Yoda using normal speech patterns is mildly confusing

Originally published at: Yoda using normal speech patterns is mildly confusing | Boing Boing

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(The fifth movie in the franchise)

And why were the episodes numbered 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3? In charge of the sequence, Yoda was.


Yoda speaking in stanard English word order freaks you out because suddenly it’s Grover.


I thought Yoda simply spoke (more or less) like a stereotypical old Jew. (In older entertainment, I mean. I think this trope has mostly died out.)


My grandmother sounded like him.


Yep. Screwing with intonation contours is at least as bad a screwing with word order from a information perspective.

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That’s the other guy.



I remember noticing this in college. I was taking Latin, and the verb often came at the end of the sentence. I assumed that was where they came up with it.


I always thought they were “mimicking” Japanese sentence structure, given Yoda is Mr. Miyagi… in space!


It’s always been Grover. (As I’m sure you know)


Latin is regular Subject-object-verb word order by default - the most common word order cross linguistically. Yoda speaks object-subject-verb typically (or at least that is the theory which people postulate; he isn’t consistent) which is extremely rare as a default word order in world languages. Language Log: Yoda's syntax the <I>Tribune</I> analyzes; supply more details I will!
WALS Online - Chapter Order of Subject, Object and Verb

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Which is why I say that I had previously supposed Latin was the inspiration, but presently understand that is not the case. (I read the article.)

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That’s what marks it as artificial, rather than a realistically organic pattern of speech; to make Yoda phrases you have to construct a complete sentence and then rearrange it. A real language would be unlikely to work that way, because why would you bother with the rearrangement after you had necessarily formed a coherent sentence.

Saying “this clone war has begun” is no harder or easier than “begun has this clone war”. Either way, you’re summoning the words as you speak. But if you say “begun, this clone war has”, you’re making the verb at the beginning of the sentence agree with the participle at the end, meaning you have to construct the whole sentence before you can start talking.

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Obviously not a believer in Chomskyan generative linguistics.

In the original films, Yoda spoke normal English literally the majority of the time. Or he spoke like a Kung Fu wise man with slightly irregular or anachronistic English (“size matters not”). Almost all of the original “Yoda Speak” comes from when the character is pretending to be a crazy old cook to annoy Luke in his original introduction. When he drops the facade, Yoda shows the ability to speak with normal English syntax: “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.” Yoda doesn’t start to use “Yoda speak” for the majority of his dialog until the Prequels.

And this is good, because as the Prequels prove, you get forced into torturous lines of dialog like “For the Clones, to discover the re-calibration, a long time it will take!” when he has to speak that way all the time.


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