Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Talked Like Yoda, We May Have

YodaMSNBC has coverage of a recent paper by linguists at the Santa Fe Institute on the evolution of human languages; it argues that all human language is derived from a single language arranged in subject-object-verb (SOV) order.  In other words, old-school humans talked like Yoda. 

I found this theory fascinating because I am currently emphasizing crisp subject-verb-object (SVO) english to my first year legal writing class.  Sentences are punchier and more effective when the subject and verb are close to one another, appear in SV order, and appear close to the beginning of the sentence.  When the familiar SVO structure appears early in the sentence, the sentence is easier for the english reader to process. 

But imagine a world where we spoke like Yoda.  Here are some highlights from MSNBC's coverage:

There are various word orders used in the languages of the world. Some, like English, use subject-verb-object (SVO) ordering, as in the sentence "I like you." Others, such as Latin, use subject-object-verb (SOV) ordering, as in "I you like."

In rare cases, OSV, OVS, VOS and VSO are used. In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Merritt Ruhlen and Murray Gell-Mann, co-directors of the Santa Fe Institute Program on the Evolution of Human Languages, argue that the original language used SOV ordering ("I you like").

"This language would have been spoken by a small East African population who seemingly invented fully modern language and then spread around the world, replacing everyone else," Ruhlen told Life's Little Mysteries.

Use legalese, Yoda did not.  Been created by lawyers, it must have.



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