Posted on: 14 Sep 2011
Written by: malcolm
With international Talk Like a Pirate Day (19th September) nearly upon us for its 17th year, you might think it incumbent upon us to make some jokes about downloading pirate software on our Aye-Pads or why pirates let nose-pickers off the hook.
However, I won’t be going there.
In the British sketch show “The Million Pound Radio Show”, there was a Pirates sketch in which a pirate captain, faced by a mutinous crew demanding a training day to improve communications skills and other aspects of their working conditions, asserts that “Ever since pirates …begins, pirates only speaks in the present tense does pirates” and promptly executes a mutineer for using the conditional phrase: “He wouldn’t dare!”.
For those of us who speak English or other Romance or Germanic languages, the concept of talking without past tenses, future tenses or the conditional is quite hard to comprehend.
Sure we can cope for short periods and specific contexts, but for anything more complex … In this blog I have already used (and am using in this sentence) the past tense (twice), the future tense (once) and a subjunctive mood.
A number of languages, however, do not use variable tense forms but have one verb form which is modified by another part of the phrase to express the time aspect of the verb. Such languages include Chinese, in which you might say “I eat my breakfast five hours ago” (我5个小时之前吃的早饭。)or “I eat my breakfast in three hours from now”.（我3个小时之后吃早饭。）
You could (conditional) even argue that English has no future tense as the English future is expressed by word combinations (“going to run”, “shall run”, “will run”, “about to run”, etc.) rather than verb endings. More detail on this can be found on the University of Pennsylvania’s website at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005471.html.
Similarly, the conditional form in English is made up of the past tense form of “shall”, “will” or “can” in combination with the basic form of the verb.
So, to talk like a pirate in English, we simply have to remove the past tenses.
Ever since language begins, languages exist (probably) that only speak in the present tense.