The society is a simple society. It is more-or-less a hunter-gatherer society, with a large hierarchy of leadership. They mostly live in independent families. Every family, including the leaders, gather food independently, and there is almost no trade. The leaders gain power through trust and respect from the populace, and rarely make use of it. The leader's most common uses of power are settling disputes between families

Most notably, the society is made up of many related species, which vary (on both a specific and individual level) from being able to speak and understand language at a nearly human level, to communicating with natural signals and having no linguistic abilities at all. There are more individuals towards the latter end of the scale, and most leaders are relatively good at language. Less linguistically capable individuals have less to do with the society, though they may still have some involvement. All individuals and families that participate in the society are generally treated equally by most others. Their minds and natural signals are akin to the species of Canis

Could this society, as described, function properly with so many individuals who can't use language?

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on what functions members of this society must perform. Consider a society consisting of shepherd family, their dogs and sheep. Most of them can't use language, and yet they can function very well. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ Also consider that, in primitive societies, most members are young, and many are babies. Babies communicate with natural signals & have no linguistic abilities at all. Human society gets along pretty well this way already! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ "Their minds and natural signals are akin to the species of Canis" -- In real history, dogs, which are indeed a species of Canis, have functioned extremely well as members of our society. And yes there were, and there still are, many of them. They contributed an enormous amount of work and companionship. (Ah, and in a hunter-gatherer society nobody brings anybody to court. Courts of law cannot function in the absence of a state, for the obvious resons.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Sure they do. And shepherds have way of dealing with disputes between their dogs, or between themselves and their dogs. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I'm voting to leave open as to me it seems on-topic and answerable as-is. Humans and dogs/ferrets/horses/elephants/llamas etc have worked together just fine for centuries. I think the main issue I have with it is that it's trivially answerable - or that I'm missing the point of the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 23:58

5 Answers 5


You could say it would work, but it wouldn't be that believable.

Language is a massive advantage in social situations. It lets you pass on valuable skills quickly, it lets you ally easily with others, it lets you pass on useful messages without error, it lets you protect children from danger.

So, of course you could have a sappy society that treated everyone equally, even those without any language, but it wouldn't be especially belieable. We humans don't treat those without language such as heavily disabled people equally, and we don't treat animals equally. Because, why would we? We have massive power advantages over those without languages, and tend to value ourselves and our families above others in general.

So, like many utopias, it wouldn't be especially believable.

Those without language need more power to make up for their weakness.

A lack of power inevitably means a group will be weaker in society, and vulnerable. They're not likely to trust a leader from another family to settle disputes between them and others.

As such, you need them to have an advantage over those with speech, and an advantage that isn't there if those with speech just abduct their rivals children and raise them as their animalistic slaves.

Make those without language notably better at hunting, or tool making.

Whatever brain development linguistics have, it impedes some other vital aspect of the brain. It as such makes people with it useless at some key task vital for survival of the community.

As such, those with language are dependent on those without. If they fuck over those without language, they'll doom their community. If they are fair and nice, they can enjoy the benefits of their skill.

If they kill them and take their children, the children will tend to develop some language skill by being exposed to language. This will tend to ruin them for this vital task.

This ensures that it's in everyone's self interest to maintain the community as is.



A society where most of the living organisms don’t speak is common in an early agrarian society. However the society is often called a farm. You have a few humans who farm, they then have horses, the horses can’t speak but they could trained. They might have cattle or sheep, which don’t speak, but they make milk, and fleece. They might have dogs, which can kind of understand verbal commands, but again don’t speak.

Sure, not all societies treat these animals as equals, but not automatically. Ask Indians if they respect cattle, Mongolians if they respect horses, and most modern Americans if they respect dogs. While respecting and cherishing all these animals is unlikely it is possible. Giving these animals language might help earn respect, so that makes it a lot easier.

  • $\begingroup$ I do not think that domestic animals 'participate' in society, nor they are treated as true equals. Farm animals do not have the decision autonomy and personal agency that members of a society have. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin: So are there any human societies where all members are treated as equals? Even the smallest hunter-gatherer tribe probably has a chief, war/hunt leaders, a medicine man/woman, &c. The stereotypical nuclear family has dad at the head, mom next, then subservient kids.... $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I am not sure what is your point. Please also be careful with cultural stereotypes. They are not necessarily universal. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin: The point is just what I said. I know of no human society in which all members are equal. Of course I don't know every society. Can you provide a counter-example? (And please learn the difference between stereotype and observation :-)) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf How does your statement about social inequality relate to my original comment? Do you have difficulty understanding it? May I provide some clarifications? As for counterexamples, I come from a culture with a different power dynamic within families. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 16:37

Well animals do not speak but they use their own language that is incomprehensible for people.

I think that if they do not use a spoken languase they would rely in other forms of communication since it is a basic need. They could communicate using signals and drawing using their hands like deaf people do considering that your civilization is the simplest possible. Hunter-gatherers could use this to communicate with each other in a efficient way and they would pass it to the next generations.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your thoughts, and how you are elaborating on that "communication" and spoken language should not be conflated. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 2:16

The problem often isn't the lack of language - we get on just fine with our non-communicative pets after all - but the social capacity of the species involved.

