https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark

Duolingo's Language Families

AtomClark
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Here is a breakdown of the major language families represented on Duolingo:

  • Indo-European - 20: Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian, Welsh

  • Austronesian - 2: Indonesian, Hawaiian

  • Afro-Asiatic - 1: Hebrew (Arabic coming soon)

  • Austroasiatic - 1: Vietnamese

  • Dené-Yeniseian - 1: Navajo

  • Japonic - 1: Japanese

  • Koreanic - 1: Korean

  • Niger-Congo - 1: Swahili

  • Sino-Tibetan - 1: Chinese

  • Tupian - 1: Guarani

  • Turkic - 1: Turkish

  • Uralic - 1: Hungarian

As you can tell, this is a little skewed, and I think there is the potential for a much greater range of the world's languages to be represented. With that in mind, here are some languages Duolingo might want to prioritise to offer that range:

  • Tamil or Telugu - these are both Dravidian languages, the largest family (by number of speakers) not represented on Duolingo. Telugu is the most spoken of these, however Tamil is more well-known and is spoken in quite touristic parts of India (as well as Northern Sri Lanka).

  • Thai - next is the Tai-Kadai language family, whose largest representative by far is Thai. This language has been requested a lot and it is in my view the most important language not yet available.

  • Quechua - even when divided into its dialects (which should really be considered separate languages), Quechua is still the most widely spoken Indigenous American language. It is also spoken in one of the most visited parts of Latin America, Peru's Sacred Valley.

  • Mongolian - Mongolic is another large family not represented. While Mongolia itself is a fascinating country, most Mongolian speakers actually live in the Inner Mongolia region of China. Both places however are frequented tourist destinations.

  • Georgian - the largest member of the Kartvelian language family, Georgian has its own beautiful script and is spoken in the beautiful country of Georgia, a rapidly up-and-coming destination.

  • Basque - a language isolate (no proven relation to any other language on Earth), Basque is a fascinating language in and of itself and the official language of the Basque country in northern Spain, again, a popular destination.

These are the major families not represented, however even among those families already represented, there are some branches which have been ignored.

  • Finnish (and Estonian) - Finnish is Uralic, like Hungarian, however from a completely different branch. Today the languages look completely different. I believe it is also the most requested language to be added after Latin.

  • Farsi (Persian) - with over 100 million total speakers, this is one of the largest languages yet to be added, and while it is a member of the Indo-European family, the Iranian branch is as of yet completely unrepresented.

  • Tagalog - the Philippines is home to over 100 million people, but thus far none of its numerous native languages are represented here on Duolingo. Tagalog (or Filipino - a standardised variety of Tagalog) is spoken by almost half of the population of the Philippines, making it the most spoken language there. It would make a nice addition to the Duolingo's Austronesian languages.

  • Yoruba - while Swahili has the largest number of total speakers of any Niger-Congo language, Yoruba has the largest number of native speakers. Spoken in South-West Nigeria, it would add to the currently lacking number of native African languages on Duolingo. It is also not a member of the Bantu branch which Swahili is in, and has many features such as tone and complex aspect systems not found in Swahili.

  • Hausa - also spoken in Nigeria, this time in the north, Hausa is the largest language native to the African continent. It is a member of the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family, the oldest language family we've been able to trace back confidently, and is therefore completely different from the Semitic branch (which Hebrew and Arabic belong to).

  • Amharic - again part of the Afro-Asiatic family, this time a member of the South Semitic branch, it is the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia (where very few people can speak English or any other European language for that matter).

  • Burmese - Sino-Tibetan is the second-largest family by number of speakers. Obviously it owes this fact to Chinese, however the Sinitic branch of Sino-Tibetan is very different to the adjacent Tibeto-Burmese branch. Burmese is the largest representative here, however Tibetan (despite its spelling, which rivals English in its lack of logic) is also fascinating and popular among followers of Buddhism.

4 weeks ago

65 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Hermesianax
Hermesianax
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As you can tell, this is a little skewed, and I think there is the potential for a much greater range of the world's languages to be represented.

