Heave to, ye scurvy swab
Aye, today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey. And if it be not to yer liking, I’ll cut out yer liver and roast it on a green stick, I will, I will, arrrrrrrrrrr.
The day has received repeated attention from the professionals at Language Log, who ferreted out in 2005 that the rrrr-ness convention of contemporary imitations of pirate speech derives from Robert Newton’s performance in the 1950 movie version of Treasure Island, and may well have its roots in the heavily rhotic* pronunciations of Britain’s southwest coast. Now you know.
In a Language Log post on Sept. 14, Bill Poser commented on interpretations of a speech by Gov. Sarah Palin, pointing out that The Washington Post had misinterpreted the governor’s remarks but that a defense of the governor by Bill Kristol was equally unhelpful to the candidate. Professor Poser was immediately attacked for having “politicized” the academic site. One recent comment, from a non-linguist, goes so far as to say that “political speech is deliberately designed to obfuscate and bamboozle. Parsing it is fruitless.”
Naif and mere journalist that I am, I had imagined that political discourse might be as worthy a subject of linguistic analysis as, say, faux pirate dialect.
* Rhotic is the adjective derived from rhotacism, the term linguists use for excessive or distinctive pronunciation of the letter r. (The word derives from the Greek letter rho.) American English is more rhotic than standard British English, probably because the colonies were settled by Englishmen from regions with more strongly rhotic dialects.