Weird History

The Actual Reasons Why Pirates Have That Distinct ‘Pirate’ Accent

The seafaring criminals known as pirates have existed for thousands of years. But because of the portrayals found in literature - or seen in films, TV shows, or on stage - much of what the general public thinks about pirates is likely historically inaccurate

Take for instance the pirate accent. Many believe the origin of the stereotypical pirate language is Robert Newton's portrayal of the fictional pirate Long John Silver in the 1950 film Treasure Island. Since both Robert Louis Stevenson's character and Newton himself were from the West Country region of England, the actor decided it would make sense to use an exaggerated version of his natural accent in his portrayal. And in the 70-plus years since then, a variation of Newton's accent has been used in many portrayals of pirates.

But while there were real-life pirates who came from England's West Country, there were also ones who came from other parts of the world, including non-English-speaking nations. Not to mention they didn't all come from the same societal class, nor did they all have the same level of education. So it's likely real-life pirates' accents and way of speaking was far broader in scope than the portrayals in literature and the performing arts tend to suggest.