22 Comments

  1. Diagramming sentences, or more accurately the fondness of the memory for the lost art thereof, is very hot and trendy right now.

  2. Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog in 2006 was an surprisingly popular book and led to a resurgence in the popularity of discussing and claiming to have fondness for diagramming sentences.

    It is now very much an acceptable and legitimate meme for the sake of comics (as much as Yoda is).

    Didn’t we have this discussion before?

  3. Syntacticians in academic / professional linguistics have never stopped drawing diagrams of various sorts, though this old style I don’t think has any currency at that level.

    When last year I tried looking up some syntax matters and got drawn into Wikipedia articles, I was amazed at how far the “tree structure” diagrams I was used to (from the 50s to the 80s at least), based on CONSTITUENCY, seem to have given way to DEPENDENCY diagrams. I’m not sure which schools go for that.

    But, oddly, one aspect of note in the traditional school diagramming as in the comic, is that they could be understood as dependency rather than constituency diagrams.

  4. I can’t imagine that any non geezer who has never seen a diagrammed sentence would have trouble with understanding this. Blackboard, stereotypical teacher, and Yoda who is well known for odd word order. If it were really a concern, a caption like “Bad at sentence diagrams Yoda is” would easily salvage it, by giving confused readers something to google. (At the risk of wandering into squirrel-over-explaining-joke territory, so to avoid probably better it would be.)

    If you showed a derivation from a context-free grammar (e.g., http://www.pling.org.uk/cs/com6791img/phrasestructuretree.png or similar) you’d probably lose more geezers than you gained non-geezers.

  5. For 800 hears have I trained Jedi. Language Arts I did NOT teach. Fresh light saber wounds do you seek?

  6. Thanks, MJSR, for that link. It’s a perfect simple example of the sort of constituency-based tree diagram I was saying has survived as “diagramming” within professional/academic linguistics. But I wasn’t urging that style in place of the old “Reed-Kellogg” system (as I now looked up its name), I was just giving a different sort of answer to the implied topic question “Does anyone still do diagramming?”. One answer was Woozy’s, but this was answering for a different group.

    I recovered the name from this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_diagram#Constituency_and_dependency which also briefly covers the distinction.

  7. @Mitch: When you said, “’tree structure’ diagrams I was used to (from the 50s to the 80s at least), based on CONSTITUENCY” I thought first you were talking about geographical location (analogous to political contituency), but when you brought up “dependency” I got thoroughly lost. I was in the Canadian school system from 1969 to 1981 and I never diagrammed a sentence — first time I ever came across it as a concept I think was here at CIDU.

  8. tl;dr. I flagged that WP article to read later. Thanks for posting the link, Mitch, I actually love reading this kind of stuff (I’m the kind of weirdo who reads Fowler’s for fun).

  9. I HAVE to laff here . . . for a looooong time, Hurricane Irma was used as an excuse for anything that didn’t get done in time, was lost, forgotten, etc. I said to Hubby the other day, ‘Good thing H. Dorian didn’t make landfall [here on the Gulf Coast of FL], or folks’d be using THAT as an excuse for years.’

  10. I’ve seen sentence diagrams often enough to understand what’s going on, even though I doubt I could construct one on my own, but that’s irrelevant. No matter how I permute the six words shown on the blackboard above, I cannot make any of the possible combinations match any sentence that Yoda actually said in one of the movies. Perhaps I overlooked one of the 6!=720 options, or maybe Lucas changed his mind again, and re-edited the dialog in a new version that I haven’t seen yet.

  11. Brian in STL: Way back when I was working on my own MSCS, I had to write a simple parser at work to read input files. I wrote out the grammar in BNF and put it in the documentation — not the documentation for the end-user but the documentation for any maintenance programmer who might have to change the parser because of a change in the grammar. My boss asked what that stuff in the documentation was. I said it was Backus-Naur Form. My boss said “Nobody ever heard of … whatever you said it was. Don’t put it in the documentation.” I said, “No, seriously, this is a well-known standard for describing a grammar.” My boss said, “OK, I’ll tell you what. Write down the name of whatever it’s called, and I’ll ask my friend Kathy Jensen. She knows a lot of stuff. If she has heard of it, you can use it.”
    If you’re a geezer computer nerd and the name Kathleen Jensen does not ring a bell, maybe this will refresh your memory: https://www.amazon.com/Pascal-User-Manual-Report-Standard-ebook/dp/B000W0UZ5I
    Kathy Jensen, who had worked with Niklaus Wirth to write the book on the computer language Pascal, had in fact heard of BNF and I was allowed to use it.

  12. Yes, but in yodaesque I can see that being given as “Fear will you feel, I see” which is an imaginable interpretation of “I see you will feel fear”. And it is funny that his diagram is completely backwards, but the emphasis is correct.

  13. Here is a perfectly valid English sentence that I bet nobody here can diagram: “The more he gets, the more he wants.”

  14. I haven’t diagrammed a sentence in more than half a century (!!!), but I’m pretty sure doing it helped me learn how to construct a sentence.

    Looking at the state of journalism today, it’s hard not to think diagramming neds to be re-introduced in schools.

  15. I’m hung up on the fact that Yoda’s sentences would diagram perfectly. It’s just Object-Subject-Verb instead of Subject-Verb-Object. In fact, it would look the same as a sentence in the right order, since that’s what diagramming does.

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