https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JimKillock

Lack of macrons to show long vowels is a problem

Hi there,

I think leaving out macrons is a mistake, especially as this is a course aiming at helping people to pronounce and say Latin out loud - even to converse, perhaps.

Many times macrons tell learners important things, for instance:

māla vs mala;

Ablative Italiā versus nominative Italia

Then later:

2nd versus 3rd conjugation, eg habēre vs emere some present tense versus past perfect (venit vs vēnit); many future perfect forms like ēmeris versus perf subjunctive ēmerīs

As a current learner I have found that it really isn't helpful to miss out macrons, both for pronunciation and for some of these grammar items.

I found it particularly unhelpful learning the future tense from another macron-omitting course when I couldn't easily distinguish 2nd ēre verbs from 3rd ere as I didn't know whether to apply bō bis bit type endings, or the am ēs et kind.

If Duolingo aims at helping people to understand through practice as well as to talk I think this course would be much better using macrons.

August 31, 2019

21 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/8aKYoz1p

it doesn't make sense to not use macrons. there are only pseudo arguments against it. native speakers of this language actaually distinguished between short and long vowels. their poetry is based on that distinction. it is important for the sound and feel of the language. so you don't care? good news for you: macrons won't hinder you in your way. they are no harm to you.

but if you do care, you want macrons, because there is no rule that tells you reliably where a long vowel and where short one is. and looking it up all the time is just time wasting and annoying.

and good audio recordings, that demonstrate what actually happens and how it sounds, are needed. people won't get it right just by looking at a macron. they need to get used to it first.

September 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Easy_Munch

yes i agree. they should have macrons.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Semeltin

Yeah, I completely agree. I've asked them to as soon as I heard of the Latin course: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/33618227

Now the course is utterly useless to me and a waste of time to people who want to learn this important distinction later because they will have to learn every single word and ending they've "learned" here from scratch.

[Edit: I don't want to depreciate any of the work that the volunteers have put in this course! As I explained below, I am just very passionate about the phonetic side of languages. Much more than about translation.]

September 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Robert-Alexan

Short and long vowels are important. The recordings should be careful here. Sometimes they could be better. Same's true for stress. Granted. But why the hate?

Macrons are helpful especially when it comes to declension and conjugation patterns. Some say there are anachronistic (which I'm not so sure about). If they were anachronistic, we shouldn't care too much. I mean, small caps, punctuation marks, spaces between words, capitalized proper nouns (and in this course: adjectives that are only in English capitalized) are anachronistic, too.

Macrons may be added later. Who knows? I guess the course creators know the advantages of macrons perfectly well. They were not waiting for us to pontificate about macrons. But adding macrons shouldn't be a top priority. Cause macrons are really not that important. I mean, there are elaborated rules for stress and learning the first person singular active indicative present tells you everything you need to know about conjugation patterns. Fun fact: in most German high schools most textbooks don't teach macrons at all. Some teachers only sometimes use them in order to point out short e's. I understand that macrons are a big deal in some countries but eventually you are able to read, pronounce and understand the grammar of any text even without macrons. Especially given that Duolingo talks to you - my textbook never did. So where's the big deal?

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AaronD.2

That's the thing, it's not just the lack of macrons, it's also the poor pronunciation of long and short vowels. To my ear, it seems there's a 50/50 chance that the contributors were aware of their existence at all, and are instead stressing words the same way you would in Spanish or Italian.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JimKillock

I hope there is not 'hate' in my postings, if there is do let me know how I've conveyed this as that was not my intention.

As I say I can only go on my own recent experience. Learning without macrons threw up some problems for me which could have been avoided. It's Duolingo's choice of course but I'm not sure they are gaining much by leaving them out. It's easy to think that it lightens the burden on the new learner, and seems less formal, but I think that's a mistake. It's adding some problems for the learner to find a little further down the road.

Given it's in Beta I think it's worth saying these things in case they think about making changes.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Robert-Alexan

Sorry, I didn't mean you. I was even not thinking of any particular comment in this thread. But I've watched some rather uncivilized comments pop-up regarding the pronunciation in this forum. Reminds of the great battles between proponents of church Latin vs classical Latin.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JimKillock

yes I can see that, completely, there's no reason to be uncivil or rude about the creators. They've put in a lot of time for free and a lot of people will use the course and hopefully get something out of it.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hermesianax

Fun fact: in most German high schools most textbooks don't teach macrons at all. Some teachers only sometimes use them in order to point out short e's.

