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October 20, 2011 5:06 AM   Subscribe

Speak like Yoda, did you? May have we. [HuffPo] "New research published in the the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the "proto-human languages" of 50,000 years ago resembled the speaking patterns of a certain wise, green Star Wars character."
posted by Fizz (41 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The verb at the end of the sentence goes.
posted by localroger at 5:14 AM on October 20, 2011


Also, if calculators these early humans had reverse polish notation they would have used.
posted by localroger at 5:16 AM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


I thought Yoda was OSV or OVS - but the abstract says they think the proto-language was SOV.

The news is very interesting, but the Yoda connection seems stretched.
posted by jb at 5:17 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, the lead author is a famous physicist.
posted by killdevil at 5:17 AM on October 20, 2011


The paper's two authors, Murray Gell-Manna (a physicist) and Merritt Ruhlen (a controversial linguist) are part of the rather quixotic Santa Fe Institute and its efforts to trace all human language to a common root. The paper's summary starts with "Recent work in comparative linguistics suggests that all, or almost all, attested human languages may derive from a single earlier language." I think this has to be taken with a grain of salt — they are referring to their own theories, theories that have received little support (and a degree of derision) from the community of linguists.
posted by RichardP at 5:35 AM on October 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


If all human beings descend from a common ancestor, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to theorize that all human languages do as well. The alternative theory fails by Occam if nothing else, since it would require the original humans to be unspeaking until they migrated to various corners.
posted by DU at 5:48 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The verb at the end of the sentence goes.

Waiting for the German verb is the ultimate thrill.

Mark Twain had a joke about a German writer who's house caught on fire. The firemen came to the writer and said, "we have good news and bad news. The good news is we were able to save volume one of your novel, but the bad news is we were not able to save volume two." The writer began to cry. The firemen said, "why are you crying? It wasn't a total loss. You still have volume one." The writer replied, "yes, but volume two had all the verbs."
posted by three blind mice at 5:49 AM on October 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


This may be apocryphal - coming from a source dimly remembered in the pre-internet 80s - but I read that when Yoda's lines were written in regular English, Lucas felt they came off as stilted, and didn't like various attempts to rewrite tem as somehow "alien." So he called over one of the camera operators, who was Hungarian, and asked him to translate Yoda's lines into hungarian and then back again to English word for word. And thus you get "Many years you must learn, if a Jedi you would be" (Sok evet kell tanulni, ha egy Jedi lenned.) Apparently, I am not the only one who heard this.

Also, Eva Gabor spoke to Alfred the Pig in Hungarian on Green Acres.
posted by zaelic at 5:52 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Surprised face, this is my 0:
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:55 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yoda's speech patterns were stereotyped from Japanese, which uses this ordering (though it is a little vague on the subject/object distinction sometimes)
posted by LogicalDash at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2011


Isn't Latin a much more well-known example of a language using the Yoda word-order?

Yoda was pretty much the only thing that got me through Latin. All the sentences still sounded like gibberish after you translated them, until you imagined them being spoken by the tiny green muppet.
posted by schmod at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2011


the "proto-human languages" of 50,000 years ago resembled the speaking patterns of a certain wise, green Star Wars character."

Greedo?
posted by nathancaswell at 6:12 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Calling languagehat. *sob*
posted by benito.strauss at 6:14 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not their fault. I'm sure that if they had more budget, better technology and executive approval the proto-humans would have been much more articulate.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:14 AM on October 20, 2011


part of the rather quixotic Santa Fe Institute and its efforts to trace all human language to a common root

Just to clarify, the Santa Fe Institute may be quixotic, and it may devote some efforts to trace all human language to a common root, but they also do a lot of other (potentially quixotic) things.
posted by Jpfed at 6:14 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Science journalism. Fuck yeah.
posted by Trochanter at 6:36 AM on October 20, 2011


Proto-humans gave like Santa, saved like Scrooge!
posted by Trochanter at 6:38 AM on October 20, 2011


A long time ago in a galaxy...

right around hereabouts, actually.
posted by grubi at 6:45 AM on October 20, 2011


If all human beings descend from a common ancestor, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to theorize that all human languages do as well. The alternative theory fails by Occam if nothing else, since it would require the original humans to be unspeaking until they migrated to various corners.

Oh, I don't disagree. The idea of a common language may well be correct (although the idea that speech may have arisen some time after Mitochondrial Eve is not implausible). I'm the first to admit I'm out my depth here and I'm certainly no linguist, but I believe Ruhlen's theories are not well accepted by his colleagues. Bill Poser of Language Log has this to say:
Ruhlen isn't unpopular with just "some linguists". Rather, his approach to classification is rejected by the great majority of historical linguists. Not only is his method of demonstrating genetic relationship considered unreliable, but serious problems have been found in the data he uses. Moreover, he does not have any technique for classifying languages. In order to classify, it isn't sufficient to be able to show a relationship - you've got to be able to show degrees of relationship - and Ruhlen has never explained how he can do that or offered evidence for his claims.
Just to clarify, the Santa Fe Institute may be quixotic, and it may devote some efforts to trace all human language to a common root, but they also do a lot of other (potentially quixotic) things.

Yes. I didn't mean to imply that the Santa Fe Institute's only area of study was the reconstruction of the earlier stages of human language.
posted by RichardP at 7:04 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That isn't what the paper says.

Yoda is OSV, which isn't mentioned in the abstract as being extremely rare.

The Huffington Post sucks.
posted by empath at 7:44 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(IS mentioned)
posted by empath at 7:44 AM on October 20, 2011


This is an admittedly trivial pet peeve of mine. The Yodistic stereotype is certainly well-attested in the films -- "To Obi-Wan you will listen" and "Stopped they must be" and so forth, but that stereotype is not Yoda's general mode of communication. Rather, Yoda seems a bit indifferent to word order (at least in this way). He sometimes says things in the stereotypical way, and because it's so strange to our ears, it stands out to us, and we therefore get the idea that it's the way he speaks.