Humans on Earth get on just fine with dogs, cats and other domestic breeds because we have bred them to maximize their social instincts. While some breeds of domestic dogs may resemble wolves, there's a very large difference between canis familiaris and canis lupus. Essentially dogs have become capable of social bonding outside of their species, and so have we.

Our closest ape cousins on the other hand - bonobos and chimps - are more like wild animals. While they form social units among their own species they rarely form social bonds with other species. The same is true of most ape species, which is something else that sets us apart.

Various studies have been done into domestication, including the classic Russian Farm Fox study. While its conclusions have been recently called into doubt (google "domesticated silver fox" for more info), the results are still interesting. While vulpes vulpes kits acted in many ways similar to puppies, as they matured they became solitary and aggressive. After several generations of breeding for passivity they managed to produce a breed of silver fox that apparently retained some of its juvenile characteristics.

All of which becomes relevant to your question when we consider the idea of domestication of cousin species during the story's history.

Imagine if during our early days humans had met and befriended other ape species rather than whatever dog species we originally joined with. From an evolutionary perspective there are a few good reasons for this not to happen, so you're probably going to need a good reason for the genetically distinct (ie non inter-fertile) species to join together. Mutual survival plus a lack of other suitable help-mates is an option here.

Over hundreds of generations of mutual support the companion species would become domesticated and integrated into the society of the dominant species. Their physical similarities might make the bond with them closer than dogs, or it could lead to centuries of abject slavery... humans did it to themselves, no reason they wouldn't do it to their cousins too if the opportunity arose.

In order to reach the point you seem to be interested in there will need to be some great enlightenment period where the other species are finally accepted as being simply less bright citizens. They may not have language, probably won't ever develop it (just like our modern pets won't, without help), but are capable of learning to do reasonably complex tasks. They are naturally social creatures, not just among themselves but with the other species they developed alongside. All held together and guided by the dominant intelligent species.

For a little motivation, the dominant species may have a very low fertility. They can maintain a survival population but need the help of the other species to grow a functional civilization. Fortunately the other species are far more fecund, so there is seldom any concern about labor shortage. As long as you have enough of the dominant species around to coordinate the work, of course.

Where this diverges significantly from cats and dogs is that the partner species in this case is actually capable of evolving language. Their brains are already capable, they already vocalize for various reasons, they can learn non-verbal communications like sign language to a fairly high degree of proficiency, etc. They may not be quite as high on the intellect scale, but physically they're more than a match for the dominants.

Won't be far down the line before you work force starts organizing for better living conditions, fairer wages and all the rights afforded the dominants. Better be prepared for it or it might get bloody.


Yes, keep in mind there are many different types of communication, within our species and beyond. Consider non-verbal communication in our species, to start with. Mother-infant research demonstrates the many nuances of non-verbal communication before the infant develops the ability to speak to communicate (for example, facial expression, body orientation, eye contact). Be careful to not define linguistics as communication.

I recommend watching the film "Arrival", as it is a good reference of a species that communicates using signs. Furthermore, the difference between this language and human language is an absence of spoken word, or phonetics.

Nonlinguistic communication transmits/imparts information without using phonetic language, or speech. Vicars (2001) continues to explain different forms of non-linguistic communication, that don't use phonetics, such as symbols (like in the film), and even examples like the transmission of pheromones.

Menard-Warwick explains

Linguistics is the systematic study of the structure and evolution of human language, and it is applicable to every aspect of human endeavor.

Since linguistics is relating to science of human language, Shahhoseiny (2013) explains

the four branches of linguistics are phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. Phonology deals with the study of sounds. Morphology deals with the the morphemes and combinations of morphemes as words. Syntax deals with the combinations of words as phrases and phrases as sentences.

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    $\begingroup$ The glyphs in Arrival (excellent film, incidentally) are linguistic; every bit as much as this text you are reading. This is made very clear in the film through the human efforts to learn the language. Specifically, it is an ideographic written language (like Egyptian or Mandarin). $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Nonlinguistic communication transmits/imparts information without using phonetic language. See new link in my edited answer. The example from the film is distinct from spoken Egyptian or Mandarin in that the language (and corresponding symbols) are non-phonetic. But yes, ideographic in the same way that hieroglyphs are, and the Mandarin symbols. But, we know that the Egyptians and Chinese spoke linguistically in addition to using a ideographic writing system. The example from the film is a culture without spoke word, unlike the Egyptians and Chinese. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ Phonetics is a level encompassed by linguistics, because linguistics is the study of human language. Yes I read the article I cited. See new citation in my comment for a link to an empirical source, wikipedia tends to generalize. Keep in mind, my answer is attending to the question asked. "Communication" and "linguistic" seem to be conflated here, so I elaborated with examples. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 2:09

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