How to talk like Yoda
NOTE: I am not the original author of this paper. The original page is no longer up. This is difficult to follow.
by Unknown Author
This was a paper I wrote for my Linguistics II class. It’s not meant to be taken as the textbook for speaking like Yoda. It’s also based only on my rudimentary skills as a linguistic analysis. None of the following is taken from anything written by Lucas except for the direct quotations from the movies.
Several light years from Earth, the swamp planet of Dagobah is the home of Yoda. This two-foot tall reptilian and his home are the creations of George Lucas. Yoda speaks English words but demonstrates his own unique grammar structure.
Yoda’s grammar depends on the intent of the sentence and while he follows his grammar for the most part, his operator, or script writer does make a few errors but for the purposes of this study, this collective shall be referred to only as ‘Yoda.” On the whole, Yoda follows a fairly standard structure. His particular grammar shall henceforth be referred to as “Yodish”. As with any grammar structure, there are exceptions to the rules. It is my intent to elaborate on the rules of grammar in the phrases issued forth from the mouth of Yoda. I will be discussing the types of sentences involved in his speech, the phrase structure and the exceptions to his rules. For the sake of brevity, I will reduce the parts of speech to abbreviations: ‘S’ for subject, ‘V’ for verb, ‘depV’ for dependent verbs, ‘Adj’ for adjective, ‘Adv’ for adverb, ‘con’ for conjunction, ‘pp’ for preposition, ‘DO’ for direct object, ‘IO’ for indirect object, ‘O’ for objects as a whole, ‘ObP’ for object of a preposition, ‘PM’ for predicate modifier which I will use to refer to either a predicate nominative or predicate adjective, ‘I’ for interrogative terms, ‘poss’ for possessive, ‘neg’ for negation of a verb and in the case where a phrase may be used to substitute for a part of speech, I will identify the part of speech preceded by a p, for example, ‘pDO’ for a phrase acting as a direct object.
Yoda uses four basic sentence types: imperative, interrogative and declarative and I will consider the fourth structure to be that of the standard English vernacular structure (hereafter SEV) which are often, but not always exceptions to the structure of Yodish.
I will discuss the fourth sentence type first, SEV structures in the Star Wars Trilogy Yoda scenes. SEV sentences are used by Yoda when it is especially important that the non-Yodish speaker understand him. A large group of samples exist and most, if not all of them could be translated into Yodish. Many of these are in response to a question put forth by Luke Skywalker, a non-Yodish speaker, and therefore the response is in SEV. Aside from this consideration, there seems to be no rhyme or reason regarding why these particular sentences are spoken as SEV rather than Yodish aside from the importance of their content to plot. It seems that the ignorance of the character of Luke as well as the ignorance of the audience was taken into special consideration when scripting these particular sentences. In this reasearchers method, these samples have been disregarded.
Declarative sentences are the most common of sentences in any language. This is no less true in Yodish than in SEV. Yodish makes use of the same parts of speech as in SEV and makes use of the same phrase structures, including prepositional phrases, relative clauses which are used in place of various parts of speech, dependent phrases and independent phrases. Yodish involves simple sentences, complex sentences, compound sentences and complex-compound sentences of varying degrees of complexity.
One point of interest regarding Yodish is that speakers are capable of creating a sentence without benefit of subject, without benefit of verb or without benefit of both the former and the latter. The majority of such sentences have either a subject or a verb with modifiers. One of the subject-only sentences is: “Great warrior” (Adj + S) and the absence of parts pattern continues with a verb-only structure: “Cannot get your ship out” (depVneg+V+poss+DO+Adv). He makes things more complex when he creates sentences without benefit of subject or verb as in the example: “Much anger in him like his father” (Adj+PM+Pp+ObP+con+poss+O?). Another example of this structure is seen in “Only different in your mind” (Adv+Adj+pp+poss+ObP) which, in SEV would be: “It is only different in your mind” in which the phrase as a whole would act as a predicate modifier. The majority of these structures, in SEV would behave as predicate modifiers and would be in the position of predicate modifiers. Also, it is of some importance to note that much of Yodaish is punctuated by random ‘yeses’ and ‘hmmmms’ and ‘awwws’. This is simply a mode of punctuation and appears to serve no conclusive purpose.
