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

The audio is fine.

I've noticed a trend of comments on the pronunciation of the male and female voice in the audio of the Duolingo Latin course. Tied in, often, is the absence of macrons.

I think it's fairly obvious that the audio quality, from a sound technical viewpoint, could be improved. Pronunciation too is indeed not perfect: some American-ish accent can be detected. Errors in the placing of the stress should probably be adjusted, but they do not seem to be that frequent.

That aside: I don't find it very useful to argue and think too much about the pronunciation. Yes, we know quite a bit about how Latin sounded like in Antiquity - more than you might realise, even - so could a better job be done to approximate that reconstructed pronunciation? Probably. However, this endless discussion seems so futile. Latin doesn't have any native speakers anymore: no one is learning this language just to be able to communicate with native speakers. From a practical viewpoint, you are better off learning either someone's native language or a commonly spoken language like English which will be more likely spoken by other people than Latin.

Still we are here to learn Latin, and I believe for two purposes: being able to read Latin texts in their original form and in order to revive Latin as a spoken language. For the first use, audio and pronunciation is only a tool, so we might get a sense of reading a sentence naturally and fluently instead of dissecting it grammatically. A perfect pronunciation isn't a priority, in my opinion. Now for the second use, pronunciation is important for making yourself understood to other members of the living Latin community. But do accents and a not fully perfect reconstructed pronunciation necessarily inhibit this? I think not.

I say it's far more productive and fun to embrace the curious position Latin has as a language without native speakers and appreciate the many different accents and ways people pronounce it in. In other words: the way Latin has been used all throughout the Middle Ages, Renaissance and later periods as a lingua franca of science, religion, philosophy and many other fields.

That's my view on the matter, at least. If you disagree, please let me know why so in the comments (:

August 31, 2019

12 Comments


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

My view on the audio is that it seems to be better as you go down the tree. At least two of what I think are three voices are pretty good in my opinion. But it's not so helpful for the audio to reflect the long and short vowels correctly, but then for the learner not be shown the differences in the text so they understand what is going on.

As for accents: while they don't have to be perfect, I think unfortunately US English and English accents sound especially bad for Latin which somehow sounds thousands of times better when the vowels are more like Italian or Spanish. We just have the wrong vowel sounds, they are flat and chewy. They make Latin sound like a medical prescription when it should sound like music.

I think for a course like Duolingo it's a good idea to help people towards good pronunciation. It's also aiming at an international audience: many people using the course will be non-English speakers I suspect, perhaps Europeans, and they will find it particularly odd and potentially off putting if they are presented with accents which seem to be wrong. (As I say I think most of it seems fine, it is just one of the contributors whose pronunciation seems to be off, or off in earlier recordings.)

There are I think a good few practical reasons for getting the sounds right:

Verb changes of meaning: for instance, amāveritis (you will have loved) is different from amāverītis (you would have loved, more or less). vēnit (you came) is different from venit (you are coming).

Case changes of meaning: for instance verba memoria teneō is nonsense; verba memoriā teneō means I hold words in memory. Ablatives with ā look exactly the same as nominatives with a unless the macron is shown.

Confusing duplicate words are not actually duplicates: most famously, māla, apples, is not the same as mala, meaning bad

If you are reading aloud, or speaking to someone, then these changes carry meaning. Ignoring them isn't helpful if you intend to communicate out loud, or to learn the verb forms, I have found.

Later on it helps when reading poetry, as you can't get the rhythm right without knowing whether vowels are short or long; this isn't something I've engaged with much yet though.

August 31, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ampharos64

'many people using the course will be non-English speakers I suspect, perhaps Europeans'

Britannia quoque in Europa est! And American accents sound every bit as American to us. Though I don't think the readers are doing a bad job, the main issue is simply a technical one.

I agree with the overall point though, even if you just want to read, the sound matters, whether it's oratory, poetry, or just standard prose. I spent a lot of time practising specifically to get alexandrins right with French, which would have been a lot harder without being able to hear them read.

