negating yoda

January 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

 Continuing the miniseries on Yoda English, this mini analysis focuses on the wise little green guy’s negation strategies, specifically how he achieves sentential negation (as opposed to constituent negation). A small corpus has been collected from 2 Star War movies to provide us with the data. As found in the previous analysis of word order in Yoda English, a surprising number of Yoda’s utterances conform to Standard English. In S.E all things being equal negation appears to the right of modals and auxiliaries and to the left of main verbs. Where no auxiliary is present, the dummy auxiliary DO is inserted:

  •  John can cook. John can’t cook.
  • Jean speaks five languages.
  • *Jean speaks not five languages.
  • *Jean not speaks five languages. Jean does not speak five languages.
  • (Asterisked sentences are ungrammatical.)

Where modal verbs are present, negation in Yoda’s English seems ordinary.

  • I cannot teach him.
  • Your weapons… you will not need them

Note in the last example we have topic fronting with a resumptive pronoun. That is, the object, your weapons, has moved into some Topic position in the left periphery of the sentence, but them appears where we would expect the object to sit. We shall return to the question of fronting in a moment. Examining structures without a modal or auxiliary we can see some non-S. E.  elements in Yoda’s language.

  • Size matters not.
  • A Jedi craves not these things.

Here not only is DO support absent, but also we see the negator to the right of the verb, i.e., the order expected with auxiliaries. We might suggest that as well as the topic fronting strategy Yoda is fond of, he also makes use of another kind of syntactic movement – V movement. When there is no auxiliary the verb moves to the syntactic slot usually reserved for modals/AUX. This pattern is found in French and GB type introductory texts like to demonstrate this difference to English with the placement of adverbs. In the sentences below, souvent=often, and asterisked sentences are ungrammatical.

  • Marie va souvent a Paris
  • *Marie souvent va a Paris.
  • Mary often goes to Paris.
  • *Mary goes often to Paris.

This parametric difference to use old Chomsky speak has been interpreted as evidence that French has verb movement. THe verb must move from its original position in the structure to a new position  whereas English verbs stay put. Further evidence is suggested by the structure of yes no questions.  In English, modals and auxiliaries can be the leftmost word in a yes no question

  • John can cook.
  • Can John cook?

But main verbs cannot do this:

  • Jean speaks five languages.
  • *Speaks Jean five languages?

Just as with negation in S.E DO is required:

  • Does Jean speak five languages?

A common conclusion that has been made about this is that only items to the left of where the adverbs sit are eligible to undergo this movement to make a yes no question. Since English main verbs are never in that position in grammatical statements  they are not able to make this leapfrog to the front of the yes no question.

We might presume then that Yoda English yes no questions could use the main verb since they can appear in the position that is targeted, i.e. to the left of negation.  We cannot be sure though, as I have foudn no yes no questions spoken by Yoda.  Also sometimes this sneaky little green guy whips out some DO use with negation. Look at these commands below:

  • Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor.
  • Don’t think …feel … be at one with the force.

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