One of the more simple sentences provided in the samples of Yodish is a simple sentence which contains a direct object. In many cases, the direct object begins the simple phrase and is then repeated in the position of a normal SEV object, within the verb phrase. One sample, taken from Yoda is, “Yoda, you seek Yoda” and “Rest, I need rest” both of which follow the (DO+S+V+DO (repeated) pattern. However, while this is appropriate when this is the extent of the complexity as when we say in SEV, “I want the dog” or “Suzy bought a necklace” without modifiers, it does not continue in the same pattern if we add modifiers to the verb, either by adding an adverb or a dependent verb. The aforementioned sentences would be rephrased in Yodish as “the dog, I want the dog” or “A necklace, Suzy bought a necklace” If we add modifiers, as in the case of “Friends you have there” which adds ‘there’ as an adverb (DO+S+V+Adv), then another structure is applied which will be discussed later. We will find, however, tha the placement of the adverb, is in error. If we add a dependent verb to the verb as in the case of “Found someone you have…” by adding ‘have’ as the dependent verb, we get (V+DO+S+depV) which follows the structure described next.
Another of the more simple structures in Yodish is one which contains a verb and dependent verb. In such cases, the two are separated by other parts of speech involved. In Yodish, this structure exists in several samples, even as independent clauses in nonsimple sentences. In Return of the Jedi, Yoda says, “…suffer your father’s fate you will” (V+poss+poss+DO+S+depV). In Empire Strikes Back, he states, “Consume you it will…” (V+DO+S+depV) as well as “Take you to him I will” (V+DO+pp+ObP+S+ depV). After examining several examples like this which are consistent with this pattern, it may be determined that this is the normal structure and not an exception. Thus, the standard pattern where dependent and regular verbs are used, they are separated by objects, subjects and adjectives describing the objects and subjects. Prepositional phrases may follow after the second of the two verbs or enter into the sentence after the first of the verbs in an appropriate placement according to the part of speech which they modify as they would in SEV. This independent clause should usually end with the subject and dependent verb as long as the active verb is placed before the subject. Applying these rules, created sentences might be: “Buy the dog John will for Sue,” or “Help you I would if I could” However, when applied in conjunction with use of a predicate modifier of the subject, the separation of dependent and primary verbs rule remains intact but slightly reversed. A predicate modifier will always precede the remainder of the structure with the exception of the presence of an adverb and be placed at the front of an independent clause as in the case of “… then a Jedi will you be” (Adv+PM+depV+sub+ state of beingV) In application, this means that the rule of V+O+S+depV reverses the roles of dependent verb and main verb. We see more examples of these structures from Yoda himself, but in application of these rules, we can create sentences such as: “A teacher will I be” (PM+depV+S+V) or “Soon parents will Sharon and Eric be” (Adv+PM+depV+S+V).
At times, however, the predicate modifier will not require dependent verbs at all and only the state-of-being verb, (hereafter “beingV”) is required. For this case, a new rule is required. In Yodish, I reiterate, the modifier must precede the subject and the state-of-being verb which may or may not be reversed. So, we hear such clauses from Yoda as: “Strong you are…” (PM+S+ beingV) as well as “…reckless is he” (PM+beingV+ S). A prepositional phrase which would modify the predicate modifier when the modifier is an adjective will follow after the state of being verb as with: “Strong you are in what you have learned” (PM+S+ beingV+pAdj). If we have a predicate modifier which is a predicate nominative and it in turn is modified by an adjective, whether an adjective alone or a phrase acting as an adjective, the adjective follows directly behind the nominative as in the sentence: “A domain of evil it is” (PM-nominative+pAdj+S+beingV). In creative application of these predicate modifier rules we may see sentences such as: “Your sister is she” or “Blue is the house.” It is of interest to note that when there are multiple predicate modifiers, the series is separated. Only one modifier is placed at the beginning of the clause and the multiples are placed after the S/V structure. In these cases we see structures such as “Sick have I become, old and weak” (PM+depV+S+beingV+PMseries) or “Unexpected this is, and unfortunate” (PM+S+beingV+remainder of PMseries).
This brings me to the issue of the adverb or adverbial phrase. Adverbs begin clauses in which they are used as in the sample phrases: “When gone am I…” (Adv+PM+V+S) or “…a long time have I watched” (pAdv+depV+S+V). These structures follow the previously established rules of verb seperation and predicate modifier placement (depV+S+V) and (PM+beingV+S). So it follows that in the case of requirement of an adverb, the adverb begins any clause structure and all other pertinent rules apply.
