Duolingo is the most popular way to learn languages in the world. Best of all, it's 100% free!

https://www.duolingo.com/kristinemc

We'd like to save as many of these languages as we can with the Incubator.

"One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. What is lost when a language goes silent?" - Vanishing Voices, National Geographic.

Full article with photographs: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/vanishing-languages/johnson-photography#/1

4 years ago

56 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/SineadC
SineadC
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Please save Irish. In Ireland every kid, except some with learning disabilities, has to learn Irish from age 4 to 18. From the ages of 4 to 12 approx one third of our time spent in the classroom is dedicated to the language. We have to pass an exam in Irish to get into the largest university, even though the university courses are in English. However, most of us only have a few words and phrases. Duolingo can change this !

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/shoeymcmooey

I would love to learn Irish! The way it's spoken sounds fantastic :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sigmacharding
sigmacharding
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Definitely- plus I have leaving cert next year so a course here would really help.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jonathan_pietjes

you can maybe look on www.memrise.com if there is a course for irish

http://www.memrise.com/courses/english/irish/

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sigmacharding
sigmacharding
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Interesting :) many thanks!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jonathan_pietjes

it is a pleasure

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/nighteyes

I would really like to learn Irish and about the Irish culture.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/heclgehog
heclgehog
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I really hope Irish is released sometime soon. I'm patient since there isn't much I can do besides asking different people/sources to contribute but I'm still anxious to learn!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sigmacharding
sigmacharding
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Latin revival anyone? I definitely would!

P.S It's never too late

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheGandalf
TheGandalf
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Latin is not endangered at all. It's very much a living language.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GEONERD4

Latin may not be forgotten, but many people (including me) are learning it, so it would still be nice.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NickM98
NickM98
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I think 8 out of 10 Duolingo students are waiting for a Latin course. I am one of those :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sigmacharding
sigmacharding
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Count me in too! I would love to start speaking the language with some friends :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Athenicuber

Me three! i would LOVE to learn latin (even more then my fake girlfriend)!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NHTexan

I vote for Latin!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/diplodoco

me too!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/grubymis
grubymis
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Latin rules!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Some criticism: I think the title of this post is flaky and a little bit of a worry coming from a duolingo staff member as it shows a blurring of focus.

The mission of duolingo, as I understand it, is to provide language learning for free. And in the process, to also 'translate the web'. This is a very ambitious goal but one which duolingo is already showing some success in achieving.

But the goal is 'language learning' not 'saving languages'. When people talk about 'saving' things many people will immediately be on their guard for either 1) sentimental, shoddy thinking or 2) ideological/religious zealotry. In this case I think it's the former. I sincerely doubt that just creating a duolingo course for a threatened language is going to 'save' it. The causes of languages dying out are many and complex and usually have more to do with a culture under threat than a lack of interest in a language or a lack of resources to learn it.

I feel this sort of talk is analogous to talk of 'saving' certain animals from extinction. The focus gets shifted into saving the cute and cuddly ones in zoos, while the natural habitat from which they and other less photogenic species come from continues to get wiped out.

There could even be an argument made that duolingo, in providing courses for the more popular global languages, is making it easier for local populations to move away from their native languages. I personally am not making that argument, but duolingo will leave itself open to that sort of attack if they start to engage in this sort of nebulous talk about 'saving languages'.

I think it's great that duolingo is making the incubator open to minor languages. And I look forward to those courses being developed. But that is simply providing a (very good) tool for learning a particular language. There's no guarantee that this will 'save' a language and it's unnecessary, in my opinion, to make such grandiose claims.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/kristinemc

Hi OskaLingo- Thanks for sharing your perspective! I think we're on the same page. Our main goal at Duolingo is to provide free language education to the world, which is the focus we've always had and continue to have. We also recently launched http://incubator.duolingo.com, which is giving life to new language courses on Duolingo and making many more languages (than what you currently see on Duolingo) accessible to more people. We hope what's incubated is not just those languages widely spoken across the globe, but also those that are in danger of disappearing. We are very aware that we're not the only factor at play in keeping a language alive and that complexities exist when discussing issues of why and how communities are losing their native languages. :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Hmm88
Hmm88
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How does one apply to contribute a dying language to Duolingo?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/kristinemc

You can apply to the incubator by going to http://incubator.duolingo.com. Thanks, Hmm88 :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Hmm88
Hmm88
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Yes. I've already been there. Duolingo's form for applications seems to only be accepted from people that know very specific languages. Am I wrong?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/VWieVendetta
VWieVendettaPlus
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There is an additional option for "other language"

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Luscinda
Luscinda
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It is important that the course for learning these languages is built while it is still possible - otherwise to access historical information, future generations have to reconstruct it, Rosetta Stone style, and there is a great risk of getting it wrong and misunderstandings being perpetuated and real meanings lost. It will not save them in the sense of causing a resurgence of the language, but it will save the information contained within that language for future generations. This is a very valid academic contribution and should be supported.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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I understand that and I can appreciate that constructed courses may provide valuable reference material in the future. But that is not the aim of duolingo. It is free language education (not documentation), as kristinemc has reconfirmed above. And I maintain that talking about 'saving' languages blurs this focus.

