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Everything the pronunciation gets wrong in the very first lesson (also what’s with the audio?)

  • Short vowels should be −ATR:
    • /a/ [a] — correct
    • /e/ [ε] — inconsistent
    • /i/ [ɪ] — off
    • /o/ [ɔ] — off
    • /u/ [ʊ] — blatantly off
  • Long vowels (other than /aː/) should be +ATR:
    • /eː/ [eː] — sounds a bit inaccurate
    • /iː/ [iː] — correct
    • /oː/ [oː] — off
    • /uː/ [uː] — haven’t heard yet, I think
  • When a vowel appears before a nasal consonant, it should be nasalized, and if the consonant is intonation phrase-final or followed by a fricative, it should be omitted with the preceding vowel lengthened — haven’t heard yet (should listen for how sum ‘am’ is pronounced)
  • /l/ should be pronounced [ɫ] unless before /e(ː)/ or /i(ː)/ — off
  • Latin stress rule: the accent falls on the penultimate (i.e. second-last) syllable if it’s heavy, or the antepenultimate (i.e. third-last) syllable if the penultimate one is light — inconsistent
  • /s/ was retracted, i.e. [s̺] — off

So we get words like:

Also I’m pretty sure Latin sentences did not have a consistently obvious echo effect or end with a loud clicking sound of a recording device getting switched off.

This is really lazy work. It’s somehow even worse than the Ukrainian audio and the (old) Irish audio.

Also, some of the sentences have missing audio because of course they do.

Get it together, Duolingo. You’ve been releasing half-baked courses over and over recently and it’s getting ridiculous.

August 31, 2019



A double /ll/ is regularly [l:], likely a palatalised [lʲ:] - so [puˈεl.la] is right and [pʊˈεɫ.ɫa] is wrong. The only possible exception might be when it results from assimilation, e.g. cum lūnā might just have been [kʊ̃ɫ.ɫu:na:] for those speakers whose lūna started with a velar [ɫ] (whose number was reducing with time judging by the changing testimonies and the Romance developments). It's very unlikely, but not entirely impossible. Also, prevocalic vowels are regularly tense, so [pu], not [pʊ].

In general your critique is well-deserved and well-informed, but it misses the elephant in the room - vowel length is completely disregarded. None of the speakers seemed to me like they had the vaguest idea that it even exists. While vowel qualities make or (especially for English speakers) break your accent, the absence of vowel length makes and breaks the entire language that is Latin. Mixing them up is precisely equivalent to mixing up every short vowel /e/ with every dipthong /ae/ - and if you were going to say "but the Romance languages got rid of vowel length" - yes, and this was tightly connected with the loss of almost the entire case system, because vowel length played a central role in distinguishing the forms. They also mixed every short vowel /e/ with every dipthong /ae/. At that point, the language was no longer Latin.

Nobody can claim to be using the Restituted pronunciation scheme while pronouncing half of the vowels the same as the other half.


For me this problem of vowel length goes hand in hand with leaving out vowel-length markers (macrons). I can't see how a learner is meant to understand and learn that In Italiā habitō is pronounced with a long a if it is not marked, and inconsistently said. There's more on this tho, which I will post in a separate thread.

I thought I could hear vowel length differences in the male voice at least some of the time btw. I will keep listening though to see if this is the case.


The male speaker who has a distinctly Italian intonation only seems to reproduce vowel length because he has a tendency to lengthen final vowels, as well stressed vowels in words of more than 2 syllables. More often than not this happens to be correct or at least not as wrong as the other way around... but I can assure you he doesn't distinguish short and long phonemes.


It would be a lot easier to tell whether there are errors if the text had macrons, as I'm having to 'hear' and sometimes I won't really know … I am sure that having macrons would also help the audio recorders to self-correct.


Oh, no doubt. Just like it would be difficult to spot and correct missing double consonants if for some reason the course creators decided "You know what? Let's not spell those." Which the Romans themselves didn't like to do, so the precedent is there, just like with vowel length. Macrons absolutely need to be any kind of learning material, not least here on Duolingo.


