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Real pirates did NOT speak corny English

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

"Talk Like a Pirate Day" was so popular this year that its effects still linger. Kids dressed and talked like pirates for Halloween last month, and some American women have begun dressing like pirates. Perhaps 2007 will be Like a Pirate Year.

An interesting article by Leanne Delap in the Toronto (Canada) Globe and Mail reported:

Who doesn't want to look like Johnny Depp kitted out as Jack Sparrow modelled on Keith Richards? Come to think of it, who doesn't want to be Keith Richards, staggering around looking cool and sexily dissipated? But if you haven't already gone treasure hunting, it may be too late to find an eye patch for tonight's costume party...

"It's definitely all Johnny Depp's fault," says Alexis Hoyt, public-relations director for Seattle-based Value Village. The North American thrift megachain is positioning itself as Halloween central, prominently displaying the costume offerings, both used and new, at the front of their stores.

"It was expected, but the rush is big in stores this season. There are going to be a lot of sassy pirates, of both sexes, making the scene."

As for talking like pirates, very few real-life pirates spoke in those comical accents adopted by today's pseudo buccaneers. British actor Robert Newton (1905-1956) delivered his lines with his native Cornish accent and great gusto when playing Long John Silver in the 1950 classic film "Treasure Island", and his fruity voice has been copied around the world ever since.

Most British-born pirates would have spoken in Cockney or other regional dialects, while other buccaneers (some preferred to be called adventurers or freebooters) spoke in Spanish, Dutch, German, Chinese and perhaps Yiddish.

The most successful pirate of all time was a woman who spoke one of China's many dialects. The official Talk Like a Pirate website says that Ching Yih Saoa widow of dreaded Chinese pirate Ching Yih and a former prostitute, commanded a fleet of more than 100 junks divided into five independent squadrons, plundering at will.

In the New World, Moses Cohen Henriques and Admiral Piet Hein boarded Spanish ships off the Cuban coast and seized shipments of gold and silver worth in today's dollars about the same as Disney's total box office for "Dead Man's Chest," says an article in The Jewish Journal, which adds:

In the book "Jews on the Frontier" (Rachelle Simon, 1991) Rabbi Harold Sharfman records the tale of Sephardic Jewish pirate Jean Lafitte, whose Conversos grandmother and mother and another fled Spain to France in 1765, after his maternal grandfather was put to death by the Inquisition for "Judaizing."

Referred to as The Corsair, Lafitte went on to establish a pirate kingdom in the swamps of New Orleans, and led more than 1,000 men during the war of 1812. After being run out of New Orleans in 1817, Lafitte re-established his kingdom on the island of Galveston, Texas, which was known as Campeche. During Mexico's fight for independence revolutionaries encouraged Lafitte to attack Spanish ships and keep the booty.

Pirates of the 21st century speak in a variety of Asian and African languages. Last year they attacked more than 250 ships. Some used ship-tracking systems and were armed with machineguns. An international agreement signed by southeast Asian governments came into force a few weeks ago.

FOOTNOTE. Tori ("Mad Sally") Baur, the multi-talented wife of John Baur, co-founder of Talk Like a Pirate Day, has written a delightful account of her family's freewheeling lifestyle. She describes in hilarious terms the filming of an episode of the TV series Wife Swap in which she and John appeared on the eve of Talk Like a Pirate Day. You can read it by clicking HERE.


* The citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational (South Korea) has published an edited version of this story, together with a podcast by one of its editors, Claire George, a British journalist living in Seoul.

Story first posted December 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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