It's skewed because the distribution of the different language families is skewed in reality as well. ~40% of the world's population speaks a language from the Indo-European family, so it's by far the largest language family out there.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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I understand that full well, I'm just saying I would like to see a greater range (mostly out of linguistic interest).

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HirundoPrima
HirundoPrima
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As someone whose native language is Hungarian, I would really like to see Finnish on Duolingo. All my life I have been learning Indo-European languages, and I have been discovering all the ways they are related. And I always wanted to see a language related to my own, no matter how distant that relationship would be. Since Hungarian has no close relatives, like German and Dutch, Italian and Spanish, or Polish and Russian; and Finnish is the second biggest language in the Uralic branch, I would love it.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TimmohB

I am hoping for more African languages, especially something from the Southern African region like Zulu, Shona or Tswana. Even here in South Africa, resources to learn languages such as Zulu are few, it is sometimes more accessible to learn a foreign language than a local one.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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Xhosa is one language I would love to see added on account of its clicks. I think most people perceive South Africa as being an English-speaking country and therefore don't think there is any need to familiarise themselves with another language (which is true when it comes to business and touristy areas) but most people in South Africa are not native speakers of English (or speak English at all for that matter).

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lizsue
lizsue
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Maybe Duolingo could start with English courses for speakers of Xhosa, Zulu, etc. for South Africans who are studying English as a non-native language, and then make courses in Xhosa, Zulu, etc. for English speakers?

At least half of South Africans own smartphones: https://businesstech.co.za/news/internet/255995/more-than-half-of-south-africans-now-own-a-smartphone-study/

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Francoise876798

Would love Xhosa! I've checked out a few youtube videos with the different types of clicks. Very cool!

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DragonPolyglot
DragonPolyglot
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I would really love to learn Zulu. It’s very pretty.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lizsue
lizsue
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Also see https://qz.com/africa/924100/you-can-now-learn-two-of-africas-most-widely-spoken-languages-on-an-app/ .

It's from March 4, 2017 and includes

...Added to that, Zulu will be the next African language available, he told the cheering crowd in Cape Town.

Swahili launched on Friday (Mar.3) Ahn told Quartz. The launch date for the Zulu platform is not yet certain, but it is already in development he added...

I hope that they do have contributors ready to work on Zulu, and that this isn't like when they announced they'd add a Mayan language but apparently didn't have a team of contributors yet.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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Someone needs to explain to me the process for how Duolingo adds languages. It seems that there are many languages they announce but don't get around to adding.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lizsue
lizsue
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I'm wondering that too!

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sea-mist

Im not sure but I thought a lot of it or most of it is done by a volunteers so if they dont have ones who know the languages and want to help, the languages wont be done.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Francoise876798

Yes me too! Xhosa and Amharic would be awesome too. I'm signed up for Swahili (I lived in Tanzania for a while) but unfortunately there's no audio on this one. Still, very happy to have so many languages available. I've just started using Duolingo and having a lot of fun.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheEeveeLord

Can I just thank you for not listing Altaic as a language family? I'm currently in college and I'm slowly being driven insane by how frequently some of my textbooks and lectures assert that Japanese and Korean are Altaic languages (which is ridiculous because even among Altaic-supporters there are people that exclude Japanese and Korean). I mean, they aren't linguistics textbooks or classes so it's not the biggest deal, but if they're college level textbooks and lectures, I think that they should at least add a footnote about how the Altaic language family is unproven, hotly contested, and generally discredited nowadays instead of just asserting it as a fact.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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Pretty much all pre-21st century textbooks group Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic under Altaic. It must have been proved wrong at some point relatively recently, hopefully in a few years time everything will be more up to date.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheEeveeLord

I'm pretty sure the editions of my textbooks came out circa 2010. I'm not sure when the first editions came out, but assuming they're not still trying to assert the existence of the Altaic language family despite being contested, maybe they just forgot to update that part in the new editions? Either way I think it's a bit of an oversight.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MustafaOuz526752

Turkic and Mongolic share the same origin, that's the why they are under Altaic

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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Turkic and Mongolic both originated on the steppes, but then so did Indo-European. Now while it's likely that all languages evolved from a single ancestor, the point is the Altaic family has been discredited. Of course Mongolic and Turkic will be connected at some point, but if a proto-language cannot be confidently recreated then it makes no sense to say that they share a language family.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MustafaOuz526752

Is Mongolic a proto-language?

