Did our ancestors order their words in the seemingly backwards manner associated with the Star Wars character Yoda? Yes, at least that's what new linguistics findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Research are suggesting. More accurately, researchers think that all human languages descended from a single form — which probably had the speech patterns of a certain green Star Wars master — that was spoken in East Africa 50,000 years ago. Really?
First off: What what does Yoda-speak sound like?
Different languages favor different word orders, explains Natalie Wolchover of MSNBC. "Some, like English, use subject-verb-object (SVO) ordering," exemplified by the sentence, "I like you." Lots of others, like Latin and Yoda's take on English, utilize "subject-object-verb (SOV) ordering" — "I you like." Researchers are arguing that the "proto-human language" our ancestors spoke was characterized by SOV word order.
How did they figure that out?
They traced it back using an old-fashioned family tree. Merrit Ruhlen of Stanford University and and Murray Gellman of Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico analyzed approximately "2,200 languages, dead and alive," according to the Huffington Post, discovering that SOV structures always preceded SVO language patterns "without exception." "This language would have been spoken by a small East African population who seemingly invented fully modern language," says Ruhlen.
And experts believe this?
They do. "Yoda-speak" actually "makes sense" for our ancestors, "because it's the word order that children tend to learn first and it's logical that early humans approached words in a similarly rudimentary way," says Mary Papenfuss of Newser. So why have half the world's languages, including English, evolved along SVO, versus SOV, lines? Scientists "haven't a clue," or rather: A clue, they have not.