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We all know about Yoda's iconic Yodaspeak. Like most people, I always assumed that this a cultural or personality trait of Yoda, but on a recent re-watching of The Empire Strikes Back I noticed that during the "Yoda's Hut" scene, in his brief moment of clairvoyance while communing with Ben, Yoda's grammar is proper. I find this both interesting and unsettling. Yes, throughout the series he Yoda-speaks some sentences and not others, but here there is a clear change of expression, change of behaviour, and change of grammar, as if we're getting a glimpse into his former self - and there's no Yoda-speak.

Here is the interesting bit from the "Yoda's Hut" scene, quoted from IMSDb: The Empire Strikes Back

CREATURE Ah, your father. Powerful Jedi was he, powerful Jedi, mmm.

LUKE (a little angry) Oh, come on. How could you know my father? You don't even know who I am. (fed up) Oh, I don't know what I'm doing here. We're wasting our time.

[begin moment of clarity]

CREATURE (irritated) I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.

BEN'S VOICE He will learn patience.

YODA Hmmm. Much anger in him, like his father.

BEN'S VOICE Was I any different when you taught me?

YODA Hah. He is not ready.

The fact that, in his moment of temporary sanity, he uses proper grammar suggests that the broken sentences are a side-effect of his mind's deterioration from living on Dagobah, rather than a cultural trait. Based on this, you would expect him to talk normally in the prequels.

Have other people noticed this? Are there other explanations of this scene that do not break the character of Yoda?

~Clarification~

I am, of course, aware that prequel Canon and many Legends sources establish that Yoda has always spoken Yodish. Fine. My question was more along the lines of "When Lucas sat down to write the prequels and only had ESB and RotJ as sources for Yoda's character, should this scene have been pivotal for the character? (Clearly Lucas chose "No.") The discovery of this scene seems to introduce a conflict between ESB and the prequels."

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    But he speaks Yoda-speak in the prequels, before moving to Dagobah ... May 1, 2015 at 2:45
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    I object to this being flagged as a duplicate of the general "Why does Yoda speak the way he does?" question, since mine is specifically about what we see in the Yoda's Hut scene, that one is general to the whole Legends universe. May 1, 2015 at 12:57
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    I would add that I also don't think think is a dupe. The other question is asking about Yoda's unique reversed grammar. This question is (now) asking about why that grammar isn't used consistently.
    – user31178
    May 1, 2015 at 18:49
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    If I had a dime for each instance of Lucas screwing up his own continuity...
    – Omegacron
    Sep 11, 2015 at 20:20
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    When 900 years old you reach, etc. Jan 29, 2021 at 12:35

2 Answers 2

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Canon

No. Yoda is one of only two members of his species that we see in Canon (the other is Yaddle), and the only one we hear speak. We just don't have enough information on Yoda's species to draw a conclusion.

Legends

There's evidence to suggest that Yoda's unusual grammar is not necessarily related to his species. Vandar Tokare, a Jedi Master of Yoda's species introduced in the Knights of the Old Republic video games and comic books, speaks without Yoda's odd sentence construction; for example:

Vandar: It would do all the Jedi High Council members good to get out more on Coruscant.

Knights of the Old Republic 31: Turnabout

Many more examples can be found on his Wookieepedia page.

That doesn't discount the possibility that it may be cultural; other members of Yoda's species do use the same sentence construction; Yaddle, for instance:

Yaddle: Your hold over these people will end by your own hand. Rule by terror you do. Die by fear you will.

Yaddle's Tale: The One Below

However, notice that Yaddle also makes occasional mistakes; she does in that quote, for instance. As I see it, there are two main possibilities:

  1. It's an affectation. Yoda, Yaddle, and the rest are just putting it on, and sometimes they slip up. I consider this the least likely
  2. The rules are way more contextual than we realize. Language is complicated, especially in the Star Wars Legends universe. There could be all kinds of subtle differences between two situations that could cause sentence construction to differ.

A fan blog I discovered, which dissects Yoda's grammar for a linguistics class, offers another possible explanation:

SEV [Standard English Vernacular, i.e. the exceptions noted in the question] sentences are used by Yoda when it is especially important that the non-Yodish speaker understand him. A large group of samples exist and most, if not all of them could be translated into Yodish. Many of these are in response to a question put forth by Luke Skywalker, a non-Yodish speaker, and therefore the response is in SEV.

Out of Universe

This is almost certainly a mistake on the part of the writer (either by Lucas himself, or by scriptwriters Leigh Brackett or Lawrence Kasdan) or by Frank Oz when delivering the lines. Truthfully, the essay I linked to earlier ends with what is likely the only correct answer; that George Lucas just isn't a very skilled linguist:

Yodish is not an arbitrary grammar which simply confuses that of SEV willy-nilly but there is a standard pattern of rules which are applied, though not likely purposefully designed by creator George Lucas. If this were the case, the errors I have mentioned would very likely not exist.

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    Great answer! I love the point that Yoda could well be switching between vernaculars based on context, as many multilingual people do. I think that more-or-less resolves my conflict. I have added a clarification to my question Re: prequel / Legends sources. May 1, 2015 at 4:00
  • @MikeOunsworth: if there’s anything we learn from the prequels, it’s that Obi-Wan isn’t very bright. Yoda probably didn’t want to risk confusing him. May 1, 2015 at 8:04
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    I don't think anyone would claim his odd grammar is biological. In general, biology does not really play any kind of role in the exact shape of your grammar (aside from whether your brain is evolved enough to possess grammar at all, naturally). The fact that he's a little green oddball of species Whatever doesn't have any influence on the makeup of his internal grammar; that's all nurture, no nature. Mar 5, 2016 at 22:08
  • They could also be slowly picking up Galactic Basic speech patters as they interact with people who speak it. Humans do this all the time, very quickly
    – Andrey
    Jan 29, 2021 at 17:31
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until the prequels the commonly held believe is that, his odd grammar was part of the cover identity he was portraying akin to the "country bumkin", whereas when he speaks to obi-wan this is the real yoda.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. This could be a theory, but is there any evidence for it? After all, when Luke returns to Dagobah in RotJ Yoda still speaks this way, and there would be no more need to dissemble.
    – DavidW
    Jan 29, 2021 at 12:50

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