September 1, 2019

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

I think for a course like Duolingo it's a good idea to help people towards good pronunciation. It's also aiming at an international audience: many people using the course will be non-English speakers I suspect, perhaps Europeans, and they will find it particularly odd and potentially off putting if they are presented with accents which seem to be wrong.

I can imagine some people might not like the American accents. Still, Duolingo is an American company, so it only makes sense that we get Latin with a bit of an American flavour, right? I would love to hear other accents too, like Italian or German. I just don't see the reason for Americans to attempt to completely hide their accents. In my view, it defeats the international nature and use of Latin.

As you know from a different thread in which I responded to you, I think one can understand Latin without macrons pretty well; their absence might cause confusion in a few cases, but context suffices nearly all the time. For the spoken word this is more or less the same. Let's just say Latin has other quirks that may lead a reader or listener astray than just vowel length.

As for poetry: yeah, meter is important. By all means, read and appreciate a Latin metrical text with macrons on it, or add breves and ictus too when you're at it. However, this Duolingo course is only very limited, and will need a lot of extra content before even considering poetical texts.

September 2, 2019

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

We'll have to agree to disagree I think, on accents. Perhaps it is my prejudice, but when I am using an international course, like this, I want to be given materials that are as close as possible to what I should be imitating. It's a guide and a help.

  • MangoLanguages has a terrible Latin course (IMO). But their reader's Latin accent is beautiful.
  • Ulang have a Latin course with two English people whose accents are so terribly English. It's embarrassing.
  • RosettaStone have very nice Latin voices on their courses, but they ignore vowel length and miss macrons. That course helped me develop a few good and a few bad habits.
  • The Cambridge Latin course has lots of audio on its iBook editions, but after a while you realise the readings are getting the vowels rather too Home Counties. So I lose out when I listen to these.
  • There is a mix of good and ok Latin spoken on the audio for the Oxford Latin course, some is very nice.
  • Assimil has some very nice spoken Latin recordings.

I could go on. But the ones which are most use to me are the most accurate. The less accurate, the less I can learn from them. It's not useless, but not as good as it could be. And in some cases it is unhelpful and has unfortunately taught me bad habits.

On a similar note I find Australians speaking German with Australian accents grating on the RocketLang courses, which are otherwise quite good. It's just not very helpful to learn Australian accented German.

On another thread I started to think about words where the long vowels add to the power of the words. I gave the examples trīstis, bellātor and bellātōrēs and imperātor. These words are sadder, more threatening and more dominating with the long vowels. And they sound flat or too soft in English or American accents There is poetry in getting it right.

September 2, 2019

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

On a similar note I find Australians speaking German with Australian accents grating on the RocketLang courses, which are otherwise quite good. It's just not very helpful to learn Australian accented German.

Because a learner of German will want to adopt as closely as possible a German accent too. But a "Latin accent" simply does not exist. What you call accuracy is not really accuracy as we would call it with other living languages, but a combination of approximation of the restored Latin phonology as we understand it (i.e. not know for sure) and simply personal preference.

September 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ampharos64

I think it's similar with earlier varieties of living languages. Alexandrins in classic literature just weren't working right for me till I ditched the typical 'you must sound as much like a modern Parisian as possible or else' pronunciation advice, because that's not really how the writers sounded. French kind of seems to have particular cultural problems with linguistic prescriptivism, for historical reasons with the attempts to wipe out regional languages. In English, Chaucer is often read with our approximation of a Middle English accent. We might not know exactly how it sounded, but I think it's plausible that speakers of English, other Germanic languages, and French or other regional languages of France -imo Picard would be an interesting one- might find it easier to get closer than a native speaker of Mandarin. There wasn't one Latin accent, and we don't know exactly how it sounded, but if we were aiming to approximate it, maybe it is easiest to start with the closest modern descendants.

