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People of the forest, people who become trees when they die. The trees are interconnected, a giant web spanning almost the entire continent.

The tree-web is a computer, it reads the impulses it receives from outside, like hormones released by people and animals, the currents and the winds, the vibration in the earth and many other things.

The trees are able of transmiting information to newborns making them able to see various possible futures since the day their brain becomes capable of processing complex and abstract information. The trees also send memories of the past to the newborns.

Children of this species know the consequences of their choices with a high degree of certainty, the same way a gambler can know the odds of a sloth machine, it is fixed, a known precise number.

Example: A child of this species knows that if they pick choice A) instead of choice B) there's a 13.53% higher chance for their sister to die on the 27th of July of next year

Example: Someone might also be able to see memories of the future if the conditions are predictable enough, thus being able to communicate in their minds with various versions of probable people who are yet to be born. Those people, if and when will be born, are going to have the memories of having spoken with the folk of the past.

Example: A king might read a biography of his life that was written 50 years before his birth.

Question: The Chinese language measures time from up to down and English folk measure time from left to right and almost all languages also measure time with ''before'' and ''after''.

But the need is to know possible ways that people capable of seeing the future and being born with an innate sense of time would conceptualize time verbally, a sense that real-life humans do not possess, and real-life humans need to use specific grammatical concepts to make sense of time.

So how is time verbalized by this species?

Not looking for specific words or sounds but for CONCEPTS.

For example, it doesn't matter that Romanians use ''Ciao'' to say goodbye and Italians use ''Ciao'' to say hello, It doesn't matter what the specific words are, it's about the concept of there being different words to say different greetings in various situations. ''greeting'' is an abstract concept which has meaning regardless of the words or sounds used.

In the same sense. This post is looking for abstract concepts on how this species verbalizes ''time''.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Feb 8 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ How detailed are those memories of the future? Does the level of detail decrease as people age? You compared your trees to weather forecasts. But weather forecasts need to be constantly adjusted to be accurate and the farther in the future we go the less reliable predictions become. Could you explain in a bit more detail how foresight works in adults? Do children have more reliable predictions compared to adults? And, if this is the case, what is the position of children in society and social hierarchy? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 8 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin all predictions are processed by the tree web, like in the gambling machine example, the predictions are fixed percentage and updated as soon as the tree web has more precise information. If that then this... The emphasis on children was to explain that people of this species have their predictions as soon as they can think, sorry for the confusion. $\endgroup$
    – Drien RPG
    Feb 8 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ Is everybody connected to the trees and gets updated forecasts? Still, how detailed are they? Is every single action calculated? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 9 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin if the tree can perceive it or someone sees it, then it is calculated by the tree. $\endgroup$
    – Drien RPG
    Feb 9 at 19:15

9 Answers 9

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Irrealis moods.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irrealis_mood

The subjunctive, for any hypothetical future. The optative, for a world we hope could be. The potential, for the thing we think is likely. The dubitative, for the state of things we doubt is real. The hortative, when we are begging. The admirative, for when we are amazed at the state of things. The necessitative, for when it must be.

If you are writing, the question is what sort of moods are available in the language you write in, and if you are borrowing moods from other languages, will your readers be able to follow you?

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  • $\begingroup$ I do not meet the required skills for proper artistical written expression and I'm stuck learning other things in the meanwhile, for the writing I will hire someone to teach and guide me. If someone is good enough, the readers shouldn't have problems following along. $\endgroup$
    – Drien RPG
    Feb 7 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ Don't sell yourself short, Drien RPG. Your opening sentences of the OP are grammatically incorrect and because of how you did it, they have a compelling energy. When you break the rules of grammar in the service of feeling you might be writing poetry. Your instincts are good. Don't hire. Just write. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 7 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ English does not have a functional subjunctive mood, and does very fine indeed without it. (Yes, it does have fossilized remnants of the subjunctive.) (In fact, English has only two for-real verb tenses, present and past. Everything else is expressed analitically, using auxiliary verbs.) (And Mandarin Chinese is almost fully isolating and does not have any verb moods, or tenses, and still does just fine.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 7 at 8:51
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Some Basics

Two concepts that immediately spring to mind, which you might want to look into further, are evidentials and also relative time vs absolute time.

Evidentials are a piece of grammar that languages use to distinguish the reliability of some statement or concept. In English we (sometimes) use phrases like "I saw it with my own eyes" or "it's there in black and white" / "it's black letter law" vs "I'm of two minds on this" or "the jury's still out". These phrases indicate how relatively certain the speaker is of the veracity of the thing being talked about.

People of the forest might have a broad (or long) deixis of such structures indicating how many percents certain they are through all the tangled branches of futurethought. For each either/or choice a person makes, the chances of his sister dying on any given day may change.

