Hawaiian-style predicate inversion, Yoda uses

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David Adger of Queen Mary University of London is using the new Star Wars movie as an opportunity to delve into the linguistics of Yoda-speak. He surmises that Yoda's native language involves predicate inversion a la Hawaiian, and that this Yodish syntactic pattern is then transferred into his second language, English. (Or is that Galactic Basic Standard?)

(More from QMUL's press release here.)

In a flurry of posts back in 2005, Language Loggers looked into Yoda's syntactic peculiarities, and it's a bit more complex than just predicate inversion — his Star Wars dialogue uses various kinds of inversions, inconsistently applied. See:

"Yoda's syntax the Tribune analyzes; supply more details I will!" (GP, 5/18/05)
"Syntax is a disturbance in the there" (ML, 5/19/05)
"Speak this way I do because wiser than I actually am I sound" (EB, 5/18/05)
"Unclear of Yoda's syntax the principles are, if any" (ML, 5/20/05)
"Yoda is Luce reborn" (ML, 5/26/05)
Mix master" (ML, 6/11/05)
"Not over it is" (ML, 6/23/05)
"Never thought the day would he see" (GP, 8/7/05)

Adrienne LaFrance drew on some of these posts for her Atlantic piece, "An Unusual Way of Speaking, Yoda Has" (12/18/15). And for more on the xenolinguistics of the Star Wars universe, see my post, "The Finn-donesian of 'The Force Awakens'" (1/15/16).

Update: More from David Adger via Twitter.


  1. Joseph F Foster said,

    December 21, 2017 @ 9:45 am

    The first Star Wars movie I saw was "V", i.e. the 2nd one, The Empire Strikes Back — or was that "Strikes back the Empire does,"?

    That was the one in which Yoda is introduced, on the swampy planet. When I had heard him speak his first 2 or 3 sentences, I said in a not very sotto voce

    Cymro ydy fo!
    Welshman is he

    or in Anglo-Welsh
    'A Welshman he is!'

    Hawai'ian is a VSO language, but our colleagues in Queen Mary's U might want to look to their VSO neighbor Welsh, and the Anglo-Welsh dialect of English, closer to home.

  2. Y said,

    December 21, 2017 @ 6:32 pm

    "Predicate inversion a la Hawaiian": as far as I can tell, he only picked Hawaiian as a well-known example of a VSO language, nothing more. The V initial position in Hawaiian is normal, not due to some inversion process.

  3. Will Thomas said,

    December 22, 2017 @ 7:26 am

    "Throw Mother from the train a kiss." ?

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