Center for Strategic Communication

Indonesian Navy commandos detain mock pirates during a 2001 exercise in the Malacca Straits. Photo: AP/Ed Wray

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is here again for its 10th anniversary. Which means the old gags — shivering your timbers, calling out to your maties, mispronouncing “Sarsgaard” — are getting kind of stale, especially when there are real-life pirates roaming the high seas. If you really want to rap like a modern-day Captain Jack, it means learning a few choices phrases in a new language – one spoken by the gents hijacking ships right now.

Last year Danger Room’s hard-hitting ITLAPD coverage brought you linguistic quick guides to Somali and Yemeni Arabic. But since then pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa have dropped significantly, especially over this past summer. Some credit may be to the weather, since it turns out that rough seas during monsoon season restrict the ability of Somali pirates to operate. Some credit may also be to the combined efforts of various anti-piracy forces, including those of the United States and the EU, which have stepped up attacks against pirates in the past year. And some credit may be to increased security measures on ships that are passing through the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa — a trend which continues results reported in 2011. But whatever the reasons, the facts are that attacks are down, and so you may be starting to wonder if all the that time you’ve spent in the last year learning pirate phrases in Somali was worth it. You may even be wondering if it’s worth it to talk like a pirate at all.

Well matorka demee, sailor! Just because piracy is down around Somalia doesn’t mean the high seas are safe for mariners the world over. While the drop in Somali piracy has reduced the rate of piracy globally, piracy remains high in the number-two region for pirate activity in the world: Southeast Asia and the Indian sub-continent. And the number-one area for pirate activity in the region remains Indonesia. In the first half of 2012 there were 32 attacks in Indonesia, one in the Malacca Straits, and four in Malaysia — compared to 21, zero and 11 for all of 2011. If piracy continues at the same rate for the rest of 2012 we can expect a record year for piracy in the region, continuing a trend that started at an all time low mark for piracy in the region in 2009.

So it’s time to learn a little pirate Indonesian, me hearties.

But Indonesia has over 700 languages, so where should you start? Well the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Language Institute focuses on three: Bahasa Indonesian, Javanese, and Malay. Bahasa Indonesian, a language similar to Malay, is the official language of Indonesia, spoken by nearly 50 percent of the population, and the primary language of a little more than 10 percemt of the population. Javanese the second most widely used language, is spoken by approximately 40 percent of the population. Finally, Malay, which has at least 14 dialects and nearly 40 million speakers throughout the region, is the official language of Malaysia and is also widely spoken in Sumatra, the largest of Indonesia’s northern islands which lies across the pirate prone Straits of Malacca.

But enough of the ethnography lessons: Let’s start talking like an Indonesian pirate! Berhenti atau saya akan tembak!