Note: Sorry if this post is needlessly detailed, I understand a lot of these details don't affect the question much. I thought I'd bring them up anyways since this is quite the unique situation for the development of a shared language. You get the gist of it.

In this world, there is a verdant land called Apylecus and in tribal times (similar to the late late Neolithic age on Earth), two different nomadic tribes migrate there and eventually become sedentary. The land is extremely lush, one of the most habitable lands in the entire world and is protected by a vast mountain range that encircles the region. Geographically, the land is like a dense taiga forest. Food is so abundant, the two tribes are able to become sedentary even though they rely on a hunter gatherer system and subsistence economies.

The two tribes live here in their small, scattered villages. Each tribe has multiple settlements united by a single government. Literally for hundreds of years they live in the same region, the population slowly increasing over time. Eventually they develop basic agriculture and near the end of the period the agriculture becomes sufficiently advanced and they experience a population boom.

After 1500 years the tribes finally merge after a large final war and go on to create a civilization, but that isn't the focus of this question. What I want to know is will their languages realistically merge with each other before this happens and how long would that take?

The two tribes are the Apylessi and Nageqim tribes.

They are the same race but hail from very distinct regions during their nomadic years. This is one of their few similarities.

The Apylessi and Nageqim live close to each other for a long time (roughly 1500 years) and fight many countless wars, always resulting in stalemates or ceasefires. Their technology progress at the same rate, when one tribe makes an innovation or discovery it isn't long before the other tribe steals it. A famous example of this was when the Nageqim stole domesticated sheep from the Apylessi who had managed to domesticate the animal first.

Over time, how feasible is it that these two languages would merge with each other and how long would it probably take?

Things to keep in mind:

  1. The Apylessi and Nageqim migrated from different regions in the world and speak two completely distinct languages. These languages have no similarities.

  2. The Apylessi and Nageqim are the same race, but have genetic differences.

  3. They never migrate out of the region because it is extremely lush with abundant sustenance.

  4. It is not uncommon for an Apylessi or Nageqim walking alone through the forest to encounter a man or woman from the other tribe. Meetings and encounters are frequent. In times of war, they would usually immediately attack each other. In times of peace, they would usually be very cautious.

  5. The Apylessi and Nageqim are fairly primitive, with societies similar to the Late Neolithic Period with civilization right around the corner. Agriculture becomes prevalent halfway through the 1500 year time span and really becomes developed near the end which results in an advancement of technology.

  6. They have no systems of writing.
  7. For hundreds of years, the Apylessi and Nageqim settlements are always never more than a seven days walk apart from each other at the very most. With an average distance of three days and some settlements even within a few hours distance of each other.

  8. These close settlements are surprisingly common, though not the most common type of settlement. Interestingly the two tribes sometimes "communicate" with each other here from the onset. Initially, they are hostile and continue to be hostile during most of history and naturally these settlements suffer the most during wars since they edge towards territorial borders. Interestingly, in the late years of the 1500 year era when agriculture begins to become developed, these settlements begin trading with each other. Think, wool and other items. This results in mixed views from the isolated settlements, ranging from outrage to paranoid acceptance. Ties between the two tribes become the most friendly here of any region, though there are no alliances of any kind.

  9. The Apylessi and Nageqim never traded with each other in any other circumstances other than the late sproadic trading practiced in close settlements, since they hated one another. Individuals would sometimes meet each other in the forest and trade, though this was infrequent and frankly quite rare.

  10. Settlements within each tribe did trade with other settlements in the tribe.

  11. The most densely populated areas for the Apylessi are usually midways away from the territorial borders, while the Nageqim have sizeable villages near the territorial borders. I doubt this matters much.

  12. A third splinter tribe is never formed.

  13. The Apylessi and Nageqim frequently fight many wars, but there is never a victor. No significant settlement is ever conquered. Territory is gained and lost in an endless struggle, going back and forth. All the while, neither tribe ever retreats and they remain in the same region and always at equal strength. There are periods of peace and periods of war.

  14. The Apylessi and Nageqim never ally with each other. To suggest such a thing would be ridiculous.

  15. The Nageqim practice slavery, while the Apylessi do not. Slaves rarely escape. Slavery is a large part of the Nageqim society and Apylessi slaves are in decent number but only form roughly a quarter of their total slave population

  16. On average, their populations remain equal to each other. Slowly growing as agriculture becomes more dominant in their societies. Shortly after arriving in Apylecus as nomadic tribes, the total population is roughly 649 people, split equally between the two tribes. During 1500 years the population steadily increases as agriculture becomes more developed. The population at the end of the 1500 years is roughly 7000, once again split equally between both tribes.