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
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No it refers to a language family which includes Mongolia, Oirat, Buryat and Kalmyk. Of course as with all language families, it did have a proto-language which we would call 'proto-mongolic'.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/E.T.Gregor
E.T.Gregor
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Manchu is Tungusic, not Mongolic.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheEeveeLord

That's unproven, though. Many linguists reject the idea of the Altaic language family and believe that some similarities may be due to contact between the languages, despite having separate origins. In addition, other linguists note that the earlier forms of Turkic and Mongolic languages show fewer similarities rather than more, which should be the other way around if they're related. I'm not saying they aren't related, but I am saying that there isn't sufficient proof to assert that they are and treat it as an indisputable fact.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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I have rarely seen a suggestion list I agree more with. Off the top of my head, the only ones I would add (using the same criteria as you) are Albanian and Armenian (the two remaining living branches of the Indo-European family) and Khmer (another branch of the Austroasiatic family).

(The Great Purge of 2017 somewhat complicates the situation but Finnish is still the most requested language by the number of upvotes ahead of Latin. Although if Latin also had all, not just most, of its votes nullified, it has made a better comeback).

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HirundoPrima
HirundoPrima
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I am a bit lost here, what was The Great Purge of 2017? Did it nullify votes for language suggestions?

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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Yes. Finnish went overnight from 2500+ to 0, Latin from around 2100 to 0-200, and more than 20 other suggestions lost over 100 votes.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HirundoPrima
HirundoPrima
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Why on Earth did that happen? Can we re-upvote the threads?

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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The people who hadn't voted those threads can still vote (that's why Latin is at 590 and Finnish at 415) but anyone who had already voted can only take their vote away. That tells us that it wasn't an actual nullification, it was caused by hundreds or even thousands of accounts voting those threads down. The reason is anybody's guess.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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Yes. But why would they shut down the exact amount of accounts that had upvoted Finnish? I feel like some kind of "reset counter" button would be more likely but I don't know enough about web design to tell if such a thing even exists.

And if a group of people wanted to promote their own favourite language by downvoting other suggestions, why wouldn't they use those 2500+ accounts to upvote their own? No suggestion (apart from Finnish and Latin) has gained more than a couple hundred upvotes during the past year.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HirundoPrima
HirundoPrima
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A mystery. Maybe some hacker was trolling?

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HirundoPrima
HirundoPrima
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So it would seem, that in a really short period of time a large number of people downvoted Finnish and Latin? Or maybe, that a lot of accounts, who had voted these threads up, were shut down?

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Stacy_ford10

ohh yeahh

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
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I did actually originally include Albanian and Armenian (along with the Baltic sisters) but I removed them because I felt the post was getting a little long picking more and more Indo-European families wasn't really the idea.

But as someone with Armenian-speaking family I'd certainly love to see it added!

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lizsue
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These are all good suggestions! :)

Within this list, I bet Duolingo will do Tamil, Thai, and Tagalog for English speakers first. It already has volunteers fluent and literate in these languages:

https://incubator.duolingo.com/courses/en/ta/status

https://incubator.duolingo.com/courses/en/th/status

https://incubator.duolingo.com/courses/en/tl/status

After these courses reach Phase 3 and the contributors finish taking well-deserved breaks, they may start working on Tamil for English speakers, Thai for English speakers, and Tagalog for English speakers. :)

About "While Mongolia itself is a fascinating country, most Mongolian speakers actually live in the Inner Mongolia region of China," Duolingo has 2 courses for Chinese speakers (English and Spanish) and 5 more in Phase 1 of the Incubator (French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Korean).