Relative Time is simply a way of looking at all of time in relation to something else, usually the existence within time of the individual doing the considering. The "good old days" could mean the 1990s, the 1950s, the 1920s or even the 1430s all relative to who is actually considering what the good old days are.

Assuming time in your world flows linearly, imagine you're on a boat floating down the river. Not only do things like trees and rocks and occasional bears pass by you, from future to past, but you and your boat are also moving through time, and being in the boat, you are also in a kind of narrative present where your experience is always "now" while other things either haven't passed by yet or else already have passed by.

Absolute Time is simply a way of looking at all of time from an external perspective. Consider the same river, only now you're standing on a bridge looking down. You see the flow of the water, you see various boats and tangles of brush and occasional bears moving along its surface and within its currents.

You are now experiencing time differently. You're still within time but you are also reviewing time as if it were external to your immediate perspective. This might be like reading one of those wall charts of history, or watching a movie. Each little segment or frame is a discrete moment in time that can be labelled with dates and places and other metadata, and when you blur them together it becomes a whole experience.

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  • $\begingroup$ Evidentiality offers a lot of possibilities for this language. Some languages require all verbs to be grammatically marked for evidentiality; effectively, a speaker must always cite their sources, whether they know it firsthand and through which sense, or whether someone told them. All this on a grammatical inflection. OP might benefit from looking at the wikipedia article on evidentiality. $\endgroup$
    – RLoopy
    Feb 8 at 15:45
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Just some thoughts at this point:

  • The future conditional is going to be far far more nuanced tense in this culture, rather than a simple if x then y there are going to be shades of meaning for probabilities and contingencies built into the lingual forms.

  • There will need to be terms for events that have yet to already happen, like those conversations that are certain to occur but have not yet taken place in the individuals living experience.

  • There will be a whole school of thought, and the concepts and terminology to go with it, concerning those who read their futures and try to turn aside from their expected fate.

  • Also there will be a whole industry around people trying to do better than they're expected to, a "self-help for the future impaired".

  • There will be a term for those who take extreme measures to ensure they succeed in turning aside a foreseen fate. Probably individual terms depending who they kill/try to kill in the process as well.

  • And a term for those who were expected to turn aside (or at least try to by whatever measure) but stayed the course because they were told what would happen one way and another.

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The simplest answer is that their language would have several future tenses for different degrees of certainty.

There is a similar case with past tenses in some real-life languages, like Turkish (though the certainty here is not about statistics, but about indirect speech). Say oldu means 'i am sure that happened', but olmuş means 'i am told it have happened/it have supposed to have happened'.

So their language may have several future tenses, one for absolute certainty and several more for different degrees of likelihood. The absolute certainty one may even be the same at the present tense.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would it have several future tenses? Depending on how it is analyzed, English does not have a future tense at all, and still manages to express the idea of futurity. And with multiple shades of meaning. Compare "the server will reply", "the server SHALL reply" and "the server will have replied". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 7 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, you may call it several moods of future tense, as Willk does. As you say, it depends strongly on how the language is analyzed. It is a convention in Turkish linguistics to call their constructions direct and reported past tense, so I was coming of with an analogy. $\endgroup$
    – Cumehtar
    Feb 7 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ No, I cannot call them "moods of future tense" because nobody would understand me. That would be novel and unusual terminology, and I would need to explain it first. (And comparing the morphological richness of Turkish with the morphological poverty of English should tell you that languages can take many different options to express the same thing. Which makes the question obviously unanswereable.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 7 at 8:54
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Temporally Ambiguous

The biggest difference between your proposed language and anything that we have currently is that human language takes it for granted that time is experienced the same way by everyone. If I say "I will go to the store tomorrow" you can understand that as a statement of intent. However, in your proposed language that might not necessarily be true. "I will go to the store tomorrow" in that case could be a statement of fact, because the person speaking knows for a fact that they do go to the store tomorrow. Any time you see that kind of ambiguity, you can assme that your new tree person language has some grammatical structure to help clarify.

Super Subjective

I think the simplest change you could make to the tree-person langauge would be to treat the past and future on a per-subject basis, rather than assuming that it is consistent for all subjects. In other words, when you discuss things happening in time you cannot assume that your past, present, and future match up with anyone you are talking to. Instead you need to specify how an action related to you in time, but also how that action relates temporally to the person/people you are talking to. "I will go to the store tomorrow" only really makes sense if the person you are talking has the same tomorrow as you. If you are talking to someone in your past you would need to tweak the sentence to be clearer, and if you they are in your future you would have to tweak it a different way.

At its simplest, the tree-preson language would need to account for the following:

  • Whether an action occurs in your past, present or future.
  • Whether an action occurs in another's past, present, or future.
  • How you related to the other temporally (your present is their past, their future is your past, etc.)