  17. The Apylessi and Nageqim literally despise each other and many of their myths and legends antagonise the other.

If you have any questions I will answer them. Honestly I'm unsure if their languages would ever merge at all, though 1500 years is a very very very long time to spend in close proximity to another tribe. This is why I wonder.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a rule? I wouldn't think anyone would assume that I'm claiming I made the image myself. I'm not advertising a product or anything. I'll remove the image then. $\endgroup$
    – Noble
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 3:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Roughly 649... What do you see as precise? $\endgroup$
    – user58697
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ @user58697 there's two women preggers, one has twins in her family the other had stillbirth last time $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 8:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Languages don't "merge", except maybe in exceedingly rare situations. Normally the two peoples would merge, speaking a new language descended from one of the ancestral languages with more or less influence from the other (mostly in vocabulary and phonetics). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 16:06

4 Answers 4


Usually you would get language shift. Austronesian languages are spoken in many parts of Melanesia by peoples who have little or no Austronesian ancestry. Here's a link with many real life examples.

If you have totally unrelated languages you normally have a process of bilingual to language shift with perhaps some grammar structures and words from the other language which dies rather than any sort of real merge. This has happened many many times. And right now there are many languages undergoing this and even many in the terminal unrecoverable stage with languages going extinct every year. Here is a link with info on how this occurs.

The more unrelated the languages are, the faster and more total the language shift.

Papua New Guinea has around a third of all the Worlds languages, many of them unrelated to those around them. They don't merge when two groups settle their differences after 1000's of years of living next door. One language becomes dominant and pretty soon there is a shift. They may keep a few nouns for place names and such but that's about it. But from highlands to lowlands you may have a single stream with 50+ different names depending whose territory you're in.

Timeframe can be as fast as a single generation to get it well underway, it depends on the people and the reasons. More moderate I would at a guess say 3 to 5 generations to achieve language death for one language. Pre literate languages are extremely vulnerable, they're not learnt formally, if the kids grow up without hearing them much they don't learn them, what they do learn is of lesser value, they don't learn the rich vocab etc,. By second generation they can't communicate very effectively in their native language and their kids even less so. Niuean has a wordlist of 1500 badly transliterated words made by a missionary decades ago. This language is effectively dead now, there are very very few (old) people who can hold a meaningful conversation in it and the kids don't learn it. A single generation gave it it's death knell, it hung on a bit longer through inertia, but that's what basically happened.

I can't think of any reasonable example of languages merging in similar scenarios, Latin and Etruscan didn't merge, in fact the Romans themselves experienced total language shift to Latin early on in their career.

The Picts and Scots eventually merged as a people, but only one language survived. I'm explaining using European examples, I could explain better using Melanesian, Polynesian, Autronesian, Micronesian, but they're not very well known and some great examples are now in the middle of at least their second total language shift that we know about.

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    $\begingroup$ Fascinating, I would never expect a language shift to occur that quickly when the two languages are unrelated. I thought it would alienate the two tribes and prevent any merging or shift. Assuming two related languages would merge / shift naturally with ease, I also assumed two unrelated languages would have considerable difficulty. But if I understood what you were saying, two unrelated languages would more likely result in one of them just flat out dying. Which makes sense. The real world examples are very helpful, too. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Noble
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Noble Pre-literate societies like yours are particularly vulnerable. Literate societies languages would take a bit longer, or even survive if they used a common script, even more so if it wasn't a phonetic script eg, ethnic Chinese tribes. But most lose the battle as their languages lose relevance. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent. I did not run into the term "language shift" on looking around and am glad to now know it. I did read on the Amerind languages the path of which also seem to me to represent the "language shift" phenomenon. An interesting side thing could be the persistence of the dying / replaced language as a religious language as happened to Coptic and maybe even Hebrew. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Will I've never heard of that happening with a pre-literate language and it seems even more unlikely with such a small demographic I would think. Could happen though if one peoples language became dominant and the other peoples religion I suppose. The demographic just seems too small to sustain a powerful priesthood and separate language without literature. Some Polynesian languages have two forms elite/common that diverged over time, but they were if not originally the same, then at least closely related in the beginning. Literacy makes a huge difference learning and preserving a language. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Noble: if you have a case where people speaking two unrelated languages live next to or among each other, the first thing that happens is that everybody learns the other people's language (although maybe not very well). And eventually, probably just one language survives, possibly with parts of the grammar simplified, pronunciation changed, and vocabulary and a little bit of grammar from the other language thrown in. This is more or less what happened with Old English and French after the Norman conquest. $\endgroup$
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 11:56

Part of it depends on what you mean by merge. English has elements of Welsh and Gaelic in it, but Welsh and Gaelic are still spoken separately after 1500 years of close proximity. However, very few people speak only Welsh or Gaelic. Most everyone who speaks one of those speaks English as well.

