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The Grammar of Time-Travel

When time-travel was invented, the English language was hard-pressed to express its various complexities. Gradually, the initial confusions and circumlocutions were simplified as new terms were coined and whole new grammatical categories emerged.

Such phrases as "travelling into the past" and "travelling into the future" and "travelling sideways in time, to another timeline" were reduced to single verbs: to pasten, to futurate, to cross (time). More profoundly, the essential distinction had to be made between the objective time-stream and the individual person's experienced time. The difference is between the past, present, and future (on the one hand) and the time-traveller's past, present, and future (on the other). To express this, a new verbal aspect emerged: the relative, as opposed to the absolutive. It was formed by intrinsic person-markers.

The verb has three tenses -- past, present, and future -- which, taken by themselves, signify the absolutive aspect. These are relativized by the adverbs mytime, yourtime, histime, etc. Hence, you would say (for instance) "I pastened mytime" if you were speaking to a person you were visiting in the objective past, who would describe the same event as "you will pasten."

Alternatively, you could use the more specific adverbs mypast, myfuture, etc. For instance, a time-tourist who went from the assassination of President Kennedy to that of President McKinley would say, to someone he met there, either "I will be in Dallas" or "I was in Dallas mytime." If the person addressed were a time-tourist coming from the assassination of President Lincoln and planning a trip forward, he might say "I will be in Dallas (mytime)" -- in his case, it would make no difference. Or he could say "I was in Dallas yourtime" if he plans to meet you there.

The primary sense of the relative aspect applies to the subject, but one may also refer to others, and to general events, as experienced in one's own past: e.g. "you were in 2121 mypast," i.e. "I met you (when I was) in 2121" -- irrespective of whether the person addressed has yet been in 2121, in his own experienced time.

The relative aspect is especially useful in describing the act of time-travelling itself. Speaking from the vantage-point of the year 2100, for instance, one would refer to a trip from 2000 to 2050 by saying "I futurated"; but if one went (or will go) from 2000 to 2200 (or vice versa), one would have to say either "I timejumped mypast" or "I will timejump myfuture."

If more than one person happen to coincide in their temporal vagations, absolutely but not relatively, this may be expressed in one of two ways: e.g. "I was mytime, and you will be yourtime" in (say) London in 1895 (i.e., with respect to their own lives), or "you and I were" (i.e., with respect to the absolute time that both travellers went back from).

Further specification with respect to relative time can be made by the terms paster 'farther in one's own past' and forwarder 'farther in one's own future'. These are opposed to 'before' and 'after' in the absolutive aspect: cf. "the year 1914 was before the year 1915," "I was in 1914 forwarder than 1915" (i.e., by timejumping backwards).

In addition to the relative aspect, there is a limited class of nouns that take inherent personal markers. These are called temporal-class nouns: hence mytime 'my experienced time' as against fixtime 'the objective time-stream'. This class includes (e.g.) 'past', 'present', 'future', and '(time)line': e.g., "I pastened from mytime to yourtime"; "mypast is yourfuture"; "I crossed from myline to yourline."

The most versatile of these nouns is dopple 'double' (adapted from the German borrowing Doppelgänger). A doppling occurs when the same person coincides with himself at the same point in absolute time but at different points in his own life, or with his counterparts from alternate timelines. For each of these types of dopple there is a specific term: foreself, a dopple from one's own past; afterself, a dopple from one's own future; sideself, a dopple from an alternate timeline. The pronouns used to refer to them are also relativized: e.g. hemine 'he, mydopple'.

© 2001 by Karl Jahn