The new Star Wars movie is a gift to English teachers. Easy Shakespeare is when Yoda-speak know you. Yoda’s speech patterns can help students overcome one of the biggest obstacles to understanding Shakespeare: the unfamiliar word order known as syntax inversion. Yoda, like Shakespeare, plays around with word order.
Why so strangely Yoda speaks? In English the most common word order is subject-verb-object. Adjectives come before nouns (He is a tall man.) Adverbs come after verbs (She speaks softly). Prepositional phrases typically follow the word they describe (He shops at Target. The house on the corner is mine) Yoda switches the word order like this:
STANDARD ENGLISH YODA
You are strong, Luke. Strong you are, Luke.
I go sadly into the mist. Into the mist sadly go I.
The future is always in motion. Always in motion the future is.
I can’t go there. Go there, I cannot.
Shakespeare’s sentences often sound like Yoda’s. Here are some examples:
Syntax inversion is a literary device that pre-dates Shakespeare. Translations of Homer’s Iliad use it: “Proud is the spirit of Zeus-fostered kings.” Inversion is common in the King James Version of the Bible: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” The Star Wars screenwriters use syntax inversion to characterize Yoda as an ancient Jedi Master. Inversion also makes Yoda’s lines stand out from all the other characters’ lines, reinforcing his superior wisdom and status.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens opens December 18, 2015.
Coming soon on grammardog.com . . . a free downloadable syntax inversion quiz that uses Yoda-like lines from Shakespeare.
May the Force be with you!