There will be more experiments like this in future postings. This particular one has occupied me intermittently for several years — it often helps me to reduce religious disputes, as I reflect on them, to their lowest common denominator.
So we posit two populations of persons: tribe-sized, maybe a couple of hundred apiece including women and children. Presumptively human: identical in biology, metabolism, and neurological processes. Like us humans in all the important respects, no matter how we prioritize those.
- Tribe A’s language consists of, oh let’s say — 5000 words.
- Tribe B has the same language, but one more word — 5001 words.
- the one additional word: “God”.
An immediate consequence of that extra word is that tribe B’s language may have an indefinite number of sentences that do not exist in tribe A’s language.
(For simplicity’s sake, let’s stipulate these two tribes have not yet developed writing. If they’re capable of keeping written records, it’s a completely different scenario.)
We can pose a number of questions about this situation:
Suppose the tribes to be initially isolated from each other. Then they meet. How long might it take for the extra word to pop up in their palaver? How might a conversation proceed from that point?
Suppose them, on the other hand, to be integrated into a single population. How will members of each tribe identify themselves to each other in daily activity? Do they need to?
Suppose we just stipulate that there is no distinction between members of these two tribes other than the single additional word in the language of tribe B. They observe the same phenomena, have the same science, the same math, the same logic. But we’ve said nothing about their psychology or social structure.
Then what about cultural norms, mores, institutions, myths, narratives? Is that single word variance enough to generate divergences in these? Will we find significant differences in moral codes? Necessarily? Or contingently?
Of course there could be many more questions. These are just the first that occur to me.