Maybe Mongolian will be the first language that Duolingo adds for Chinese speakers first (the way it added Catalan and Guarani for Spanish speakers first)? That would be especially useful for any Chinese-Mongolian people who do speak Chinese but don't already speak Mongolian. :)

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WillowsofXihu
WillowsofXihu
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I'd take a Chinese-Mongolian course any day! especially since it would raise the chances of other Mongolian courses being created.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/phopkins1
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You left out the constructed family of languages klingon and high valyrian

and to that I would hope someday someone would add a language for the Great Gazoo, from the planet Zetox with voice by Harvey Korman, who made appearances on the flintstones in the 60s.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JPRasmussen
JPRasmussen
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1 lingot for Gazoo, 9 for the details.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/redkeel
redkeel
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I'd love to see Sindarin or Quenya, even though I know the Tolkien estate is unlikely to authorise it AND these languages (especially Sindarin) never really reached a canonic final form.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/phopkins1
phopkins1
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Maybe someone artistic could draw a duolingo tree with all these branches and connections???

Could have all the language familues and but make Duo languages pop with color or something?

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/zanzaboonda
zanzaboonda
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I would love to see this!

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WillowsofXihu
WillowsofXihu
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On my to-do list...

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MissSpells
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Mango languages has many of these https://mangolanguages.com/libraries/available-languages/. If you have a library account (at least in Canada and the states) there is a good chance you can use it for free.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/juliasb.

I would love to see my native language, Serbian, on the list. Even though it is an Indo-European language, it is so beautiful, and also one of the only truly phonetic languages out there.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
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The South Slavic branch is not yet represented. The problem is how to represent it. Serbian is the largest language in the branch however it might cause controversy as Croatian and Bosnian are very similar. I think it would make sense to just have a Serbo-Croatian course however not everyone would approve. Bulgarian is the largest uncontroversial one.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/veganpizzaqueen

I would love to see Icelandic available someday, I know only a few hundred thousand people speak it but I'd still love to learn. And Finnish, of course.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Frivalry
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Thank you AC and interlocutors for making my nerdy linguistic evening! If I might further break down the list of 20 Indo-European languages taught, the better to consider them in sets of similar or closely related ones (which is how I, for one, like to study those and other languages):

I. Romance (6): Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan

II. Germanic (6): English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish

III. Slavic (4): East (2): Russian, Ukrainian; West (2): Polish, Czech

IV. Celtic (2): Irish, Welsh

V. Indic: Hindi

VI. Greek

Tidy lists aside, perhaps some languages or dialects can be considered as really belonging to more than one linguistic family (for instance, Hawaiian Pidgin or the aforementioned Maltese). At any rate, languages also have to be looked at in geo-cultural context, arguably; e.g., the Uralic Finnish in its sense of place as a Scandinavian language (or, as Hungary's Mr. Orban would have it, Magyar as a Western Christian one).

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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What you're describing are mixed languages. Cappadocian Greek (Hellenic <--> Turkic) is one example, but they are generally very rare, as it is uncommon for two families to intermingle to the point where a language cannot be classified as belonging to one or the other.

Maltese though is definitely a Semitic language as most of its grammar and core vocabulary is still of Semitic origin and similar to Arabic.

As for geographic classifications, these are not very helpful when talking about the actual structure/lexicon of a language, although 'Sprachraums' do exist where geographically close languages belonging to different families exchange grammar and vocabulary (e.g. Aztecan and Mayan languages).

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Frivalry
Frivalry
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To clarify, yes, I agree, the vast majority of the world's languages belong firmly to one linguistic family or another, but, I maintain, not necessarily exclusively to it. For example, Arabic would be the "father" as it were of Swahili, top-heavy as it is with Arabic words, so that Bantu language would also be a Semitic one in a sense. Through the influence of Italian, Maltese would be extended family with the Romance languages. Examples abound, but I didn't realize that there are hybrid languages (such as Cappadocian Greek) not discernibly belonging to one family over another ... way cool!

However a specific sprachraum is defined, I also maintain that cultural geography as well as linguistic genealogy are important to language study. In the case of Indic languages, there's considerable substrate Dravidian influence, wouldn't ya know, all the more reason to examine tongues from both families as South Asian ones.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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About the Swahili and Maltese examples, it is plain wrong to say that they are Semitic or Romance respectively.

Think about it not in terms of the influence a language has had on another one, but more in terms of ancestry. During the 14th-17th centuries, with every generation, speakers borrowed more and more Arabic vocab, but it descended from a Bantu language and is therefore classified as a Bantu language. No amount of borrowing can change that. Also grammatically it is distinctly Bantu.

