You might be familiar with Yoda's speech style, with phrases like:

  • Powerful you have become...
  • Patience you must have...
  • Wars not make one great...
  • If ..., only pain will you find.

As Wikipedia states:

Yoda's speech syntax has been analyzed and discussed by academic syntacticians, who found it somewhat inconsistent, but could extrapolate that it has object–subject–verb word order.

Now, as I understand, in Latin there is not a strict rule for any particular ordering of words. Now, Yoda's speech style is special or characteristic precisely because in other languages like English and Spanish there is such general rule. As such, Yoda's speech becomes distinctive.

Does that mean that it is impossible in Latin to achieve such distinctive speech? In other words, would Yoda' speech style be "lost in translation"?


It is certainly not impossible to mimic Yoda's speech style in Latin, though I would say that the effect will be a little more muted.

English is an analytic language with a low morpheme-per-word ratio: it expresses a lot of meaning by word order. Latin, being a synthetic language, does not often rely on word order to prevent ambiguity.

Latin does rely on word order, though, to indicate emphasis. It is incorrect to say that it has no word order: the default pattern is SOV:

amor omnia vincit.

These words could be put in any order and still be understood, but each would give a special nuance. For instance,

Omnia vincit amor.

emphasizes omnia: "Love conquers all things."

Even with all this flexibility, though, Latin rarely uses OSV word order: OVS (as in the above example) is much more common. Although one usage certainly wouldn't raise eyebrows, consistently using OSV word order (including pronouns, where Latin would normally omit them) should produce a similar strange effect.

Fortis tu factus es. -Powerful you have become.

Patientiam tu debes habere. -Patience you must have

Si ..., modo dolorem tu invenies. -If ..., only pain will you find.

Your third example does not use word order, but rather solecisms, to convey foreignness. A similar effect might be achieved by treating facere as a non-io verb:

Hominem bella magnum non facunt. -Wars not make one great.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Rarity of OSV I had not observed before. But agree with you I do: a Yoda-like effect created has been. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 15 '17 at 16:22
  • 1
    This is consistent with my intuitions. I always interpreted Yoda as being a non-native speaker of 'English', using his native language's patterns and transliterating words with their original order, rather than doing a full translation. This is preserved beautifully by the pronouns in Latin, which are superfluous in Latin but are a mandatory feature in many other languages. – blagae May 16 '17 at 8:45

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