In general your critique is well-deserved and well-informed, but it misses the elephant in the room - vowel length is completely disregarded.

I completed about 1/3 of the course just to try it out. This very fact blows my mind. I don't know how this audio passed any sort of inspection by knowledgable Latin speakers. Yes, this is beta, but that is a tired excuse. What has to happen now is that basically all of the sentences have to be re-recorded because they didn't get it right the first time.


Yes. I won't be learning Latin on DL until they fix the terrible audio.


I completely agree with you! Well, except that I think the assimilation you mentioned isn't that unlikely. :P It comes down to if the /m/ was still present in the underlying representation.

Two relevant discussions:



TAKE ALL MY LINGOTS. Seriously, though, I wanted to make this post for the longest time ever and I'm so glad somebody beat me to it and has gotten this much support. Hopefully, the contributors could incrementally overhaul the audio and introduce macrons.


"/a/ [a] — correct" – Did you forget about /aː/? /maː.tɛr/ : /pa.tɛr/.

I wouldn't criticise them as much if the audio reflected the correct phonemes. That's what's really important because you have to learn the correct phonemes for every single word. And as Anbrutal pointed out, you can be wrong about an allophone even if you are well informed about the phonology.


Isn't the audio often made by a program? Why bother with people recording it if it's gonna sound unprofessional? Might this change after the Beta? I still appreciate all the hard work and it's good to have it in whatever form it is, I just wonder about this decision


Your are all way to harsh. This is a beta. Manage your expectations. (And yes, I also don't like the often too American way of pronouncing many words).

And understand that this issue is a linguistic minefield. Although scholars agree on the pronunciation in the Classical period for the most part, you have to acknowledge that there is still some issues that spark heated debates. And be realistic: even the most brilliant scholar or voice actor can't hide his accent. That's just too much to ask. I will always be able to say where the speaker is from... approximately. Unfortunately Romans didn't upload podcasts to Spotify back then.

There's no good TTS for Latin. Best in town is the mbrola voice la-1 that can be added to TTS software ESpeak. It tries to honor vocal length and stress, but ain't perfect. It's robotic, fails for some letter combinations and doesn't do the nasals (although the extent of nasals is subject to discussion). It also fails for Greek words with the letter combination ph (which were presumably pronounced the Greek way by erudite Romans) and didn't get nihil and mihi right (although scholars can argue about the right pronunciation for the later anyway). And it needs macrons to work correctly - "macronizing" a text is time consuming.

In general, you also produce decent results when using a modified text with an Italian TTS. But that requires a lot of work, since you have to rewrite the whole Latin text in order to approximate Classical pronunciation. And results are not always predictable and you have to try all kinds of weird stuff like throwing in some hyphens, h here and there or doubling some letters in order to force the right stress. And the end result will always be a bit too much on the ecclesiastical side of the trench.


You spared me the effort of trying not to get too annoyed while explaining the same thing. Thank you.

Some people clearly have no idea what "Beta" means. Or handmade audio, for that matter.

P.S. Your Spotify comment made me chuckle. :)

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


Thank you! To echo what Arcana-mvsa said, you saved me a lot of typing.

[deactivated user]

    I totally agree with this sentence:

    "Unfortunately Romans didn't upload podcasts to Spotify back then."

    A solution would be evoking Cesare to re-read the Latin audio for the whole course, and in the meantime we can also ask him if he really told Brutus "tu quoque".


    Latin, along with the Irish course, does not have a TTS voice (the computer-generated voice you're probably thinking of). This results in handmade audio clips that will certainly contain their share of errors and "echo sound effects" (actually the result of speaking into a microphone) and probably occasionally missing audio, as the contributors may have missed a spot or two, or may have removed one and are awaiting a replacement. (Or it might be like the Irish course, in which many of the sentences are missing audio because they simply couldn't get to them all.)

    Robert-Alexan explained quite well why Latin doesn't have a TTS voice and also why it may or may not get one in the future. But I think it's also worth noting that no matter the quality, it's still surprising that Latin has audio at all - most courses are initially released without any. That in itself is impressive.

