Friday, November 18, 2011

The Time Traveler's Guide to English Grammar - Some thoughts

I initially wasn't sure if I should post this. Most of what I put here is stories, some stuff is summary, some stuff is just random thoughts on a given topic (though I forgot that tag existed for a while so, like the silly tag, it's probably not on everything it should be on.) Some stuff is more along the lines of an ordinary blog than the repository of stories posted elsewhere that this place mostly is.

Where, exactly does this fit in? Definitely not a story, not an ordinary blog post. Is it a summary? Maybe... if we allow that a summary can be for style rather than substance, format instead of content. Is it musings? Not really.

It's almost more of a note to myself so I don't forget what I've written here* so anyway, some random stuff:

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
In the back of my mind has long been the idea for a grammar textbook called, "The Time Traveler's Guide to English Grammar," with an adventure story being played out in the example sentences. Is it a textbook or is it an attempt to give heroes their due kleos? Yes.


[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[In response to "Please write the grammar book! I so want to read it!" which is an incredibly nice thing for someone to say.]

It's something that I have been meaning to do, no doubt, but it's also something that would be difficult in the extreme.

First i have to come up with a coherent theory of time travel. I think several months ago I was considering bouncing ideas off of Will Wildman, not sure why I never got to that. Then I have to figure out how it interacts with grammar. For example if I say something like, "Tense is always that of the subject," doesn't that make things too simple?

He will have killed the overlord by this time yesterday.
The overlord was killed by him by this time yesterday.

Same event, but it's in his future and the overlord's past. For him it's future (future perfect because we're talking about what it will have been done before) for the overlord it's simple past.

Over, done with, nothing to see here.

If I try to complicate things enough for a grammar textbook to be work it, then the theory of time travel becomes too convoluted to be understood. And theories of time travel have a tendency to eat themselves.


I do know that I wanted to introduce the negated articles. As in, "This is how you preface something that has been erased from history." It doesn't exist in the past, present or future, no amount of time travel can get you there, but in the personal timelines of some people it did exist. I was thinking something simple and silly, and having the text book look down on it ("unfortunately, it caught on and is now standard" or something to that effect) so ne for the, na for a (nan for an?) the problem is that the and a can both be pronounced with a shwa in certain contexts which might lead to confusion because in those contexts ne and na would sound the same.

"Ne North American Federation was the first nation to erase itself from history. The large number of refugees created found they had a need to describe things that, in the new timeline, had never existed but were very real in the original timeline."

Or something like that. It lets you distinguish between Ne city of Cincinnati and the city of Cincinnati without saying, "No, not that Cincinnati, the other Cincinnati. That's because it never existed. No, it's not hypothetical. It was real, now it isn't and never was. I grew up there."

Though that does bring up that there might be a need for other tenses. Past timelines are different from past times, and that might need entirely different forms of the verb to be.

There's also a question of whether there's space for another mood which does for negated actions what the negated article does negated things. (Though that would overlap with the alternate past tense mentioned above.*)

Ok, so maybe it isn't over and done with just by saying tense sticks with the subject.

It does seem to be a lot of things that I haven't figured out yet and all of the difficulty of figuring out a coherent theory of time travel that allows paradoxes to exist.


*Oh good god, there needs to a tense matrix. Maybe. If I can get away with a negated mood I might be able to avoid going too far into that, but think about it, something can be in the past, present or future, and it can be in a past, present or future timeline. The good news is that timelines would lack aspect (no difference between perfect and imperfect) but you'd want to be able to have a sequence of past timelines so at the very least you want to put things in a pluperfect timeline. Probably future perfect as well, so that's five timeline tenses being multiplied by all normal tenses and ... oh good god.


[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[Ana quoted the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's a good quote, by the way.]

I don't think it need to be quite as complex as Adams makes it out to be.

Something that was going to happen until you skipped forward in time to avoid it. Did it actually happen in a past timeline? Describe it using the previously mentioned language of negation. (Or past timeline tense.) Was it always avoided because you skipped it in the original timeline? Then it's just how we describe avoided things now, "It would have have happened."

One also wonders if there should be tense based imperatives. If you order someone to do something it will always be in their future, so you'd think you only need the existing imperative, but if the thing you're ordering them to do is in the past, should there be a past imperative? I'm thinking no. You just say, "Do it yesterday," or whatnot.


*Speaking of which, Ben will pick up the word "whence" from Edith but he will use it incorrectly, specifically he will say "from whence," even though... well:
Edith "That's redundant."
Ben: "Yeah, but it sounds better."

Of course it doesn't sound better to Edith, but this is probably the only place they differ where he doesn't eventually adopt her style of speaking. And the disagreement is entirely playful.

1 comment:

  1. Good article.Read it twice.Really very imperative and thoughtful.Thanks.