The Grammar of Time Travel

For the discussion of language mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, trends, and other such linguistic topics, in english and other languages.

Moderators: gmalivuk, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
Dimetrodon
Posts: 110
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:25 am UTC

The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby Dimetrodon » Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:06 pm UTC

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. ...
The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveller's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you for instance how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations whilst you are actually travelling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own father or mother.
Most readers get as far as the Future Semi-Conditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up: and in fact in later editions of the book all the pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.
The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term "Future Perfect" has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Also, look at this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1126595
I think I worked this out the other day, and both of the above resources are making it unnecessarily complicated. It depends on whose time line you're referring to. If you're talking to Person X, who is responsible for Event Y (which is in your future, say, World War III), and person X (as you're talking to them) has already done it, you'd say "You started World War III", because you're referring to their time line and they've already done it.
If you're talking to a third party, Person Z, about this: if Person X is familiar to both of you, or is present, and you're refering to X at a specific time (say, the present), then you say "Person X started World War III." If you don't know person X or are just talking about them in general (or if World War III is the main focus of the sentance and not Person X), then you say, "Person X will start World War III."
Using the example from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe example, no matter where you are, you'd describe the event in the past tense since you're referring to your own timeline.
I think this works for most cases, as long as Person Z knows that Event Y occurs in their future. (I suppose, for clarification, you could institute a system of "Futurepresent", "Futurepast", "Presentfuture," "Nowpast," etcetera, where the first word refers to the starting location [Future, Present, Past, Now], and the second refers to where you are from then [Future, Past, Present]. But that seems messy, and my idea seems to work as long as you explain yourself or as long as Person Z is in the know.)
Am I oversimplifying? Does it make sense? What do you guys think about the issue?'

(In before "Time travel is impossible".)
Spoiler:
Image

Fear my mammalian skull, my efficient heat-regulating sail, and my two rows of teeth.

User avatar
Alcas
Posts: 70
Joined: Thu May 10, 2007 1:41 am UTC
Location: Minnesota

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby Alcas » Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:12 pm UTC

But it wouldn't make sense to use the past tense for something that you had not done yet. Suppose that YOU are person X and you're going to start World War III, but before you do so, you go into the future beyond WWIII. You can't say "I started World War III," because from your point of view you haven't.

Actually, I think a lot of future perfect would be the solution: "By now, I will have started WWIII."
"It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people"

User avatar
Dimetrodon
Posts: 110
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:25 am UTC

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby Dimetrodon » Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:18 pm UTC

I forgot to mention it, but with my system, if you're talking about yourself, you always refer to your own timeline.
The future perfect might not be necessary, but it could work better because it requires other people to know less. Okay. I like it.
Spoiler:
Image

Fear my mammalian skull, my efficient heat-regulating sail, and my two rows of teeth.

User avatar
gerb
Posts: 140
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2009 6:34 am UTC
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby gerb » Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:32 am UTC

Ah! That's one of my favorite parts in the trilogy! ^.^

I don't think Douglas Adams was trying to make sense, though. Didn't he just make stuff up that sounded plausible even though it was mostly silly speak?
"In a world where derivatives change functions into other functions...one constant will stand alone....This summer, Leonhard Euler is...ex..."
-Sir_Elderberry

User avatar
Sir_Elderberry
Posts: 4206
Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2007 6:50 pm UTC
Location: Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha
Contact:

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:35 am UTC

gerb wrote:Ah! That's one of my favorite parts in the trilogy! ^.^

I don't think Douglas Adams was trying to make sense, though. Didn't he just make stuff up that sounded plausible even though it was mostly silly speak?


When the best ship in the galaxy runs on the power of pure unlikelihood...yes.
http://www.geekyhumanist.blogspot.com -- Science and the Concerned Voter
Belial wrote:You are the coolest guy that ever cooled.

I reiterate. Coolest. Guy.

Well. You heard him.

User avatar
mypsychoticself
Posts: 166
Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 11:07 pm UTC
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Contact:

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby mypsychoticself » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:53 am UTC

Before an accurate grammar can be decided upon, I would like to know whether two timelines can exist simultaneously. Are there multiple versions of the present? If so, are they equally valid? The way I see it, there are only two ways that one would be able to travel into the future:
1. The future is pre-determined. The traveler is able to experience what will happen because it will definitely happen. Consequently, someone who travels into the past will be able to affect the past because he already did.

2. There are multiple, co-existing timelines. The traveler is not so much traveling into THE past as A past, and while s/he may be able to affect that past, having done so won't necessarily change his/er future.
I knew that we had suffered each as other,
And could have grasped your hand and cried, "My brother!"

User avatar
gerb
Posts: 140
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2009 6:34 am UTC
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby gerb » Mon Feb 23, 2009 7:17 pm UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:
gerb wrote:Ah! That's one of my favorite parts in the trilogy! ^.^

I don't think Douglas Adams was trying to make sense, though. Didn't he just make stuff up that sounded plausible even though it was mostly silly speak?


When the best ship in the galaxy runs on the power of pure unlikelihood...yes.


Ah, but what about Slartibartfast's Italian Bistro ship and the 'numbers in restaurants phenomenon'?
"In a world where derivatives change functions into other functions...one constant will stand alone....This summer, Leonhard Euler is...ex..."
-Sir_Elderberry

User avatar
Sir_Elderberry
Posts: 4206
Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2007 6:50 pm UTC
Location: Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha
Contact:

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:10 am UTC

I considered the Bistromanth, but I decided that while I believe it is canonically faster, it can't transmute things into sperm whales or sentient bowls of petunias. So I didn't label it "best". But it demonstrates the point.
http://www.geekyhumanist.blogspot.com -- Science and the Concerned Voter
Belial wrote:You are the coolest guy that ever cooled.

I reiterate. Coolest. Guy.

Well. You heard him.

User avatar
Luthen
Posts: 2021
Joined: Thu Feb 21, 2008 6:42 am UTC
Location: Dealing with xkcdian immigration
Contact:

Re: The Grammar of Time Travel

Postby Luthen » Tue Feb 24, 2009 5:22 am UTC

I think the only approach to determine the correct grammar for time travel tenses is to:
1. Invent time travel
2. Popularise time travel
3. Wait upwards of a few hundred years (at 1s/s)
4. ???
5. Profit! See what develops.
My fancy new blog Image I am not a vampire! Image PM my location for a prize!*

rnew: ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOAVATAR!
*Terms + conditions changeable


Return to “Language/Linguistics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 10 guests