But he also says things like "You must complete the training" or "Remember your failure at the cave" or "Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor" or "You will become an agent of evil" or "There is another" or "You must confront Vader" or "Remember, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force" or probably many others.

But those things sound normal to us, and so we don't even notice them, and so "talking like Yoda" comes to mean "talking like Yoda sometimes talks when we notice that he's talking in a different way than we are".

I am convinced that this false impression that this is "how Yoda talks" has set back the cause of intergalactic linguistic science by a generation or more.
posted by Flunkie at 7:51 AM on October 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


I generally assumed that Yoda's native language must be OSV, and he reverts to it when he is concentrating on something more important than either proper English or making sure he is being perfectly understandable in English.
posted by localroger at 7:54 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The real issue with Yoda isn't his word order. It's that he's Grover.
posted by DU at 7:56 AM on October 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah I always got the impression that Yoda's speech was more akin to central Europeans' English. Word order really isn't important (though my experience is limited to Czech) - suffixes take care of that.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:57 AM on October 20, 2011


Murray Gell-Mann was a colleague (and quasi rival) of Richard Feynmann's at Caltech, and they would regularly banter back and forth on a number of topics, including lingustics, which was a hobby of Gell-Mann's
"Richard Feynman, Gell-Mann's chief competitor for the title of the World's Smartest Man but a stranger to pretension, once encountered Gell-Mann in the hall outside their offices at Caltech and asked him where he had been on a recent trip; "Moon-TRAY-ALGH!" Gell-Mann responded in a French accent so thick that he sounded as if he were strangling. Feynman -- who, like Gell-Mann, was born in New York City -- had no idea what he was talking about. "Don't you think," he asked Gell-Mann, when at length he had ascertained that Gell-Mann was saying "Montreal," "that the purpose of language is communication?" (link)
I had no idea that Gell-Mann started doing actual lingustics research
posted by jpdoane at 8:00 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, Gell-Mann essentially proposed the theory of quarks and coined the name "quark"
posted by jpdoane at 8:03 AM on October 20, 2011


Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo...hhmrrrmm.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:07 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall that Welsh is somewhat like this, "Down the mountain, he fell!" Which makes the different word order part of the Welsh accent in English.
posted by generichuman at 8:20 AM on October 20, 2011


Much later understand.
posted by jonmc at 8:23 AM on October 20, 2011


This is not something up with which I will put anymore than I would put up with something of which has been put this way.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:40 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I eagerly await the obnoxious Language Log takedown of that obnoxious Huffington Post article.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The real issue with Yoda isn't his word order. It's that he's Grover.

Green/purple, wrinkly/fuzzy, jedi/monster

I think you are wrong.

Although Yoda might engage in Grover cosplay in the privacy of his own swamp. I wouldn't judge him.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think you may find that the same research methods determined that undiscovered prehistoric giant squids are responsible for puzzling fossil evidence of Whorfianism.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I generally assumed that Yoda's native language must be OSV, and he reverts to it when he is concentrating on something more important than either proper English or making sure he is being perfectly understandable in English.
But this doesn't stand up to scrutiny, either. For example:

"Strong am I in the Force" - OVSO

"Already know you that which you need" - VSO

Not to mention that he frequently splits the verb so that only the auxiliary part is at the end, while the main verb is at the beginning ("Begun the clone war has").

And also not to mention that he often mixes orders while speaking in one breath, from one sentence to the next; it doesn't seem likely to me that he switches between concentration and non-concentration so rapidly while speaking on a single subject over a very short span of time.

No, I think that Yoda's speech patterns are simply more complex than they are given credit for, and not enough scientific analysis has been done on them. In part, the lack of analysis is due to the fact that overly simplistic explanations have been commonly accepted as fact.
posted by Flunkie at 9:32 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had no idea that Gell-Mann started doing actual lingustics research

I'm not sure that this counts as actual linguistics research.

The consensus among linguists is (/seems to be based on conversations I've had and my own views) that we don't and will never have anywhere near enough data to make real claims about the state of things at that time depth, no matter how good the model you're applying to the data we do have. Any claims you read are nothing more than wild speculation.
posted by advil at 10:00 AM on October 20, 2011


The original Yoda spoke regular English with an archaic twist every once in a while. The prequel Yoda is like a bad parody of it by someone who doesn't understand it or remember it correctly.
posted by scrowdid at 10:04 AM on October 20, 2011


So wait a minute, we have to take linguistics in Star Wars *seriously*?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:30 AM on October 20, 2011


I always assumed that Yoda naturally spoke in normal English, and that he used the reverse word order when he wanted to seem like a "weird little green guy". That is, it was all an act.

Maybe if somebody someday does the prequels Lucas talked about before he died, we could get an answer. Maybe.
posted by happyroach at 11:49 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


The consensus among linguists is (/seems to be based on conversations I've had and my own views) that we don't and will never have anywhere near enough data to make real claims about the state of things at that time depth, no matter how good the model you're applying to the data we do have.

See, this is where linguists go wrong. Why let the lack of actual evidence hold us back? Let's take our cue from economics, and investigate the origins of our object of study via hypotheses based on unproven first principles! (Don't worry -- if anyone comes up with any counterarguments based on real-world evidence, we'll just declare that the burden of proof is on them to prove us wrong!)

Consider, then, the first population to invent language. For this thought-experiment, we will assume that this original population consisted of one speaker who was both perfectly rational and perfectly spherical...
posted by No-sword at 1:47 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


This makes perfect sense. Yoda is supposed to be incredibly old.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:11 PM on October 20, 2011


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