The actual mechanics of constructing a language I will leave to others better suited, but I think the 3 points above cover enough ground that they are a good starting point. That should let two people talk to each other over any temporal distance and still be able to keep track of when things happen from a relative or absolute perspective. The truly complex part would come from adding extra layers and discussing events with different people. You can imagine the headache that would from having a conversation with someone from your future, and then discussing it with it someone from your past. Bonus points if you are discussing the conversation before you have it. But other than being more complicated, there really isn't anything in that scenario that isn't covered by the three general rules above and a species which grows up thinking that way would not have any more trouble communicating than we do with our limited temporal senses and language.

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I think you are asking for proposed language of probabilities : if I chose option A, I know for certain there’s a 13.3% chance that X will happen ...

We have a language for that, but it’s very saturated in the 90%+ region.

When we say “safe”, if you take a look at an actuarial table, for most of your life this means you have a 99.9% chance of seeing next year.

When we say “unsafe”, in terms of places where people die all the time due to poor health or misadventure, we’re talking about a 99.0% chance of making it to your next birthday, according to actuaries.

And when we say “dangerous”, in terms of people climbing buildings without safety equipment (only about 6-in-10 of this group still alive in 10 years), we’re talking about a 95% chance of making it to the next year.

And what we call “nearly suicidal” behavior; like traveling into the death zone of Mount Everest habitually (only 3-in-10 of year peers still alive in 10 years) is a 90% chance of making it to the next climbing season.

Obviously, our language is biased by the cost of the unfortunate event which, in these instances, is total.

Please allow me to propose a few other concepts for your language—

80% likely : “All but certain”. Definitely not a lifestyle choice. Only 1-in-10 people following this path as a lifestyle will still be alive for the high school reunion in 10 years. Probably not even a good idea in the short term, because of you choose this path even once-in-a-while, you are more likely than not to have experienced the “all but certain outcome” after 3 attempts.

50% likely : “meh” out of the range of lifestyle choices and into the range of you being able to depend on either outcome. If the motor doesn’t start on the first crank, try it again and it’ll work. The bad event is expected; and you’ll just keep trying until you get the outcome you want.

30% likely : “frustrating” getting the outcome you want usually takes more than one try. On average, you have to try twice to get one good outcome. And sometimes you have bad days and have to try much harder.

16% likely: “chore” you almost always get the unwanted result, and have to work hard (average of one positive outcome out of every four tries).

5% likely: “maddening” you may get the result you want one time out of every thirteen attempts. You are likely suspicious that the cause-and-effect relationship you have identified is mistaken, because the strength of the relationship between the two seems so weak. We’re back again in the range of lifestyle choices. You can follow this path as a way of life and only have a 4-in-10 chance of encountering the positive outcome in a decade of practice.

1% likely: “rare” you can try looking for this outcome once a week for more than a year before you expect to have seen it once (70 attempts before your compound chance > 50%). As a lifestyle, everyone following this path says they do get a positive outcome eventually, but it may take a whole lifetime of looking for it. As a social thing (like contest prize winners) it is possible you have never met a person who has gotten this outcome, but you may know someone who has met a winner.

0.1% likely: “rumor” you can choose this path your entire life and never see the hopes-for outcome. You will likely spend a lifetime looking for the good outcome here. As a social thing, it is possible that you have never met anyone who has even known anyone who got the positive result.

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Relative vs Absolute Direction

In most languages on earth, we have relative direction words: "Left" or "Right", "Ahead" or "Behind". It makes perfect sense to have such words, as we change our orientations all the time, and we experience things from our changing perspective.

There is a terrestrial language, however, that lacks such words. They only have fixed, absolute directions, basically "north, south, east, west". This does grant them the seeming super power of always knowing where north is, but that's because they're always keeping track of it.

Relative vs Absolute Tenses

To us, time is absolute. We all experience it more or less the same (as relativistic effects are not a daily life experience for us). Our tense structures reflect this, so we have pretty absolute tenses, kinda like that one language who only has absolute directions.

But to your people, time is relative. They are always changing which way they are "oriented" in probabilities of fate, depending on what they are looking at and what actions they are taking at the moment. It sounds really complicated to us, and so our first instinct is to give them a complicated tense structure to match it... but that's not how people usually operate. We like simple.

To your future viewers, time isn't complicated-- they can see it all. It's right there for them to engage with and understand in a way that is hidden to us. I think they would have a simple tense structure that is relative to how they personally are experiencing time at the moment. You might have tenses for "more or less probable" than what they are currently "looking" at (like our "left" and "right"). You also might have a single tense for what refers to "past or future" from an absolute tense, but would more easily be used in situations where you have a prediction about the future made in the past, and then have another tense that is "retrograde" from that (like our "ahead" and "behind").