Cappadocian Greek on the other hand may have been Hellenic or Turkic at one point (we don't really know) but it's grammar and core vocab has become a blend of both, making classification impossible.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/E.T.Gregor
E.T.Gregor
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I would suggest to maybe change Dené-Yeniseian to Na-Dené. The Dené-Yeniseian proposal has been mostly favourably received, but from what I read it's not universally accepted.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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I go by Wikipedia's list of world language families seeing as it picks the least controversial proposals. If it says Dené-Yeniseian then I trust that a relationship has been proven. Also I just like the idea of a small language in the middle of Siberia being related to one of America's largest language families.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/E.T.Gregor
E.T.Gregor
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In https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_language_families it's only listed among proposed families, not in the top list of families by number of speakers. In the article on the Navajo language, it has a question mark. Not really sure where Wikipedia ever states this as a widely accepted proposal. But then, since it's very unlikely that Ket will be added to DL any time soon, it probably doesn't even matter that much...

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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The main map used to indicate language families on Wikipedia shows the Dené-Yeniseian family. But then again it's not a huge deal.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thomas.Heiss
Thomas.Heiss
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Great article!

To be on the safe side:
Have you made an offline backup of your long text?
The discussion forum often blacklists threads when several keywords in new comments are encountered which could easily result in error 404 and that the whole thread is not accessible anymore!
I had reported threads to staff which I could not access anymore, but you get no feedback what the problem is/was.

WARNING:
Your text would be lost if you had not saved it on your computer/NAS storage device (RAID5+) in such a worstcase; USB sticks are not very safe either and once a small memory bank chip is damaged the whole USB stick data is lost!

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DragonPolyglot
DragonPolyglot
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I think the list should include Estonian. It’s part of the major Uralic Trinity and a language of one of the three Baltic countries. In fact I should mention Lithuanian and/or Latvian could be considered because they are Baltic languages, which is a branch that haven’t been explored yet by Duolingo. I also think Maltese should be considered. It’s similar to Arabic but looks/sounds a lot more like Italian, which I find very interesting.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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Ideally I'd want all these languages included, but in this post I want to find the right combination of usefulness and uniqueness. Maltese for instance is only spoken in Malta, a pretty small country where most people speak English or Italian anyway. Linguistically, its essentially identical to Arabic in terms of grammar, it just has a lot of loan words. Don't get me wrong, it's odd history makes it a pretty cool language, but its not exactly top priority.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DragonPolyglot
DragonPolyglot
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I can understand that. Despite Maltese being an official European Union language, it’s still quite small and it is co-official with English in Malta. I still don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible given that there have been a few people on Duolingo willing to contribute to a Maltese course and there are constructed languages with an arguably lower priority already learnable through Duolingo, though. It seems like Duolingo factors in the amount of volunteers who can contribute to the course as well as how useful a language is.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mededogen
mededogen
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Would love to see Icelandic, Finnish, Estonian, Afrikaans, Greenlandic, Finnish, Scots (Lowland Scots), and so many others. Can't wait to see what's next in the incubator!

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Katred2
Katred2
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This is a great list! There are lots I would like to see added for personal preferences but in terms of its sheer number of native speakers (roughly 100 million) and its uniqueness, I'll specifically mention Javanese. Although it's nominally part of the Austronesian family, it's different enough from the others that that classification is called into question.

It has its own Brahmi-derived script, but it's also frequently written in Latin script. So even if it was difficult to create the program with the Javanese script, a course would still be manageable.

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Francoise876798

I'd really like Maori. I'm from New Zealand and it's one of our official languages. I'm pretty keen for Tagalog too. Duolingo is so cool and I'm pretty greedy for more languages! I was pretty pleased to see Navajo on the list of languages!

3 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheLord2k1

Arabic and Hebrew are Semetic languages

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TimmohB

Which falls under Afro-Asiatic. There are even further subdivisions under Semitic.

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lizsue
lizsue
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They're both Semitic languages and Afro-Asiatic languages, the same way French and Spanish are both Romance languages and Indo-European languages. :)

4 weeks ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AtomClark
AtomClark
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Yes, they are.

4 weeks ago
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