Now we come to the problem of ‘do’ in connection with the negation of the verb. In negative cases, the predicate modifier rules as well as the lone-verb placement rules become obsolete. The subject begins the clause and the verb follows then objects and their modifiers follow the verb. In cases which in SEV would be S+’do’+neg+V the structure becomes S+V+neg without benefit of ‘do’. ‘Do’ is not required. The verb is negated by the placement of ‘not’ following the verb. Several samples of this structure exist. We hear from Yoda: “Wars make not one great” (S+V+neg+DO+Adj) and “A Jedi craves not these things” (S+V+neg+pDO).
Negation is also involved in the two final issues of Yodish declarative structures. Yoda makes a number of statements in which he negates his entire preceding independent clause. We have as samples, “I will help you not” and “Size matters not”. Aside from the fact that the structures, aside from the placement of ‘not’, are either pattern errors or representative of structures of which there is too little data to discuss, the ‘not’ seems to negate the entire preceding statement as the ‘not’ does when placed at the end of an SEV valley-slang standard negation phrase. This holds true in the clause, “look as good you will not” (V(non ‘being’)+PM+S+depV+ neg). This follows the previously discussed verb separation rules and a predicate modifier rule which seems to appear when the verb is not a state-of-being verb. Applying rules in such a case we might produce sentences such as “Always a teacher she was not” (Adv+PM+S+ beingV+neg) or “Drive Suzy to the mall I will not” (V+DO+pp+S+depV+ neg) or “Take the dog for a walk Bill will not” (V+DO+pp+S+depV+neg).
Finally, in the way of declaratives, if something does not exist, such as “try” as Yoda says or “snicklefritz” as I say, the statement is created according to the S+V pattern of SEV. However, the verb is simply ‘is’ and it is negated by a ‘no’, meaning ‘it isn’t’. Then the word for that which doesn’t exist follows. As a study sample we may examine “There is no why” (S+V+no+x) said by Yoda. The ‘x’ represents that which does not exist. This is what I call the negative existence pattern.
There are a number of cases in each area where Yoda makes an error in his sentence production. He applies the direct object first placement rule inappropriately for two of the sentences he wishes to create. He says: “My own counsel will I keep …” (pDO+depV+S+V) and “Nothing more will I teach you today” (pDO+depV+S+V+O+ Adv). In order to follow the rules of dependent verb and verb separation by the subject with a direct object and indirect object and the rules of time indicative adverb, these sentences are phrased inappropriately. They ought to be phrased, “Keep my own counsel I will…” (V+pDO+S+depV) and ” Today teach you nothing more I will” (Adv+V+IO+ DO+S+depV). Yoda makes a verb separation error in Empire Strikes Back, saying: “Through the force, things you will see…”. If Yodish rules had been applied correctly, this sentence should have been, “Through the force see things you will” (pAdv+V+DO+S+depV) Yoda also makes errors in his use of predicate modifiers. At one point he uses the SEV S+beingV+PM formation instead of his own PM+S or V+V or S structure. He says, “Now matters are worse” (Adv+S+beingV+ PM) instead of “Now worse are matters” (Adv.+PM+beingV+S) or “Now worse matters are” (Adv+PM+S+beingV), either of which would be acceptable. One particular sentence which Yoda produces violates a number of rules: “Anger, fear, aggression, the dark side of the force easily does flow” However, in this case, an exception may be made. There is no conceivable manner to include the words Yoda chooses and apply all of the given rules regarding predicate modifiers, do, verb separation and adverb placement.
Questions are a smaller class to discuss. The questions of Yodish are divided into five basic areas. The first one I will draw attention to is the simplest to define. As with declarative sentences, in Yodish, only one word is necessary and it doesn’t matter what part of speech it is intended to be. In this case, the word is a verb, “Looking?” voiced with an inquisitive intonation. Several examples can be derived following this pattern: Ugly? You? Going? Here?
Another kind of interrogative is the case in which a question is phrased to ask about the modifying of the subject, in SEV called a predicate nominative or adjective. An interrogative with this intent is phrased in a predicate modifier-state-of-being verb- subject pattern (PM+beingV+S). The questioning is dependent on intonation yet again. “So certain are you?” (PM+beingV+S) and “Ready are you?” (PM+beingV+S) both follow this pattern. There is minimal data to examine so there is room for skepticism, however, I choose to assume that this data, although limited, is representative of the standard formation. So if I am to ask, in Yodish, if something is x, I would follow this pattern. Applying this rule, if I were to ask if Luke is a Jedi, I would say: “A Jedi is Luke?” To ask if Zoe is a master teacher, I would say: “A master teacher is Zoe?” Then, to ask if you are finished with a meal, I would say: “Finished with your meal are you?”
