48

Yoda infamously speaks using the OSV (object, subject, verb) word ordering

Much to learn, you still have.

rather the SVO ordering used in English

You still have much to learn.

How is this dealt with in translations to other languages, particularly languages which don't use SVO word order, for example Japanese or Albanian? Do they just switch the words to OSV order? Does that even make sense in most other languages?

  • 26
    very carefully. – Himarm Apr 27 '17 at 17:51
  • 4
    Very well, thank you! – Gallifreyan Apr 27 '17 at 18:11
  • 3
    You mixed up "infamously" and "incorrectly", as in, "it's incorrect that Yoda speaks OSV". It's more complicated than that (verb phrases in bold): "Your weapons; you will not need them." "No, there is another." "A Jedi craves not these things." "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." "Will he finish what he begins?" "He is too old." Etc., etc., etc. In ESB, he uses OSV in at most half of his sentences. This is why so many imitations of Yoda ring false. – Todd Wilcox Apr 27 '17 at 20:22
  • @ToddWilcox But I think Chris meant to say famously too. Maybe "Yoda famously speaks using the incorrect OSV word ordering" – Kodos Johnson Apr 27 '17 at 20:36
  • 3
    Suggested title edit: "How Yoda's speech translated to non-English languages it is?" – vwegert Apr 28 '17 at 4:58
58

There's an interesting extract from The Open University's OpenLearn website on precisely this:

This is easily replicated in other languages that also have follow the SVO order, but others have to be more creative. In the German translation, instead of positioning the finite verb in second place in the sentences, it moves to the end, as in Eure Sinne nutzen ihr müsst (Your senses to use you have).

For reference, German is typically considered to use V2 constituent order1 word ordering, so ordinarily, the finite verb should be second. Instead, as stated in the source, the finite verb moves to the end of the sentence, which would likely sound unnatural to a native German speaker.

According to The Atlantic:

In Czech translations, rather than speaking in his general object-subject-verb manner, Yoda apparently speaks in subject-object-verb (like in Japanese).

Clearly, translators have simply adapted Yoda's word order to sound 'most foreign' (Czech is pretty flexible with word order).

I found a rather complete list of languages and Yoda's word orders on Reddit:

  • Czech: Free word order. Yoda speaks consistently in SOV. Interestingly enough, putting an object before a verb does sound unusual to most speakers of Czech.
  • Estonian: Free word order language. Yoda retains the English OSV order. Note: This is grammatical in Estonian, but does make it seem as though Yoda is constantly stressing the object phrase as the main point of his statements. This gives his speech an unusual quality.
  • French: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV.
  • German: A SVO or SOV language. Yoda brings the Object to the front (OSV), like in English.
  • Hungarian: A free word order language. There is nothing unusual about Yoda's speech.
  • Italian: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV. Note: OSV is also the syntax used in the Italian of the less-proficient speakers of Italian from the region of Sardinia.
  • Japanese: An SOV language. Yoda seems to use a more or less correct syntax, with a more archaic vocabulary.
  • Korean: An SOV language. Nothing is unusual about Yoda's grammar.
  • Norwegian: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV.
  • Romanian: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV. He also places adjectives before the noun instead of after the noun, and uses an archaic form of the future tense.
  • Spanish: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV.
  • Turkish: An SOV language. Yoda speaks in OSV. Note: This order is also used in classical Ottoman poetry, so the syntax may have been chosen in order to emphasize Yoda's wisdom or age.

Generally, OSV is a safe bet for translators, because practically no natural language uses it—Wikipedia rounds the value to 0%, and the original source of that data quotes 0.00%. I can't imagine many of the languages (if any) that Star Wars has been translated into use OSV naturally; the only example Wikipedia lists of a common OSV language is Warao, which only has around 28,000 speakers (and no Star Wars translation that I could find).

So, in short, yes, translators try to pick a word order which is 'foreign' to the language, and don't rigidly stick to OSV.


1 I had originally stated SOV, but as noted in the comments, this wasn't a particularly accurate characterisation, and more misleading than helpful.

  • 2
    I'm sorry, but german ist not an SOV language, at least not in the normal form. And in fact except for a few things from "A new hope" I can't remember anything else then OSV from Yoda. – Daarin Apr 28 '17 at 6:56
  • 2
    Since this is an exception I would like to comment on Hungarian. My native language is Hungarian, and as a former journalist I am pretty well versed in grammar and I can confirm Yoda speaks totally normally. In an interview Tibor Kosztola, the (co)director of all three dubs says the public would've thought they made a mistake while recording the dub if they made Yoda's speech artificially broken (this was the 80s, he is not wrong, some dubs were interesting). Although he admits he didn't compare the dub to the original. I'll try to find the translator's opinion. – chx Apr 28 '17 at 7:02
  • 2
    One more note: Yoda's dubbed voice in the '95 and '97 dub (but not in the '82 one) is a humorist who also dubbed Mr. Burns from Simpsons and Mr Jinks from Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks and his voice sounds like an incredible mismatch to me when he talks about "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us" -- it's impossible to take anything seriously spoken by that voice. – chx Apr 28 '17 at 7:12
  • 1
    So people in the real world use the same grammar than Yoda and that's normal. You made my day. – Neow Apr 28 '17 at 7:29
  • 3
    The German is more like “Use your senses you have to”. And the V in SOV is not in second position, so your characterisation of German is just wrong. Your source only states that German has the finite verb last in dependent clauses. – Carsten S Apr 28 '17 at 9:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.