Language for Time Travellers

"Language for Time Travelers"


Gradually, the rainbow flicker of light died away, and Morgan Jones felt the tingle leave his body. The dial read 2438. Five hundred years! He opened the door of the compartment and climbed out.

At first he saw nothing but fields and woods. He was evidently in a farming country. Nobody was in sight-- No, here came a rustic along the road, trudging through the dust with his eyes on the ground in front of him.

"Hey there! Jones called. "Could you give me some information?"

The man looked up; his eyes widened with astonishment at the sight of the machine. "Wozza ya seh?" he asked.

Jones repeated his question.

"Sy; daw geh,' said the man, shaking his head.

Now Jones looked puzzled. "I don't seem to understand you. What language are you speaking?"

"Wah lenkish? Inksh lenksh, coss. Wah you speak? Said, sah-y, daw geh-ih. Daw, neitha. You fresh? Jumm?

Jones had an impulse to shake his head violently, the same feeling he always had when the last word of a crossword puzzle eluded him. The man had understood him, partly, and the noises he made were somehow vaguely like English, but no English such as Jones had ever heard. "Inksh lenksh" must be "English Language"; "sah-y daw geh-ih" was evidently "sorry, don't get it."

"What," Jones asked the rustic, "is a fresh jumm?"

"Nevva huddum?" said the rustic, scorn in his tone. "Fresh people go Oui, oui, parlez-vous francais, va t'en, sale bete!" He did this with gestures. Then he stiffened. "Jumms go--" he clicked his heels together--"Actung! Vorwarts, march! Guten Tag, meine Herren! Verstahen Sie Deutsh? Fresh from Fress, Jumms from Jummy, Geh ih?"

"Yes, I suppose so," said Jones. His mind was reeling slightly...

[Hero goes to Alternate Future: Now there's Vowel Shift]

Time-Travel Hero: Beg pardon, but could you tell me---

Cop: Hanh? Didjue sy samtheng?

Hero: Yes, you see---

Cop: Speak ap; kent mike it aht.

Hero: Well---

Cop: Woss thowse fanny clowse? P'ride?

Hero: Im sorry but---

Cop: Downt annersten ja; kentcha speak English?

Hero: Yes, of course---

Cop: Woy downtcha, thane? Luck loik a spicious kerracter; bayter com lohng to the stytion.

Jile for you me led...


[Next Alternate Future: Morphological reduction]

Time Travel Hero: Welcome to my cell, gentlemen. Your names?

1st Expert: I Mack.

2nd Expert: I Sutton.

Hero: Delighted. What do you want me to do?

Mack: From?

Hero: What?

Mack: No what, FROM?

Hero: You want to know where I'm from? Philadelphia.

Sutton: No hear.


Sutton: No mean no hear you; hear plenty. No hear Philadelphia.

Mack: Such place?

Sutton: Maybe. Ask more. Continent?

Hero: No, it's a city.

Sutton: No mean no. Philadelphia no continent, Philadelphia on continent. Six continent. Which?

Hero: I see. North America.

Mack: No North America Philadelphia.

Sutton: Crazy. Too bad.

[Now, suppose our hero finally convinces authorities he's a time-traveler, is turned over to Dr. Savant who acts as guide and interpreter in the future.]


[Alternate Future: semantic changes]


Savant: I have a surprise for you Mr. Jones: another man from the Early Industrial Period--about 1600, didst have a most markworthy accident whichby he was also preserved from his time to ourn. Meet Mr. Godwin---

Godwin: Faith, when I awoke I thought I had truly gone mad. And when they told me the date, I said, "Faugh! 'Tis a likely tale!' But they were right it seems. Pray, how goes your trouble with authority, Dr. Savant?"

Savant: The cachet's still good, but I'll get up with the norms yet. What happened Mr. Jones, was that I was gulling my belcher---

Hero: Your what?

Savant: Sorry. My aerial vehicle propelled by expanding gasses, I was coasting it, and getted into the wrong layer, and they redded me down. The cachet means an upcough and thirty day's hanging.

Godwin: S'blood! Hang they you for that?

Savant: Not me, my silk. I mean, my operating permit will be suspended for thirty days, but I hope to get up with them, I mean, to have the cachet rubbered, I mean to have the summons canceled.

Jones: You mean you're going to fix the ticket.

Godwin: Attach an admission card?

Savant: (flips out his communicator) Quick, Miss Fidditch, send up six dictionaries and a bottle of aspirin!

Godwin: Aspirin? You mean "aspen"? There grows a tree by that name.




---adapted from an essay by L. Sprague DeCamp