That said, that kind of approximation is not the only way Latin is used today, and while it's one motivation, people don't just aim to use it as a living language in order to be able to read classical poetry more fluidly.

September 3, 2019

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

For sure. I agree it is guesswork and there's not a way to be wholly sure. There's plenty of other facets of Latin that are missing of course, like the corpus of slang and contractions that would have existed.

However, you can tell what seems wrong. Top of the list are private school English of Boris Johnson and the "simplified classical" of American schools. People are fully entitled to speak Latin as they wish, however it does seem rather odd to expect people to learn these kinds of pronunciations.

We really must agree to disagree on this. Neither of us will be moved.

September 2, 2019

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

True, they’re also very echo-like and have delays.If they can even just re-record them with a Spanish or Italian speaker trying to imitate a Latin accent in a smaller room, it would be a lot better.

August 31, 2019

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

I agree that mountains are being made of molehills regarding the audio. There are no more native Latin speakers around to correct us and most people aren't trying to speak the language for communication anyway. So it's really not a huge deal if the vowel qualities aren't perfect or if the consonants aren't realized exactly as Caesar or Cicero would have had them.

That said I think it's still important that distinctions in vowel length and word stress are respected, distinctions the current audio isn't maintaining. As others have astutely noted, these distinctions play important roles in the language's inflection and distinguishing certain minimal pairs. Also with all due respect I think you're downplaying the role of spoken Latin in textual appreciation. Maybe it's not so important for prose but if you're not speaking Latin with the right vowel lengths then poetic meter breaks down entirely and a huge aspect of Latin verse can't really be appreciated. Those poets worked hard to fit the meter and I want to hear the fruits of their labor.

I think everyone just wants the course to be as good as it can be. In my estimation and in others' implementing macrons and touching up parts of the audio would do much to further this goal. Neither is absolutely essential for learning but from a didactic standpoint there's also really no great justification for ignoring them and leaving the course as is.

September 1, 2019

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

As others have astutely noted, these distinctions play important roles in the language's inflection and distinguishing certain minimal pairs.

A lot of people make a big fuss about the distinction of minimal pairs in vowel length, but if you ask me, the cases in which macrons (or breves) would have prevented misinterpretation are fairly rare.

When reading Latin, you're always looking at differences you can't see or hear, like the dative/ablative plural ending in -is in the first and second declension and -ibus in the third, or nominative/accusative plural in -a for neuter words, or nom/acc plural in -es in the third declension, or nom/dat singular, nom plural in -ae in the first declension. It takes some time to learn to recognise these endings for what they can be, and use the syntactical context in order to make sense of a sentence. With regards to cases, only the long -a for the ablative singular in the first declension as opposed to other short -a's might be helped by the addition of a macron. But again, context is what provides the correct interpretation most of the time, like in any language.

Also with all due respect I think you're downplaying the role of spoken Latin in textual appreciation. Maybe it's not so important for prose but if you're not speaking Latin with the right vowel lengths then poetic meter breaks down entirely and a huge aspect of Latin verse can't really be appreciated. Those poets worked hard to fit the meter and I want to hear the fruits of their labor.

Then just add macrons to a metrical text and appreciate it ;) For the time being, Duolingo doesn't cover metrical analysis just yet. Let people first figure out how to cover the basics.

September 2, 2019

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

Why use audio if you are only going to use half of the vowels? If you just want to be able to read or write Latin, you don't need any audio.

September 6, 2019

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

Because vocalisation of the sounds, words and sentences helps immensely to get a grip of how a sentence flows, even silently on paper or a screen. Without it, you will be stuck for a long time in the stage of grammatically dissecting even the most basic sentences instead of reading them with some amount of ease and without overthinking the grammar too much.

However, that doesn't require an absolutely perfect pronunciation. I let my students practice a lot with pronouncing Greek and Latin and will correct the most fundamental errors, but the goal is not perfect diction.

September 14, 2019
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