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Why Sounds Yoda so Archaic?

October 22, 2015

Says Yoda things like: “Powerful have you become; the dark side I sense in you.” Sounds it like speaks he an old dialect of English. Yet uses not Yoda “thou hast” or “erstwhile” or “thee” — or any other word or phrase found no longer in English. Old English does not speak Yoda, nor even Middle English. Speaks Yoda Modern English, except that one rule he breaks. Alters Yoda noun-verb order. That same one rule this post breaks too (more consistently than Yoda).

imageslike.com-medium-640-graphic-yodaA firm rule has modern English: comes first the subject noun, then the verb, then the object noun. (“SVO” linguists call this pattern, for “subject-verb-object.”) So, say we: “Edgar walked to town.” If said we, “Walked Edgar to town” (VSO) or, “To town walked Edgar” (OSV), grammatically wrong would we be — though understand us would almost any English-speaker. In fact, easier to understand is this post — and Yoda — than Shakespeare, though in Modern English wrote the Bard (an early version).

Require many languages a particular noun-verb order, though not the same as English necessarily. More flexible about nouns and verbs are some languages, however, like German and Dutch — as well as their long-dead aunt, Old English. In Old English could speakers choose their noun-verb order. Unusually flexible was it. Lost was that choice in most cases, in the 11th Century starting. The reason that is why sounds Yoda so archaic. Sounds he like a speaker of Old English, though never uses he old vocabulary.

Actually, a little of its old flexibility retains English, even today. Choose can we still between, “Get up!, Mom yelled,” and, “Get up!, yelled Mom.” Also, say we still, “What do you think?” though could we instead say, “You think what?” Not far then from Yoda are we — or from those who to our language gave birth.

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Photo from Flickr.

© 2015 by David W. Tollen. Reserved are all rights.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin J. Mills permalink
    November 27, 2015 12:21 am

    Sorry, old chap, I think there’s something wrong here. Check out some Yoda quotes online; I don’t think he would say, as you characterize: “Speaks Yoda Modern English” in a declarative sentence. Rather, he might do this: “Modern English Yoda speaks”.

    Tolkien did it a lot, and I suspect he may have been an influence: “Back swept the great birds that were with him, and down they came like huge black shadows.”

    If I may post a link, there’s a good post here (I’m not affiliated): quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/yoda-grammar

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