That is not to say that the work of documenting threatened languages is not valuable. Indeed, I think it's very valuable and I follow projects that aim to do that with interest. One very successful such project is Phonemica, which aims to document all the many dialects of Chinese.

http://phonemica.net/

Such projects are focused solely on this documentation goal and thus go about it in such a way to most effectively achieve that goal. Duolingo is focused on education. The incubator program is designed to build new courses not documentation projects. All I am saying is that it's important to keep that focus. And I think that the duolingo staff work very hard to do just that. But a post with a title such as the above worries me a little and so I spoke up.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dessamator
Dessamator
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Hmm, I'd have to disagree. Google defines education as "a body of knowledge acquired while being educated", so how can you acquire information without acquiring a body of knowledge that has been "documented"?

Language is more than a few words and sentences, and how to conjugate verbs and sentences, it is "is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system"(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language) (1).

The first step in research or in designing any system is first to collect and document data. So this is a must in any system like Duolingo. Most if not all existing languages developed as a subset from old languages, and understanding its origins may in fact lead duolingo to improving and designing better courses as well as saving old languages.

In addition, anyone who tries to learn a language without affiliated documentation on its culture is only learning a part of it, and will never truly be fluent.

Also, I think that you misunderstood the goal of Duolingo, and only the staff members really know what its goal is. To me it is to preserve(save) languages, translate the web, and teach new languages. As far as I'm aware, Duolingo's goal never indicated that it only wishes to teach Popular or languages with lots of speakers. It indicates it wants to teach Languages. How exactly will you teach a language that is dead,undocumented and extinct?

1 - http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/language

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ontalor
Ontalor
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It just seems weird to me that you're telling a member of Duolingo staff what Duolingo is about. Just because they add a few minority language courses to help preserve those languages isn't "blurring" the focus. The focus will always be language education, but if they can help record some of these languages as they lose speakers, it could help a lot. For example, a lot of Native American languages are dying out as the kids just use English. I'm sure some of them would like to learn their ancestors' languages, but it takes a lot of effort. Duolingo could make that process easier.

Adding extra missions to their overall perspective doesn't blur the focus, it just expands it.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Athenicuber

I think Duolingo should also have something for CATOLOGING (I don't know how to italicize) dying languages, in case anyone wants to look or learn the language.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Celyia

As a little girl of mixed heritage, I grew up speaking a few words of Spanish, only to discover that the Spanish I -thought- I knew was actually O'odham--a Native American language spoken by 30-50k people. Once I discovered (in Spanish class when I was 15) that this language wasn't the one we thought it was, my father deigned to declare O'odham as 'unimportant' and insisted we throw all our efforts into speaking English perfectly.

Years later and I find myself living so far away from home: Australia. I look back to my childhood and wish I had defied my father by learning his native tongue. Now that I look to start a family of my own, I wish I had something of their heritage to give my children.

See, the thing is, language isn't just about saying things.

Language is about -communicating-. You not only communicate ideas and feelings, but the spirit of the people. Words, phrases...these develop out of a need to express specific ideas defined by the world in that these people lived. They can actually act as a picture of a world long forgotten, of people long dead. There's something beautiful in that, because while language continues to breathe and grow, it still allows you to peek back in time.

Languages and cultures will continue to be lost and that's heartbreaking. With our amazing ways of preserving/sharing knowledge, no voice of a people should be lost. Humanity, through its various societies, has managed to survive through impossible odds, perform incredible deeds. That shouldn't be forgotten. No voice should be silenced forever. Because with every language out there that dies, another piece of our universal heritage is stripped away from us all.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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Anybody with a Tumblr, Facebook, etc. let's spread the word so people will apply to help preserve more of our languages!

