all your syntax are belong to us

Last week, upon learning that it had been revealed to be the birthday of the epic Internet meme All Your Base Are Belong to Us, I did the only thing a respectable instructor of an Introduction to Linguistics class could do.

I made all 32 of my students (only 7 of whom had ever even heard of All Your Base) draw syntactic trees of iconic sentences from the meme. And I took a picture.

Of course, this is Intro to Linguistics syntax, so it’s fairly simplistic. My students were able to accurately analyze such errors in English syntax as:

  • Lack of do-support. (See “What you say?”)
  • Lack of auxiliary insertion with progressives (See “You know what you doing.”) and inappropriate use of auxiliaries with other verbs. (“All your base are belong to us.”)
  • Trouble accurately parsing particle verbs. (“Somebody set up us the bomb.”)

In the process, I gave them a short history of this meme and described its importance in the social history of the Internet. I also made them watch the video. Some may think this is frivolous and silly, but really, they live with Internet memes as part of their everyday lives, and All Your Base was quite possibly the very first one. The reason that it went viral was a linguistic issue — the translation was just so hilarious that people spread it around — and then the language was the joke. The phrase “all your base are belong to us” became a construction that could be used to index this meme and the joke, thus showing that someone was part of a subculture that understood such things. Even today, ten (twenty?) years later, it’s still important for use in geek culture — if someone drops a line from All Your Base, it’s a true signal that they are a geek with a reference to the ultimate Internet meme.

Surely, someone out there must have written a dissertation or a thesis on All Your Base and its cultural impact. A quick Google Scholar search reveals only Wired articles and citations of popular magazines and the like. If you’re looking for a topic, this might be for you.


One thought on “all your syntax are belong to us

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daniel Ginsberg, Lauren Collister. Lauren Collister said: all your syntax are belong to us […]

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