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Yodaspeak: A Study In Yoda's Speaking Patterns and Their Frequency in the Star Wars Movies

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 (Edited)

Yoda's backwards speech has become a trademark of his. In recent adaptations, it seems like it goes a bit too far. I've always been of the opinion that Yoda's backwards speech was more frequent when he was pretending to be a crazy swamp creature than when he was actually serious. So I took it upon myself to find every line of dialog Yoda has in the Star Wars movies, then classify them as odd or not. Here are the breakdowns I came up with.

ESB, "crazy swamp creature": 13/23 lines are odd, 57%
ESB, serious Yoda: 30/73 lines are odd, 41%
ESB Total: 43/96 lines are odd, 45%
RotJ Total: 18/33 lines are odd, 55%
TPM Total: 19/26 lines are odd, 73%
AotC Total: 31/56 lines are odd, 55%
RotS Total: 46/66 lines are odd, 70%

What I get from these numbers is that Yoda's speech patterns in the prequel trilogy do seem to border on parody at their frequency, and his speech pattern after he reveals himself as a Jedi Master are more normal more often.

For example, when Yoda is serious in the OT, he gives lines like this:

"If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil."

Compare to a similar line from the PT:

"Twisted by the dark side young Skywalker has become. The boy you trained, gone he is, consumed by Darth Vader."

My theory remains that Yoda's iconic speech pattern was something he used to fool Luke on Dagobah, and only slipped into it after that point by habit. Starting with RotJ, the pattern started overtaking the sense behind it, to the point where the character had to say lines backwards because that is what the average fan expected Yoda to speak like.

It could be argued that perhaps "english" was not Yoda's first language, so he would sometimes slip back into the speech pattern of his original language, but that seems like a stretch since it is shown that he can speak well when he wanted to. I'm thinking while I have all of the lines in a spreadsheet about having a linguist friend of mine analyze them to see if the speech patterns are even consistent, or just randomized per line.

I'm not sure what we can do with this information, its just something that bothered me and thought I would lay to rest.

If anyone wants to see the spreadsheet, I can share it from my Google Docs account (like if Frink needed to know in which movie Yoda says a particular word).

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doubleofive said:

If anyone wants to see the spreadsheet, I can share it from my Google Docs account (like if Frink needed to know in which movie Yoda says a particular word).

I appreciate it, and while I still may take you up on it, my cutlist scripts have been reasonably handy for this sort of info.

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I wonder if there are many of his PT lines (and to a lesser extent ROTJ lines) which could be re-organised to be less of a parody by simple audio reshuffling (as always the embedded music scores and sound effects would be the prime obstacle).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Dp2OfIT_M

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With a little bit of ironing out (selective pitch alteration, inserting missing words and a little smoothing of the audio jumps) that makes a world of difference to that scene.

Already a significant improvement begun has.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Dp2OfIT_M

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But it's not much use for my edit - is no funny!

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 (Edited)

I was always under the impression that Yoda's speech pattern was a result of his age, that he came from a different era. I seem to remember Frank Oz saying something about how and why it makes sense that not every sentence of his should be "backwards". I forget the specifics, or where I heard it, but I seem to remember his point being that variation in syntax is one of the hallmarks of natural speech, that we all do it, and it would be unnatural for Yoda to arrange every sentence backwards like we hear in the PT. When Yoda does reverse the order of a sentence, it's sort of a regression to an "old world" form of speaking.

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Oh, this is awesome.  Yoda's speech in the PT has bugged me for the longest time, and I remember the exact moment it came to me.  It was when I was watching AOTC in theatres, and Yoda had two lines during the end battle that made my head spin:  "Around the survivors a perimeter create!" and, "To the forward command center take me!"  Those two were just so poorly written that it was almost like a joke.  But the real kicker for me was in ROTS where he says, "A prophecy that misread may have been."  I remember the first time I heard that I couldn't even comprehend what the hell he was saying!

But I do have a question in regards to "AotC Total: 21/56 lines are odd, 55%."  Did you make a typo somewhere?  Because how does 21 out of 56 equal 55 percent when doubling 21 only gives you 42?

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asterisk8 said:

I was always under the impression that Yoda's speech pattern was a result of his age, that he came from a different era. I seem to remember Frank Oz saying something about how and why it makes sense that not every sentence of his should be "backwards". I forget the specifics, or where I heard it, but I seem to remember his point being that variation in syntax is one of the hallmarks of natural speech, that we all do it, and it would be unnatural for Yoda to arrange every sentence backwards like we hear in the PT. When Yoda does reverse the order of a sentence, it's sort of a regression to an "old world" form of speaking.

Just my two credits.

 

Either that, or he's from Russia - specifically the Moscham region.

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twooffour said:


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Flanderization

Very, very odd results - I had expected the prequels to be somewhere up in the 90% region, and the OT somewhere 20-30% .

I'll pay attention whenever I'm gonna watch it again...
Thanks, 2/4, "Fladerization" is the term I was trying to think of.

I figured those kind of numbers too, which is why I did this. At first I was doing it by blocks of dialog, but Yoda has a few speeches where only one sentence is odd, so I broke it down sentence by sentence. That also messed things up, because he has a few three word sentences that aren't backwards on their own, but might be questionable in context.

