Talk Like Yoda, Did We?
Remember the little green Jedi -- Yoda, from “Star Wars”? Did you think his language was strange? Well you know what? Human languages may have originated from an East African Language which may have sounded very similar to Yoda.
"The man killed the bear" may seem like the obvious 'right' way to structure a sentence to an English speaker, but linguists (people who study languages) Merritt Ruhlen and Murray Gell-Mann suggest that that the original human language did it differently, saying instead "The man the bear killed."
If you have wondered how human language evolved, here is some of what we know thus far. Language appears to have come into being about 50,000 years ago. It is believed that the first human like creatures appeared in Africa some 200,000 years ago but for the first 150,000 years they acted like Neanderthals (cave men). Some 50,000 years ago, everything changed and our forefathers began to talk.
Biblical version of evolution of languages
You may remember the story of the Tower of Babel, where the children of Noah who all spoke one language tried to build a tower. Over time, they developed different dialects and had difficulty in communicating with each other. This led to fighting and soon people speaking similar dialects moved away to different places and the tower never got built! Each felt the other was “babbling”. It is likely that apart from dialect, the word orders may have played a part in the differences.
Structure of languages
There are various word orders used in the languages of the world. For example English uses the subject-verb-object (SVO) ordering. Lets take the sentence "I like you." where the subject is 'I', verb 'like' and object 'you'. In Latin on the other hand, the word ordering is subject-object-verb (SOV) and would be presented in the form "I you like." In rare cases, OSV, OVS, VOS and VSO are used in language formation (see examples in side notes).
Based on a language tree that they created using 2135 languages, Ruhlen and Gell-Mann, believe that the original language used SOV ordering ("I you like"). Italian, Romanian, French and Spanish are derived from Latin. The Latin family is itself a branch of an even larger tree whose other branches include Germanic, Slavic, Greek, Indic and others. Together, all those languages make up the Indo-European language family, which fits like a puzzle piece with all the other language families in the world. Today, more than half the modern languages are SOV languages.
Some researchers believe that there is a reason why the first languages started with SOV ordering -- the first word order used by children as they learn to speak is SOV and this word order comes naturally to humans. And if that's the case, it seems strange that languages switch word orders as they evolve. Indeed, no one really knows why word orders switched as languages developed.
We may never know why Yoda talks backwards. Probably the early human languages may have influenced his style of speaking after all!