This solves all sorts of problems about making your tenses too complicated, at the cost that speakers of this language will have to be able to infer, through context, what orientation someone is speaking from. But we do that all the time with directionality, so I see no reason why it would be difficult for them to do so with time as well.

Of course, this doesn't mean that they can't have words (or tenses) that are absolute (and super complicated). English has a word for North, after all. We just don't use it in every sentence that has spatial information in it, and neither would they.

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Nothing Changes

The human mind is already designed to make predictions about the future and draw on the experience of others for vicarious learning. Our Languages already address these facts; so, your forest people do not need to have a different sort of language to express themselves.

Future Tense

While humans are not perfect at predicting the future, we are pretty good at assuming how certain we are of a future event. Ask any 8 year old who knows what they want to be when they grow up and they can tell you exactly how likely they think thier dreams are. The only difference between humans and your People of the Forest is that humans only think they know how probable something is. But knowing the exact % chance of a probability does not change the range of certainties you may have about a thing. You could be certain, unsure, kinda-sure... it's all the same. Even today people say things like "I am 99% sure that..." when they feel a need to be precise.

So, "I will probably get stung by a bee tomorrow." is the same sentence regardless of if you can make this prediction based on because the trees told you so or because you have it on your calendar to go work in the garden tomorrow. Your Forest People will certainly make better predictions, but the language used to describe those predictions do not need to change.

Past Tense

Our language is also perfectly suited to communicate about a past that we did not experience vs one that we did. "I crossed the street to get home yesterday" is functionally no different than saying that "Julius Caesar Crossed the Rubicon in 49BCE". We already makes statements about the past as facts without needing to address who witnessed that event.

Furthermore, in humans, a memory of an event we experience is functionally no different that a memory of an event we've thought about. We only really know the difference between true memories and false ones because we can make guesses based on context, but humans are full of false memories that we speak about with certainty. So these memories of past lives will sometimes be talked about as though they were your own the same way we talk about false memories, but they will also be able to use context to separate the facts of thier own life vs facts about someone else's life the trees implanted in their memories.

So while you may remember crossing the Rubicon in 49BCE, it is really no different than remembering a movie you watched about someone crossing the Rubicon. You will know that it was not actually you, because you know you were born WAY after 49BCE.

Would the first-person plural become more complicated?

Even though I do not share the memories of my ancestors, I still often say "we" when connecting my own identity with those from the past or future. "We won the war of Independence in 1783" is the sort of thing an American might say even though no living American fought in that war. Or in world building, I may say "we" when talking about humans 500 years from now, even though I certainly will not still be alive. Having genetic memories instead of just memetic memories would certainly change what groups a person may choose to identify with, but that does not automatically require a revision to the language structure.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the example of an American saying "we won the war" would rather tell about connection of this person's identity with the nation, rather than with those from the past. This particular person's ancestors might have been Loyalists, who actually lost the war. $\endgroup$
    – Ruslan
    Feb 8 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Ruslan While this is true, it follows the same logic as humans predicting the future. A human's ability to be correct and a humans ability to express an idea are not really relevant to one another. In your example, the forest person is more likely to choose to identify with his genetic ancestors instead of his memetic ancestors, but the language works the same either way. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 8 at 16:14
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First, express your opinion about whether you are real.

The tree-people are predicting the future actions of other people. Those other people are simulated in the tree-network and simulated-say things to each other about their predictions (from the tree network) of what will happen. Note that for the network to predict the future worth an oh-shucks, those simulated selves MUST pass the Turing test with flying colors. So when you say something, you have to decide if you think you are a real person seeing something "happen", or just a future simulated possibility seeing a simulation of something happen. Perhaps there is some premise or cue you can use to fuel your emotional certainty that you are non-virtual this time, even though your virtual self has been predicted to say that many times before.

Next, express your opinion about who your intended actions are contingent on.

Someone else is going to act in a way that chooses one possible future. Those futures differ in what you are going to do, say, or want to accomplish. So you need to have a transdirect object in your language - contingent on who will you want to do something next week?

Throw in some game theory

Your decision to have your daughter win a pony next year means some other guy is going to have to console his crying daughter who didn't win a pony. That means your statement that you "hope" she "will" win a pony should come with an implied threat, which your rival will hear when he envisions the results of his simulation of his daughter winning a pony, about what you are going to make happen to them if they try to contest your future. Threats are, as always, a convoluted language with many not particularly subtle yet legally effectual variations.

Now some SEO

All the other people are running through possible futures. You need loud, musical, bombastic, alliterative, wonderful language prose that so stands out in their minds that, given a choice between 55.2% and 55.2%, they pick your 55.2% because they remember the future you were saying things in.

(I'm going to save this draft before the StackExchange Creativity Basij bust up this party - I see three votes already, and answers like this are NOT HELPING!)

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