Language: Japanese Yoda is?

Ah Yoda, wise you are, but English good at you are not. That little ball of puppet and CGI has always had a peculiar way with words, comprehensible yet distinctly weird – he definitely wasn’t raised in Blighty.

So why does he speak like that? I propose that Yoda is infact Japanese – or at the very least, it makes nice metaphor for the grammar of his mother tongue.

Lazy Old English

Robert ate Apple.

Apple ate Robert.

These sentences have entirely differing meanings. Whilst in both cases Robert is left unhappy, in the second it can be read that Robert is the apple’s dinner. It’s at best ambiguous, quite who ate who is left unclear; we do not know who is the subject, the thing doing the verb, and who is the object, having the verb done to them.

Apple Robert ate.

Even this sentence works! Since the verb follows Robert, we can assume they are more readily connected, and infer Robert is the subject, who has done the eating.

In English, it is more commonly sentence structure that helps us to define the various components of a sentence. In this sense, English is a very lazy language. Since we use structure to inform us of the relativity of a sentence, we use the same structures over and over again, it even extends to metaphors – your brain is ingrained to expect certain patterns, word orders and word combinations.

We’ve all experienced this with non-native speakers. They are the most creative with language, pulling apart our well worn stone slabs of sentence structure to create something completely foreign, understandable (eventually) and yet we say “I wouldn’t say it like that” or “you’d never hear that said”.

Equally, older or academic texts take on a far more rigid lexicon, more strictly adhering to grammar that we no longer follow in everyday spoken word, and thus sounds stiff and unnatural to our ear.

Japanese Yoda

So why is Yoda Japanese? Well Japanese makes use of grammatical structures called particles. There are many! What they do is to help define what the proceeding word is. Practically every word in the sentence is defined as the subject, object, identifier etc. The only rule is that the verb must come at the end of the sentence (or clause if you want to be technical!).

In our Janglish, this would look like;

Robert[subject]     apple[object]     ate.

Apple[object]     Robert[subject]     ate.

Robertは 林檎を たべました。

林檎を Robertは たべました。

What Japanese affords you is the ability to move all the parts of a sentence around, and finish with a verb to tie it all together (if you ever mark Japanese translation, you’ll be forever circling parts of sentences and drawing arrows to rearrange the sentence!).

So Yoda is Japanese because…

If you ever read a Yoda passage, you will see

1) He messes with standard English word order

2) the verb always comes up the end of a clause (Put a full stop after each verb, and each part of the longer sentence can stand alone)

3) Yoda is a Japanese name

4) George Lucas was super into Japanese films when he was making the movies

So does Yoda speak with English syntax in Japanese Star Wars? Verbs at the start or middle of the sentence?

Apparently not, Japanese old man like he speaks – I think they missed a trick there :/

“Always pass on what you have learned.” Yoda once said

Thanks for getting smarter with us today. Happy learning!

This post was originally written for ilearnedsomethingtoday – see what you can learn!

By J.Molkenthin

James Molkenthin is an enthusiastic and energetic British Designer, with a background in Graphics, Website and Product Design.