Speak good Yoda does not: A Critique of language used in Star Wars Episodes i – iii

When Luke Skywalker meets Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, the cute and powerful Jedi Master speaks in his trademark VSO (Verb Subject Object) speech.  I can justify this dialect in the Episodes V and VI.  But I cannot justify this type of language in Episodes I – III.  I’ll explain why.

I’ve been introducing Star Wars to my kids recently, more through the Lego video game than the movies since they are still quite young.  A friend came over while I was watching the third movie Revenge of the Sith, I hadn’t seen the ending before (fell asleep the first few times).

We were discussing the major differences of the two Star Wars trilogies, not uncommon so I hear.  Being both writers, much of the dialogue, the plot, and character issues were compared or criticized.  Then the topic of Yoda’s speech came up.  And my friend said something like, “Does he really have to talk like that all the time?”

“No, he doesn’t.”  I said.  I was reminded of a linguistics study I read.

In this socio-linguistics article, there is a phenomenon of age related speech change (I can’t find the article but I’ll dig it up if you ask). It has to do with the speech change from your childhood dialect to the language standard and back again.

In other words, when people retire and are no longer expected to speak the way they had adapted to in whatever speech community they had spent their working life in, they convert back to the dialect of their youth.

Some criticisms in a galaxy far away:

  • Yoda would be mentally capable as Jedi Master of switching his word order (syntax) from the OVS to the Standard Galactic English SVO when serving on the Jedi Council unless there is a justification otherwise
  • The only justifications for Yoda’s syntax in Episodes I-III is that his mysterious humanoid race isn’t neurologically wired for SVO syntax and/or Yoda suffers from some weird aphasia or some other neurological speech disorder
  • Exiled in Dagobah, his speech would, by socio-linguistic theory, revert back to the speech of his youth, so in Episodes V and VI, Lucas was justified in picking that particular speech idiosyncrasy
  • There was alot more VSO consistency in Episodes I-III which only shows that Lucas hired a linguist to deal with Yoda’s language, but this would indicate that Yoda’s Standard Galactic English had improved with his solitude.  probable? No.  But this is science fiction after all
  • Two fucks Yoda gives not:  The Taoist/Buddhist tendency of Jedi religion might just give Yoda a devil-may-care attitude about how others think of the way he speaks and feels no motivation to talk the same as the rest of the Jedi Council

Some criticisms in a galaxy right here:

  • George Lucas approved the continued use and improvement of Yoda’s accent to sell starfleets more Yoda action figures and plush dolls
  • Language oversight:  Aside from improving the VSO structure of Yoda’s language in Episodes I-III, Lucas may have had many oversights on language use unless of course he really intended to sell an imperial surplus of Jar-Jar Binks talking dolls
  • The amount of money made by pandering to a new and more modern fanbase was estimated to be equal to or greater than loyal fans from the original trilogy

So in a cosmic nutshell, it is my opinion, based on some educated value, that Yoda could have easily spoke Standard Galactic English like the rest of the Jedi in the Council.


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