As an aside, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that not every culture will be preserved, just because a corresponding language is. Several cultures reside under the English language, but only certain words are chosen and only combined in certain ways for courses here on Duolingo. I am encouraged that DL has considered adding more vocabulary to some of the languages, that will help. DL is a team and a community we can all be proud of. And I hope that it continues its wonderful pattern of continuous improvement. And, if ever DL wants consultants for English language minorities, I would gladly be one of the volunteers.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ruthlilycat

Yiddish & Ladino need people who know those languages to be part of the incubator. I really hope someone from DUO reaches these people.

http://www.jewish-languages.org/languages.html

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/henrymaxm

Yes, Yiddish and Ladino <3

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Romanoid

I would really like to learn Tibetan language. I hope somebody on Duolingo can teach us Tibetan :) It would be great!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jonathan_pietjes

maybe you can browse on memrise, look for some interesting courses,

http://www.memrise.com/courses/english/tibetan/

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Kai_E.
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It's such a shame. :( And I think that it's a noble effort of you guys to have this plan!

Will there be any personal attempts by Duolingo to somehow contact people who speak these languages? What if they never hear about the Incubator before it's too late? :(

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/buunny
buunny
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They would probably contact people who studied the language like anthropologists. A lot of these dying languages have been heavily documented and studied. The lament of linguists is that these languages will not continue to evolve like larger languages, ex. English, Spanish.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dessamator
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Well the only way I see that happening, is if Duolingo creates something like an incubator repository. Where these people can just dump their languages and the meanings of their words, and random sentences. This is because the whole, moderator, contributor, waiting list model will take too long, and many languages will go extinct before it happens.

The other alternative would require a massive re-engineering challenge, which would be designing a system whereby you can learn a language in complete isolation without any attachment to your mother tongue language, a total immersion kind of system.

This immersion system would be preferable because this current model requires considerable repetition, for every possible variation of a language, e.g. learning swahili from English, swahili from russian, and all these other languages variations. I'm guessing there will probably be more than 200000 permutations(source to target language) if Duolingo reaches its goal.

Another alternative, is for Duolingo to maybe design a very long story, which everybody translates to their language, in the case of spoken only languages, the native speaker would narrate it. This story would need to contain all the elements that are necessary for basic communication. From there people could infer and extrapolate the meanings. This would be a true and perhaps better Rosetta Stone.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/hdcanis
hdcanis
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One problem of course is that several of those ~7000 languages, typically the most endangered ones, don't have any established writing system (some might be transcribed by non-native linguists but it's not the same thing) and thus it's kind of hard to have them here... Of course there's also the issue of computer density in, say, Papua New Guinea, home of several hundreds languages, how to get three volunteers of any given language here...

I'd also point out that languages with native speakers in millions and/or recognized official status in a country are not the ones immediately threatened by extinction, they are the ones responsible for the extinction. These include Greek, Irish, Catalan or my native Finnish (however, of Uralic language group only three languages, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian, can be considered "safe for now", the others are threatened, on the brink of extinction or already extinct).

It is true that it's possible to revive dead languages in some form, but usually that's a bit similar as becoming a native speaker of some new artificial language. There are native speakers of various sign languages as well as Esperanto. It's not quite the same thing though...

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/hib5852

Wow, what an amazing article!! Thank you so much for sharing. The love that the people in the article feel for their languages is so powerful that I actually cried a little while reading it.

I think an Incubator is a wonderful idea. It's so important to save as many languages as we can. Language preserves the culture, values, thoughts, and environments of a region and its speakers. It's humanity's greatest invention. Our whole history as human beings is preserved in thousands of languages, and with each one that dies, so does a piece of our history.

A Language Incubator would keep these endangered languages from vanishing forever, but I wonder if it could completely solve the problem. A language isn't just written - it's spoken, it's thought, it's danced, it's sung, it's lived. It's the essence of what it means to be part of a culture. I believe that if we were to record and translate all the stories of an ancient language, we'd only be preserving words; part of the meaning behind the stories would die with the last native speaker. A language and its culture are synonymous, so to really save language, we'd need to save its speakers as well. And that's a much bigger endeavor.

Still, an Incubator is a good start. :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/INDIAN___YOGI

Please save Sanskrit and Greek.

Sanskrit is not only the classical language of India but also the mother of all European languages as said by linguists. According to a German magazine and American scientists it is best suited as the language for computers. According to Oxford dictionary it is the language of learned people that is why it lacks slangs. Actually the literary meaning of Sanskrit meas that is clarified and purified. Researches have shown that it has wonderful affects on healing from sickness by just hearing. It is very much pleasant to listening. If one listens it than he would like to listen it for ever.

Anybody who has studied Maths and Science would love Greek as the symbols of the language are used in Science. This is also the language of the New Testament. This is also a classical language.

