Sunday, September 6, 2015

Yoda says "your father he is." → Word-order in languages

Have you ever heard Yoda’s talking?

In the movie Star Wars, Yoda who is not an native English speaker told like below.
Can you understand what he said?
Definitely, he uses English words, and somehow you understand the meaning of sentence,
but it is not like real English.
It is because the word order is jumbled!
He says “your father he is”, not “he is your father.”

Word Order Study

Word order is the sequence in which grammatical elements such as Subject, Verb, and Object occur in sentences (Crystal 2010). In fact, it is widely used as a tool for the language typology field. 
From the studies which compare word orders across languages, the certain patterns of its word order are identified.

There are two major tendencies in the world languages: SVO like English and SOV like Korean.

Subject + Verb + Object
(English, French, Chinese, Vietnamese)  42%
I love her.
Subject + Object + Verb
(Korean, Japanese, Tibetan) 45%
I her love.
Verb + Subject + Object
(Irish, Hebrew, Filipino) 9%
Love I her.
Verb + Object + Subject
(Malagasy, Baure) 3%
Love her I.

This map below shows the tendency of word order in the world, and the liitle dots represent the languages even including the native languages such as Navajo. That’s why you can see many dots in the States instead of one English dot. This map implies that the geographical feature of language speakers didn’t play the absolute role when the dominant word order had been develped. If you look at the South East Asian part near Papua New Guinea, you can see that the red OV and blue VO share the island together.
* reference: Cristal 2010

Korean Word Order: mostly SOV, but not always!  

In Korean, the dominant word order is SOV, however, unlike English, Korean language doesn’t have to stick to the word order. Korean has certain markers that indicates the object and subject.
I will explain this more below.

English:  John loves Mary.  
            ← John is the lover (=subject) and Mary is the beloved (=object).

Korean:   메리 사랑해요.  [Johneun Maryrul sarangheyo.]
           = John(+subject marker) Mary(+object marker) loves.      
            ← John is the lover (=subject) and Mary is the beloved (=object).
English:   Mary loves John.    
            ← If the word order is changed,
                 John and Mary are changed their lover and beloved position.
Korean:    메리 사랑해요. [ Maryrul Johneun sarangheyo.]
             = Mary(+object marker) John(+subject marker) loves.              
             ←  Although the word order is changed,
                   John and Mary still keep the same lover and beloved position.

One more fact in Korean language word order! 
Subject markers can be easily omitted in spoken language, 
and even the subject itself can be omitted in a spoken language sentence.

Okay, I don’t want to make you get bored, I think that’s enough for today!
Happy labor day!  

* Reference

Crystal, D. 2010. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd edition.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  1. So can we figure out what Yoda's mother tongue is!?

  2. It's interesting! I didn't know there are 'V S O' and 'V O S' languages :)