    As for the accent ... quite frankly, best-case scenario would be to have a native Latin speaker make the clips. Unfortunately, there hasn't been one of those around for the past however many hundreds of years. Which means, naturally, that all we can do is approximate and try to imitate what we think the language would have sounded like - which leaves ample room for one's own accent to peer through, since of course we've got no inkling of what their accent would have sounded like.

    It's not that it sounds unprofessional, it's imperfect. Just like it always will be to someone or other. But I still at least appreciate the effort.

    Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


    I don't really agree: there are a lot of very good Latin speakers who are very attentive to getting it right. It's not impossible at all. FWIW it is the female voice which has most errors while the male voice is pretty good.

    For the most part, teachers are not inclined to get their accents correct, as it is such a low priority for courses. Thus we have a lot of people with not so good Latin accents around, who are otherwise incredibly talented and knowledgeable.

    This is exacerbated when you can 'hear' the speakers' native accent, whether English, American English or something else. Unfortunately placing these inaccuracies into a global context like a Duolingo course is going to expose them very quickly.

    The lazy way to do it is to ask Italian or Spanish native speakers to help with the audio (maybe the male voice here has [some] Italian for instance?). They'll have less problem with the vowels, which makes it sound better almost instantly, although they can struggle with using 'w' and Italians have a different 'r' as I understand it.

    As an additional point leaving out macrons is a bad idea because it makes learning the sounds much harder. With them it would also be easy to see where the speakers have made mistakes. In the medium term macrons help a lot with distinguishing some otherwise confusing apparent duplications, including in tenses. It's a shame these aren't present.

    Wiktionary has a good collection of recordings for many common Latin words. You can hear some of these here: https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Latin/Basics_Lesson_1


    Those btw are the lessons from CarpeLanam, when she helped out with a Duo-style Latin course, which covers most of the grammar now, excepting the subjunctive. Sometime I hope these lessons will contain audio for the sentences, which may help people following the new Duo course while it is still quite short.


    While I will contend that the Calabrese system is the best for vowel pronunciation, I will happily give you all 400 of my lingots for pointing out the disgrace of ignoring vowel length.


    Wait till you get to the over the top Italian guy shouting like a quorum call, who trills R's before a consonant, taps rhotic R's, has no glottal stop before V, and can't pronounce Ḷ nor Ṛ with tap. WELCOME. TO. BETA TESTING. They should get Latin-fluent Russians, Armenians, and Romanians to do the audio. Or a time machine. Simmer down, my good dudes.


    Can you explain what your issue is with trilling Rs before a consonant, tapping the R ("rhotic" is an umbrella term for every type of /R/), having no glottal stop before V (or anywhere else - Latin had no glottal stops), and his pronunciation of L?


    When tapping an R before a consonant, one says the word faster and less dramatically, the same with L. I'm making a misnomer with glottal + V, because he pronounces more with W than I do, and obviously it can't be avoided sometimes. I'm also not sure why he's singing some of the sentences like from the steps of the courthouse announcing the daily city's laws to the plebs. I trill for R-final. You asked.


    More or less drammatically is different from correct and incorrect. Trilling the R before consonants is standard in most Romance varieties including Spanish and Portuguese, which have a very systematic distinction between tapped and trilled R. It's the same in every single non-Romance language that has a trilled R that I know of - the entirety of Eastern Europe speaks like that, for instance. There's no reason to think it was any different in Latin. Listen to it on Forvo - note that the Brazilian Portuguese h-sound results from the trilled R only (it's still trilled in Portugal). I still don't know what you mean about the L or V. The glottal stop is the middle consonant in American Estuary English "butter" - Classical Latin has no such sound anywhere.

    As for intonation, he would ask you why you're saying some sentences like you're on your deathbed ;-P I don't remember noticing anything excessive about his intonation. If you want to hear what excessive sounds like, try this or this.


    Any Finnish speaker would pronounce Latin better than all these people who have recorded this course, even if they did non speak a word of Latin. They have a natural ability to distinguish between short and long vowels and consonants. The length of the sound is essential, because it may change the meaning of the word.

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