Chapter 10: Imaginary Journeys: The Lojban Space/Time Tense System

14. Story time

Making strict use of the conventions explained in c10-§13 would be intolerably awkward when a story is being told. The time at which a story is told by the narrator is usually unimportant to the story. What matters is the flow of time within the story itself. The term “story” in this section refers to any series of statements related in more-or-less time-sequential order, not just a fictional one.

Lojban speakers use a different set of conventions, commonly called “story time”, for inferring tense within a story. It is presumed that the event described by each sentence takes place some time more or less after the previous ones. Therefore, tenseless sentences are implicitly tensed as “what happens next”. In particular, any sticky time setting is advanced by each sentence.

The following mini-story illustrates the important features of story time. A sentence-by-sentence explication follows:

✥14.1    puzuki ku ne'iki le kevna
    le ninmu goi ko'a zutse le rokci
[past] [long] [sticky] [,] [inside] [sticky] the cave,
    the woman defined-as she-1 sat-on the rock
Long ago, in a cave, a woman sat on a rock.

✥14.2 .i ko'a citka loi kanba rectu
She-1 [tenseless] eat some-of-the-mass-of goat flesh.
She was eating goat's meat.

✥14.3 .i ko'a pu jukpa ri le mudyfagri
She [past] cook the-last-mentioned
    by-method the wood-fire.
She had cooked the meat over a wood fire.

✥14.4 .i lei rectu cu zanglare
The-mass-of flesh is-(favorable)-warm.
The meat was pleasantly warm.

✥14.5 .i le labno goi ko'e bazaki
    nenri klama le kevna
The wolf defined-as it-2 [future] [medium] [sticky]
    within-came to-the cave.
A while later, a wolf came into the cave.

✥14.6 .i ko'e lebna lei rectu ko'a
It-2 [tenseless] takes the-mass-of flesh from-her-1.
It took the meat from her.

✥14.7 .i ko'e bartu klama
It-2 out ran
It ran out.

✥14.1 sets both the time (long ago) and the place (in a cave) using “ki”, just like the sentence sequences in c10-§13. No further space cmavo are used in the rest of the story, so the place is assumed to remain unchanged. The English translation of ✥14.1 is marked for past tense also, as the conventions of English storytelling require: consequently, all other English translation sentences are also in the past tense. (We don't notice how strange this is; even stories about the future are written in past tense!) This conventional use of past tense is not used in Lojban narratives.

✥14.2 is tenseless. Outside story time, it would be assumed that its event happens simultaneously with that of ✥14.1, since a sticky tense is in effect; the rules of story time, however, imply that the event occurs afterwards, and that the story time has advanced (changing the sticky time set in ✥14.1).

✥14.3 has an explicit tense. This is taken relative to the latest setting of the sticky time; therefore, the event of ✥14.3 happens before that of ✥14.2. It cannot be determined if ✥14.3 happens before or after ✥14.1.

✥14.4 is again tenseless. Story time was not changed by the flashback in ✥14.3, so ✥14.4 happens after ✥14.2.

✥14.5 specifies the future (relative to ✥14.4) and makes it sticky. So all further events happen after ✥14.5.

✥14.6 and ✥14.7 are again tenseless, and so happen after ✥14.5. (Story time is changed.)

So the overall order is 14.1 - 14.3 - 14.2 - 14.4 - (medium interval) - 14.5 - 14.6 - 14.7. It is also possible that 14.3 happens before 14.1.

If no sticky time (or space) is set initially, the story is set at an unspecified time (or space): the effect is like that of choosing an arbitrary reference point and making it sticky. This style is common in stories that are jokes. The same convention may be used if the context specifies the sticky time sufficiently.