The historical King Arthur was a Welsh king (Arth is Welsh for bear and ursus is the Latin word). One of his most famous successes was taking the "sword" from the Angles and the Saxons, which was later miscopied as taking the sword from the anvil and the stone. Anyway, that was prior to 500 AD, so more than 1500 years ago. Perhaps even more than 1600 years ago, records are rather weak that far back.

Your tribes seem at least as hostile to each other as the Welsh and Scots to the Angles. Unless they became significantly less hostile to each other, it seems quite possible that their languages would stay distinct.

In our world, the Welsh and the Angles settled into their own peace with trade, etc. As the Welsh and the Romans worked together to resist the Angles and the Saxons, the Welsh joined with the Angles to resist Viking raiding parties and Norman conquest. All this pushed them together into what language merging did occur.

  • $\begingroup$ I suppose merge could mean a complete merging into a single language OR both languages evolving to share certain traits with each other. All in all, I'm just aiming for the most realistic outcome and am seeking others' perspectives. $\endgroup$
    – Noble
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Noble: English and Gaelic are a good example of why languages don't often merge. English has a good number of Gaelic loanwords, and vice versa, but the gramatical structures of the languages are still much different. As pointed out below, you can make a pidgen/creole out of two languages by using the vocabulary of one with the grammar of the other, but it would only be a merger if the two original languages dropped out of common use. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ For the record, it's highly unclear if a "King Arthur" (of the sort we think of) ever existed, and even if he did, he wasn't a "Welsh King" (Celtic yes, but not in modern day Wales, and likely not even a "king"). Given that the first mention of any name remotely like "Arthur" was written down three hundred years after he supposedly lived, the evidence weights in favor of 99% of all modern conceptions of him being entirely false. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ I recall reading that English lost a lot of its inflections due to exposure to Danish, because while much of the vocabulary was still cognate enough for a minimal degree of mutual intelligibility, dropping inflections made this easier. (English borrowed some pretty important words from Danish, like pronouns.) $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 6:48

To further prevent the languages from merging, make them be incompatible. They can’t form a reasonable creole and it's difficult to make loan words from each other because it’s based around different linguistic concepts and uses different sounds. So make the languages from different families, not branches from a more recent common language.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You can make a creole out of any two languages. Pidgin is an official language in some places. It basically uses two totally unrelated languages by superimposing (simple) English on a different grammatical structure. Lots more to it than that, but it can and has been done many times. I use pidgin because most people heard of it, but many languages did this long before English was anything special. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English-based_pidgins sounds of words make no difference, transliteration (using the word loosely) takes care of that. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ If the two tribes "despise" each other, a creole or pidgin would not form anyway. Just think about how the French sometimes insist they don't understand English and try to purge their language of anglicisms. And the French claim to not despise the English speaking people. Two tribes insisting they despise each other and must stay separate would actively resist contaminating their language. Lack of trade also means there would be little need for languages to mix. So I do not see what process could lead to the languages merging anyway. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2017 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi I agree, but once the populations merge the social dynamic changes and people need to communicate with each other.. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ There are no incompatible languages. Japanese has many words of English origin. Romanian has words of Hungarian origin, and the two languages are completely unrelated and have utterly different phonetics. English has words of Chines and Arabic origin. Notoriously, Latin absorbed many words from Greek origin, so many that eventually a point was reached where any Greek word could be used in Latin, with a well known algorithm for Latinizing Greek words (which is occasionally still in use for making scientific names of biological species). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP has English ever taken a loan word from American Sign Language? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 18:29

Given the degree of hostility, a maintenance of separate languages over time seems plausible.

But the keeping of Apylessian slaves by the Nageqim will apylessify their language, because the slaves will develop their own register of the Nageqim language containing words and grammatical structures from Apylessian. Those borrowings will move up to the language of the slave holders. In the long run (with the Nageqim capturing fresh Apylessians to enslave) they will end up speaking more-or-less Apylessian. At that point the communities can merge, two.


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