So, I request that duolingo should start the courses in Sanskrit and Greek.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/binomine
binomine
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Ancient Greek is actually a good language for Duolingo, since it has a huge number of verb conjugations, over 500, and rote memorization is the best way of doing it. Very few people pronounce ancient Greek the way ancient Greeks did, so using a robot for pronunciation is perfectly fine. For actual ancient languages that are lost, I would suggest Renaissance Latin. After the Arabic to Latin translation movement, Arabized Latin became the norm. There are many, many Alchemy books written in the 1500's that are left completely unread because very few people can read them. It's theorized(and hoped) that some may contain passages from lost works unrelated to the text itself. Mining these for historical value would be ripe for crowd sourcing. Someone found the Secret Gospel of Mark in 1973, and so it has happened before.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence
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I love this idea. I actually wrote to the makers of Pimsleur once to petition them to add more native American languages, and their position was "Not enough demand, sorry" (which made me slightly sick, since once they have their courses recorded, what the hell do they have to do but sit back and watch money roll in?)

It's also quite poignant though. On the one hand, recording dying languages preserves them for as long as the thing they are recorded on - but on the other, does it do anything to stop whatever is causing them to disappear? Irish is mentioned elsewhere in this thread, and Ireland has been independent since 1922, but the language is still receding, despite being a requirement?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/notapolarbear

Language is inherently practical and involved witrh social relations. Artificially preserving a language does no good. You can't keep a language in a cage, because that changes the very characteristics you're so desperately trying to protect. Either people speak a language or they don't, but it's their choice. If you're scared of losing a language and try to teach it to other people as a solution, you might end up with a decently sized group of second language speakers. Although, if everyone needs to learn a new language every 2 weeks to prevent them from dying, we're going to be kept very busy... But a group of learners is not the same as a group of native speakers, who voluntarily* speak their language.

*Voluntarily as opposed to being forced to by some power to keep up traditions that are cute or whatever. People -will- speak the language that's most useful/practical for them. You wouldn't want anyone trying to force you to only speak a particular language, just because your grandparents spoke it when there's little use for it in your perception. (e.g. when everyone around you speaks spanish)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Gregdas
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Even if the language goes extinct, it's important to document what we know about it while we can for historical linguists later. They are still trying to piece together the story of how languages are related and change, so we need to document as many as we can before they die out.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ontalor
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It's not so much about having all of these people learn all of these minority languages, it's that many languages give a lot of insight into the functioning of the human mind and how people communicate in general, and because we're losing these languages so quickly, we're losing a lot of this information very quickly.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/asherbennaphtali

I would in general agree with your social analysis, and history would seem to support it.

There is, however, an important exception: Hebrew. By the time of Christ, most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew, opting instead for Aramaic, which had been the lingua franca of the Babylonian empire. Hebrew was preserved, artificially if you will, as a language of liturgy and study.

Now, two thousand years later, it is spoken every day by millions of people.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WitchofTime
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You should note that much of modern Hebrew was constructed by extrapolating via the religious text. That is to say, they made up many of the words based upon words in the Torah. So it does still have an 'artificial' element.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/underwood.jones
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A very good point WitchofTime! This is an issue that I and other Gothic revivalists are running into as many words can be inferred or reconstructed using comparative linguistics, but sometimes a whole new word needs to be coined and we have a limited corpus to work with! Icelandic has avoided importing words as much as possible by compounding native Icelandic words to create a new word altogether, e.g. computer, "tölva" from "tala + völva," "digit/number + prophetess." There are more examples, but that's a fun one ;)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SteveLando
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This is a very great tool to get small, or even already extinct, languages to a wider interested audience, making it possible to spread the light of their linguistic knowledge, and of course, shaping a sphere for learning those languages, and in so doing, helping concerning this agenda

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SerahnKahukura

If you'd like to save as many languages as possible, why does Duolingo turn away people who apply to be contributers of an endangered language? Or in my case, a language rescued from rapid language loss that has social and political support, and a very young, technologically savvy population? It seems like lip service to me. Arohaina Te Reo Māori!!!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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@SerahnKahukura, what email message did you receive turning you away?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AndrewRudd

i really want us to continue greek as it is an important language

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/alysakow
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Rosetta Stone put some effort into this for about 7 years with endangered Native American Languages, but I think they've abandoned any new development, although they say they are maintaining the 6 or so that they implemented.

Their webpage on it: http://www.rosettastone.com/endangered

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/StrapsOption
StrapsOption
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I just found this discussion now. Maltese is small, and Malta is bilingual, English being the other language. Maltese must be popularised!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Athenicuber

once we get one endangered language on duolingo (for teaching), it will start a duolingo revolution, and many more endangered languages will likely be added, but the majority of the people who speak those languages don't use computers, so we have to a) document grammar, morphology, syntax, lexicon, etc. and b) create the course, which in all, totals up to about 2 or 3 years.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/RadioScotch
RadioScotch
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this was 4 years ago. everyone is like "please save irish" what did duolingo do? saved irish. looking at this now is just i don't know but sorta cool.

9 months ago