The third form of interrogative includes the technique of beginning a question with an interrogative word such as who, what, where, when, why or how. The basic structure when one of these words is placed at the beginning of the structure is that of Interrogative word-Verb-subject (I+V+S) then followed by a variety of other structures which modify either the subject or the verb. If the question relates to the subject and requires a predicate modifier or an object, this base formation is followed by state-of- being verb – predicate or prepositional phrase/object (I+V+S+depV+ PM/DO), as in the following sentences: “Why wish you become Jedi?”(I+V+S+depV+ PM); “What know you of ready?”(I+V+S+depV+ DO). Again, as with the declarative sentences, ‘do’ as a dependent verb is thrown out and ‘to’ as a verbal indicator is removed. If the sentence is intended to inquire regarding the verb, then an adverb formation is used but inserted between the interrogative word and the verb as with the sentence, “How far Jedi was he?” The adverb retains its same position as in the declarative instances but after the interrogative. Thus, the structure involving an adverb is Interrogative-adverb structure- verb-subject (I+Adv+V+S).
Imperatives are another limited data sample to discuss. Again, limited data is available in this case and therefore room is available for speculation. I shall treat these samples as representative of the rules of Yodish. Again, as with declaratives and interrogatives, there are different cases, in this class two exist. The first is the case of ‘must’. When this variable is introduced to make a normal sentence an imperative this structure becomes identical to its sister structure in SEV. In any case where the word ‘must’ is in order the pattern is S+must+V+object. We find this structure in four samples. Three of the four follow this pattern: “You must complete the training”(S+must+V+O); “You must unlearn what you have learned” (S+must+V+ pO) and “You must feel the force around you”(S+must+V+pO). The next several sentences would exist in Yodish if we apply the rules just outlined. “Leia must find the planet” (S+must+V+O), “Han must rescue Chewbacca” (S+must+V+O) and “He must find his father” (S+must+V+O). In the fourth sample, there is no object but the verb is negated. Unlike the negated sentences in the declarative class, the negative is is placed before the verb as in SEV: S+must+neg+V. This structure is exemplified in the phrase, “You must not go” (S+must+neg+V). In application, this structure may be seen in the following original sentences. “Larry must not eat” (S+must+neg+V), “The boy must not run” (S+must+neg+V) and “You must not sleep” (S+must+neg+V).
Five samples exist of the second class of imperatives, the class in which the ‘you’ is understood. This class is usually a command, a direction to be immediately fulfilled. Four of the five data samples follow the same structure as in the following sentence spoken by Yoda: “Feel the force flow, yes” (V+pDO+Affirmative). Yoda often applies the ‘yes’ term or ‘no’ term in order to indicate approval or disapproval with the execution of the command. This class is altered when an adverb comes into use. When an adverb is required, as in the sentence: “Now the stone, feel it” (Adv+DO+V+restateDO), the adverb begins the sentence and the direct object must be mentioned before the verb and then reiterated. There is still only the understood ‘you’ as the subject. In application, the first set of this class of imperatives are the same as in SEV. Sentences such as “Lift the box” (V+DO) and “Get the dog” (V+DO) are quite possible. The approval statement may be applied in the case of “Pull the cord, yes” (V+DO+affirmative) or “Kick the ball, no” (V+DO+negative approval). In the latter example, the no would indicate disapproval of the manner in which the ball was kicked. The second set, the adverb addition is a bit different from SEV, but not a great deal. We might produce sentences such as “First the girl, kiss her” (Adv+DO+V+restatedDO) or “Quickly the dog, buy it” (Adv+DO+V+restatedDO).
Yodish, the language of Yoda of Star Wars fame is quite similar to that of our standard English. The words he uses are the same as those we use. They are intended to be used for the same purpose or part of speech. His language contains the same phrase structures and if enough applications are made, it is likely that infinite combinations are possible. Yodish is not an arbitrary grammar which simply confuses that of SEV willy-nilly but there is a standard pattern of rules which are applied, though not likely purposefully designed by creator George Lucas. If this were the case, the errors I have mentioned would very likely not exist nor would the fourth class of sentences, that of the SEV structures used for clarity of understanding. There are some exceptions to these rules, but we can apply the rules of Yodish and create an everyday language and therefore, Yodish is a legitimate language, or in the grammar of Yoda, “A legitimate language is Yodish, yes. Hmmm.”
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