Gaffer Tape said:


Oh, this is awesome.  Yoda's speech in the PT has bugged me for the longest time, and I remember the exact moment it came to me.  It was when I was watching AOTC in theatres, and Yoda had two lines during the end battle that made my head spin:  "Around the survivors a perimeter create!" and, "To the forward command center take me!"  Those two were just so poorly written that it was almost like a joke.  But the real kicker for me was in ROTS where he says, "A prophecy that misread may have been."  I remember the first time I heard that I couldn't even comprehend what the hell he was saying!
It seemed like in the OT, when Yoda wanted to be serious, he spoke correctly. But in the PT, these few year old clones have to translate what he's commanding them to do in the heat of battle. Dumb.

Gaffer Tape said:


But I do have a question in regards to "AotC Total: 21/56 lines are odd, 55%."  Did you make a typo somewhere?  Because how does 21 out of 56 equal 55 percent when doubling 21 only gives you 42?
Sorry, typo, 31/56

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I always took it for granted actually. The only line that sticks out for is "Not if anything to say about it, I have!", which sounds too forced.

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Put Captain Solo in the Cargo Hold said:

I always took it for granted actually. The only line that sticks out for is "Not if anything to say about it, I have!", which sounds too forced.

I actually found that one quite bad-ass, in a cheesy kind of way...

the one with the "perimeter" had no charm at all.

I think what most annoys me about Prequel Yoda (aside from the dumb looking puppet in TPM... the puppet is 50 times worse than the CGI version btw) is the quirky voice they did to make him appear more "youthful".

Delivery is the key, the ultimate linchpin - when the voice already sounds goofy, anything weird about the dialog will hopelessly stand out.

Somehow, though, apart from the II fight scene, CGI Yoda retains his core "dignity", so I can't say I consider him a minus for these movies.

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Just another example of the prequels trying way too hard to be like "Star Wars".

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The OT may seem to have almost as much inversion as the prequels, but this doesn't account for the actual content of what is being said.

Most of Yoda's ESB dialogue when he gets serious is not backwards speech. Rather, it is stylized to sound Medieval, and also give it an antiquated feeling, but is grammatically acceptable. The dialogue sounds very similar to the way Tolkien writes and the way some of his characters speak, a sort of reverent pre-20th century type of flowery sentence structure.

"Told you, did I--reckless is he. Now, matters are worse....No, there is another."

There is nothing backwards about any of that. "Told you, did I" is a perfectly acceptable antique-English sort of phrase. "Reckless is he, like his father." Same thing. "Easily they flow, quick to join one in a fight." "That place is strong with the dark side of the Force--in you must go." To me, these don't sound "backwards" so much as they have stylized elements to them which inverts part of the grammer to sound pre-modern but is nonetheless grammatically acceptable.

The prequels follow suit a lot of the time, and contain some inversion-free sentences. However, key pieces of dialogue are not just inverted, but made backwards to the point where they don't even make sense--and this is what stands out, so it seems like the character hasn't been understood. "A prophecy that misread could have been," as someone pointed out--what? If this was the OT first of all that sentence would have been completely normal, but if it had to have an inverted element it would have been "Misread the prophecy could have been." And, it is the fact that there are unnecessarily-inverted sentences--even if only two or three per film--that further stand out, such as "to the forward command centre take me", which is grammatically fine as an inversion, but one senses unnecessarily so, and that in the OT this line would have been left normal.

So, firstly, even though the OT-PT contrast is not extreme in terms of ratio, the two or three unnecessary uses per film make a big difference, and secondly, I think most of the OT examples aren't true "backwards speak" but simply pre-modern stylization, and while the PT has mostly legit uses of this it has truely backwards nonesense sentences that the OT would have never had. I do feel like ROTJ has a lot of these problems too, but they are not nearly as bad. I guess once ESB was over Lucas (and maybe Kasdan) never fully grasped how his own dialogue was structured, or maybe it was Kershner who made it more sensible all along.

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Ah, very nice perspective on that!

Although I don't get what the beef with the "prophecy" sentence is - "a prophecy that could've been misread".

The sentence is structured to refer to the prophecy (I honestly don't remember the grammatic term for that) - they talk about the prophecy earlier, and Yoda just kinda throws it in as a commentary: this prophecy you're talking about, that could've been misread you know.

Just saying "this prophecy could've been misread" sounds more disjointed and laconic in that context - it wouldn't if we'd just seen Yoda come out of the meditation room, or the library, or having had some sort of meaningful dialogue or revelation, and announce this new, sharp perspective:

"MISREAD the prophecy could have been!" tum-tum-taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam.


The way the dialog feels, they already kinda know it could've been misread, so a "the x that..." sentence structure makes more sense.

And the "misread" at the place it is, gives it an additional emphasis.

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 (Edited)

EDIT: I had to read that post a few times to get what you were driving at, but I think the way the prophecy line is in the movie just sounds stupid.

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captainsolo said:

Just another example of the prequels trying way too hard

This

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TV's Frink said:

EDIT: I had to read that post a few times to get what you were driving at, but I think the way the prophecy line is in the movie just sounds stupid.

 

Not to me ;)