Yoda on active and passive clauses

A meme-slogan card passed on by Bert Vaux on Facebook:


The person who composed this (more on the composition process below) was seriously confused about what active and passive clauses are: the text on the card is an active clause, and all the Yoda sentences I’ve seen are in fact active (though a fair number had no passive counterpart, because the verbs in them were intransitive, like the verb in #1).

I’m guessing that the creator of #1 thought that

(A) Talk in active voice I do not.

was a passive sentence because it had non-default syntax (from the point of view of standard English). But the syntax is non-default because of the fronting in it, not because of the status of the clause as active or passive.

Geoff Pullum has been writing about people’s misapprehensions about what a passive clause is for some time, with assistance from others, including Mark Liberman and me. His discussions in print (google on “Pullum passive” to get some examples) are often rants, and some of them are bitterly funny. Now he appears in a 6-part series of little video lectures on (various aspects of) the passive; part 5 is on misapprehensions, in a calm and friendly, but damning, tone. Video (from August 15th) here:


Back to Yoda, whose syntax is slippery. Sometimes it’s Object NP – Subject  NP – Verb (OSV) for transitive clauses, but sometimes it’s Complement VP – Subject NP – Auxiliary even for clauses with transitive verbs: supply more details I will alongside (the also possible) More details I will supply. Such examples give us a way to extend the OSV scheme to clauses with intransitive verb, allowing things like With stupid I am, with a PP complement of copular am — and (A), with intransitive talk.

The source of #1. This is DIY LOL, a meme generator site. From the website:

Supplies! [a little play on surprise] It’s a simple meme generator. Add to an existing meme generator, view what other’s have created, or submit a new meme. None of those interest you, check out Memeology, our new meme database.

The meme generator in question is called Grammar Yoda Generator. It supplies the background image you see above, and you are invited to add a caption in Yoda-speak on “grammar”, clearly understood here rather broadly.

The number of meme generators is enormous, rather overwhelming in fact. Included are two backgrounds of spheniscid interest. In tiny thumbnails, Socially Awkward Penguins (#2) and Socially Awesome Penguins (#3):

(#2) (#3)

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