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

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.)


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