It's the same in the Netherlands. One method does not even use the macron to indicate a long vowel, but a line under the letter. Luckily there are better Dutch methods for Latin out there.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Semeltin

My German textbooks taught vowel length in the vocabulary lists and in the grammar book. But no one understood them because we weren't aware that a language could have short vowels where they don't exist in German and phonetically long vowels in unstressed syllables.

September 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/VladaFu

Coming from a language with phonemic length independent of the word stress, we used accute accents to mark long vowels at school from the beginning and most Czech-specific textbooks do that. When I learn a word mispronounced with the wrong lengths it is often hard to unlearn that. The most common source of such mispronunciations for me are biologists pronouncing Latin generic and species names.

BTW, even some biology books do mark long syllables. My Rothmaler Exkursionsflora does it (using the accute accent). Note sure about other German biology books. This enables someone learning the species or the genus to pronounce it correctly.

September 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JimKillock

I met with some Dutch and Belgian teachers and students trying out the Lingua Latina PSI approach a few weeks ago. They were quite interesting and forward looking.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CorExAuro

Can you give me some more info on those Dutch teachers? I myself am Dutch and I'm trying to introduce LLPSI to traditional Grammar-Translation (GT) teachers here.

September 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JimKillock

for sure: these folks (Caspar Porton, his friends and students) https://www.addisco.nl organise various events, I went to their summer school this year.

September 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hermesianax

Yes, I know of him, he's a pretty well-known figure in the Dutch Classical scene (:

September 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hermesianax

From a pronunciation standpoint, there's much in favour of adding macrons.

However, I don't think the Duolingo course is helped that much by adding macrons with regards to the grammar issues you mentioned. When you encounter the word habes, and see it's translated as "you have", you know it must be a present tense of a E-stem verb. Macrons are useful when you look up a verb you aren't familiar with in a dictionary so you'll know how to conjugate it, but the entire point - and fun - of Duolingo is that you do not have to constantly consult a dictionary or grammar overview in order to learn a language.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AaronD.2

While someone who already knows the grammar rules, which Duolingo never does the best job of teaching, will immediately know where the long vowels are and what the meaning is, I would argue that it's not just helpful for beginners, it's necessary. Especially because the team doesn't seem to address the existence of long vowels at all. The audio is 50/50 on whether they pronounce the long vowel or not, in at least the first two sets of notes there is nothing about long vowels, and the point of this post - they aren't marked in writing. A new learner has no idea that a long vowel even exists if they simply follow the lessons. That will build bad habits from the start.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Semeltin

Exactly. I've asked someone on the team if the audio would at least address the long vowels but he probably didn't understand my question at all because he has no idea of the long vowels or he dodged the question several times.
He also said that they would be using "classical pronunciation", which is of course ridiculous when you don't distinguish long vowels from short vowels – and really unprofessional.
To be fair I haven't heard any recordings when I tested the course and decided it was a wasted opportunity.
[Reading this after some time, I have to say myself that this was a really rude comment. My criticism remains but I should have given it in a constructive way.]

September 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JimKillock

I can only go on my recent experience. I've had to spend some time learning where macrons are in order to decline verbs correctly without consulting dictionaries or grammar books. I had learnt "habeo" and "habere", and "doceo", "docere", without thinking much about grammar. Then I tried to learn the future tense and apply the different endings - and I was stuck. Once I learnt which have long vowels, then it made more sense.

On the ablative, imagine you encounter verba memoria teneo: I hold memory words? I hold words memories? But with verba memoriā teneō: it is clearer, it has to be ablative, so I hold words in memory.

I agree the pronunciation is the bigger thing but I have found it problematic to ignore vowel length especially with declining certain tenses. This is just my personal experience, but given the course I used was Duo-style, and in other ways a fantastic course from which I learnt masses, it does seem relevant here.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Anbrutal

Macrons are useful when you look up a verb you aren't familiar with in a dictionary so you'll know how to conjugate it, but the entire point - and fun - of Duolingo is that you do not have to constantly consult a dictionary or grammar overview in order to learn a language.

If #1: it's not fun to have to constantly consult a dictionary for macrons instead of having them on duolingo and immediately knowing how to conjugate something, and #2: duolingo is about fun, therefore: duolingo needs macrons... why did you put the contrastive "but" in-between? How can you possibly conclude from these two premises that duolingo doesn't need macrons?

September 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Please, tell us what is the main topics about macrons, to be able to upvote and give lingots, to show our support, and our opinion. Because several topics divided the number of upvotes.

September 12, 2019
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