 8:13 PM   Subscribe

You know the stereotypical pirate and/or salty sailor accent? What is that? Where does it come from? It sounds like it must be some kind of bastardised English accent, but it's fairly distinctive. Or is it something created and perpetuated by film and television?
posted by picea to Society & Culture (9 answers total)
Arr me hearties, keelhaul the mizzenmast and set course for the stormy seas o' 2003, when the whole Blue sea echoed with tales o' Robert Newton, the scurvy dog what invented the dialect. Arr.
posted by arto at 10:47 PM on June 29, 2004

Could be a debased Cornish, thanks to the Pirates of Penzance. Just a hunch.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:17 PM on June 29, 2004

International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Plenty of links here but, at first glance anyway, no answer to your question. Sorry.
posted by suleikacasilda at 1:45 AM on June 30, 2004

The story I always heard was that the actor who originally played some pirate some time in the past, between the thirties and the fifties, was from some area in England where the accent was pretty much preserved from the Elizabethan era (hence the pronounced "r"). He made it a little more theatrical, and it became the standard.

Is this the Robert Newton that they speak of?
posted by annathea at 5:20 AM on June 30, 2004

I happen to be reading Moby Dick right now, and captain ahab commonly says things along the lines of "avast, ye scurvy dogs!" His accent is specified to be new england Quaker (this is early/mid 1800's, of course, so what that means may be unclear) and the fact that he uses "ye" and "thee" in everyday conversation is directly addressed early in the book.

I don't know if that influenced Newton, or the whole thing is a mish-mash of multiple sources, but reading the dialogue in the book, I couldn't help thinking of modern sailor stereotypes, like captain mccallister.
posted by mdn at 6:29 AM on June 30, 2004

Well, Newton was the classic Blackbeard the Pirate. He certainly spoke in that exact stereotypical pirate voice. Blackbeard seems to be the pirate archetype...
posted by Shane at 7:04 AM on June 30, 2004

The really hard R (arrr!) sounds like a West Country accent, from the southwest. The same speech habits carried over into the inland Southern accent of the U.S., from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky on into Texas and the west. Think Loretta Lynn, Brett Butler, Chuck Yeager, Bill Clinton. This is different from the Southern accent of the deep South which weakens or drops final R--think Jimmy Carter or Scarlett O'Hara--which may have been based on real or perceived notions of British upper-class speech.

U.S. residents who'd like to hear the same variances in speech in one place can look for old episodes of the Britcom "To the Manor Born". Actors who play household staff, farmhands, etc. have rich, thick West Country accents with that piratey arrrr!, while Penelope Keith's upper-class character doesn't.
posted by gimonca at 8:23 AM on June 30, 2004

My friend living in Bristol, England says that the more bumpkinesque people around there talk like pirates.
posted by cardboard at 10:36 AM on June 30, 2004

Response by poster: Much food for thought here. Thanks, all!
posted by picea at 4:23 PM on June 30, 2004

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