Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On Language 5/17: Yoda’s Grammar

YodaOut of this world Yoda’s syntax always has been
Chicago Tribune, May 17, 2005
By Nathan Bierma
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This week’s final installment of the “Star Wars” franchise is not only the end of a cinematic era. The completion of George Lucas’ second trilogy will be the last hurrah for one of the most grammatically eclectic film characters of all time: Yoda. ...

Yoda is a syntactical switch-hitter, alternating among object-initial sentences (“Rootleaf I cook”), subject-initial sentences (“A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force”), and sentence fragments (“No different! Only different in your mind.”)

Sometimes you will hear Yoda start a sentence with the kind of adjective that grammar textbooks call a subject complement, as in “Strong is Vader,” or he will separate helping verbs from main verbs, as in “Help you I can.”

Here’s Geoff Pullum‘s extended analysis of “Help you I can,” which is not for the grammatically faint of heart (much less a newspaper):

(Update: Pullum’s more formal follow-up is at LL. In another e-mail, he clarifies that in “I can help you,” “can” is actually the main verb and “help” is ‘“a nonfinite verb heading a catenative complement.” Got that?)

(Update 2: I commented on this article for Chicago Public Radio—see the 5th segment.)

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Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/17 at 09:32 AM
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