how to talk like a pirate

jolly_roger.jpgWell, it’s finally arrrived. Today, September 19th, is Talk Like a Pirate Day. You’ve gotten yourself a pirate name, and brushed up on your pirate job skills. But are you still unclear on how best to talk like a pirate? Have no fearrrr.

There arrre many avenues to explore in learrrning how to talk like a pirate. An important resource is the “how to” page of the official Talk Like a Pirate Day website. There you can learrrn the basics (the 5 “A”s), more advanced pirate terminology (don’t confuse your hornpipe with your bunghole), and even advance all the way up to pick-up lines like this one:

How’d you like to scrape the barnacles off of me rudder?

In case you don’t have time for such intensive language study, you may find one of several translators handy, like this one or this other one. This one acts as more of a phrase book, and allows you to produce such eloquent discourses as this:

Ahoy, me proud beauty! Be that th’ market? I’ve a fierce fire in m belly t’ have a bit of a lie-down’

Of course, it’s also important to work on your arrr, long considered to be one of the hallmarrrks of pirate speech. (If you’d like to learn the history of this phenomenon, The Language Log discussed this a couple of yearrrs ago.)

Here’s what you do to say “arr”:

  1. Step one: Say “ah”. (Your vowel may vary by dialect; [ɒ], [a] and [ɑ] are probably all legitimate.) You’ll probably want to put in a glottal stop at the start [ʔ].
  2. Step two: Quickly lower your third formant to produce the [ɹ] sound. This can be accomplished by curling the tongue back (retroflex “r”) or by bunching your tongue up (bunched-tongue “r”)

Now, if you want to say “arrr” like a pirate, the instructions above are just a starting point. To produce the piratical “arrr” tha we’ve come to expect. (Cf. Geoffrey Rush saying “arrr” in Pirates of the Caribbean), you really need to growl it. And for me, at least, this seems to possibly involve some pharyngeal frication, and possibly also some additional voice quality modifications. I’m not sure what I’m doing (not really just creakiness or breathiness), but it sure as hell isn’t modal phonation. A really effective arrr will also be quite loud: push the air strongly through those vocal folds, dammit. On top of all of this, you’ve got to really drag it out, especially the [ɹ] part. (Keep that 3rd formant down.) Arrrrr!!!!!

In an experimental study, subjects (N=2) produced both “normal” and piratical arrrs. Piratical arrrs were between 2 and 3 times the duration of “normal” arrrrs. See figures 1 and 2, below.

Figure 1: Arrrr! vs. ar, speaker A (male)

Figure 2: Arrrr! vs. ar, speaker B (female)

And in case you don’t have occasion to speak out loud today, you might try some pirate-style typing.


10 thoughts on “how to talk like a pirate

  1. k-
    Yeah, Jolie! Or, Yarrr!

    It is funny isn’t it? But I can’t take credit for it.

    Yo ho ho.

    Aye, but yer piratey post had parrots, and that be a good thing.

    I’ve seen th’ image many a place, so I nabbed it. (I linked up to the place I’d seen mentioned as the originator, but I’m not sure if this indeed be th’ case.)

  2. Th’ keyboard be missin’ th’ A … cannot aarrr without it.

    Mind, I’ve been busy keepin’ the crew here in line. Gotta keep tellin’ the felines that there be dogfish off the port bow-wow, lest they incline to recline.


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