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Why American place names in the Latin course?

I don't know about anybody else, but I find the inclusion of American place names in the Latin course baffling and irritating. First- I'm interested in learning a classical language, I can't see the relevance of American place names in that context. Second, they are annoying to type. Novum Eboracum? Philadelphia?- just gratuitous. If you have to go down this path - what's wrong with Utah or Iowa? Otherwise - great fun. Paul

September 27, 2019



There certainly are a lot of sentences relating to America and Americans, for a course on a language whose speakers were entirely unaware of the existence of the Americas.

And while [Novum] Eboracum and Philadelphia and reasonable enough as Eboracum and Philadelphia were place names used in Classical Latin, very very many sentences (including mentioning those, e.g. "Philadelphia is an American city", etc) refer specifically to America and Americans by name (including "so-and-so is American", etc); far more than refer to Europe and Europeans, which is odd since from the perspective of a speaker of Classical Latin, Europe was literally their known world, with honourable mentions to the nearer parts of Asia and Africa.

If the course is going to make so many references to Americans, it might as well refer to Klingons with equal validity. America was just as well-known to them as Qo'noS, after all!


May I ask what other sentences were relating to America? I have done the Latin lessons to golden owl (min level 1 on all lessons) and I didn't notice any except the two city names already mentioned.

If there are more sentences relating to America than to Europe then I agree it's very unbalanced.


I don't remember many of the exact sentences now, but they were very plentiful in some early skills, within the first five or so. Perhaps you tested out some of the early skills?

There were certainly a lot of references to America and Americans, and very few to people and places that would be relevant in the context of Classical Latin.


There are quite a few mentions of NY, Philadelphia and Boston in some lessons, as well as a number of sentences about cities and states in America.

While I have no problem with the modern approach, I do agree that typing "novi eboraci" and "philadelphiae" for the thirtieth time is getting a bit tedious. But I'm sure we'll be getting plenty of other places in the future :)


Like the Latin version of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales (Coniuncto Europaeae), no doubt ;-)


That Welsh place name was made up relatively recently as a possible tourist draw, so was not around during Roman times.


I find it annoying as well. We are given a tiny vocab and we waste it on useless place names. As you say, you'll never come across them in real Latin literature.


You certainly will find Philadelphia and Eboracum in Latin literature, as the former was a Greek city and the latter is the Latin name for what is now York.

There are also a number of people, in classics courses at universities and outside of academia, who try to speak Latin as a "living" language, so using American places is relevant to people who are interested in that.


Well, when you think of Latin, you immediately think of York in England, and Amman in Jordan. Obvious.

I know, it is awful, but I don't ! I rather think of Rome, Carthago, Neaple, even of Ravenna, but not of New York or Philadelphia.



Roma is in the course... As is Italia? And Germania?


I think he/she just wanted to come with examples of places that he/she thinks is more fitting. He/she never said that those places where not in the course


You are exactly right. Thanks.


Depends on your definition of "real" Latin literature (cf. No true Scotsman). You will find it in many texts written in Latin, like the descriptions of locations of various biological findings, in herbaria and similar. Remember even Gauss was still writing mathematical books in Latin at the beginning of the 19th century. Only later in his life he moved to German.


I’ve recently seen ‘Charlie Chaplin’ as a term in a Duolingo sentence. I don’t think that it’s helpful.


Which course? What was the context?


It’s going to look now as if I have lied, since the post has disappeared, although I was certain that it was on this website at some point. When I searched for it the only post with the name in it on this website is this one, since I brought it up. Another sentence that has gone is ‘Google is a search engine.’, which I think was on the German course.


Ok. I don't see a problem with a non sequitur sentence. Things like this make it more memorable for me.

Maybe we should add a Charlie Chaplin sentence to the Latin course.... ;)


Ah, yes, it is that one. I’m not sure why it didn’t appear when I looked for it.


Seriously. Should pop-culture not ever be a part of Duo Lingo? Or should there be a restriction on pop-culture figures in sentences? So I'm guessing Mary Pickford would be out and Buster Keaton. Probably Douglas Fairbanks. Would Otto Preminger be allowed? Billy Wilder? Erich von Stroheim?


You've got serious German chops A_Sesuipedalian. Head for Montreux, Switzerland sometime and check out the Chaplin Museum. It's AMAZING. Wonderful - unexpected - restaurant. Killer Studio museum. Then a tour of his house, where he retired when he had his passport rejected by the United States, because he had supported Russia during WWII, which the US had, um, also done.


I think it would have been more appropriate to speak of towns that existed while Latin was fluently spoken, such as Alexandria in Egypt, or Lugdunum (Lyon, in France). And I don't even speak of Italian towns.

But I remember that this course was made by volunteers. So, my com is just a suggestion, not a complain.


But if we said Alexandria, they'd whine about the 27 Alexandria's in America. I'm honestly surprised we've not been accused of only adding Rome, because we must be alluding to Rome, Texas. If we say Ithaca, it must be Ithaca, New York. Athens?!? Why are you talking about MISSOURI in a LATIN course!!!! There were a total of 5 American places (New York, Philadelphia, Bostonia, California, and America itself.) There is also Germania, Italia, Roma, and references to Hispania. But the unfinished Beta course is so lopsided, and obviously planned by the Latin-speaking American illuminati to destroy Roman Culture!


As I said, I do not whine. I think you feel like upset, but there is no reason why.

Of course, there are towns that have the same names in Europe and in America. It is not the problem.

We are learning a language which was fluently spoken two thousands years ago. Where ? Roughly, around the Mediterranean sea. And before that, let's say during the republic, around Italy.

As in the Turkish course they speak of a cezve, but not of French habits, for example, I think it would have been more logical to speak of towns which were known in the antiquity than of ones which are in a world which was unknown from the Romans.

That's all what I meant. I didn't want to be aggressive or something like that. Look at my last sentence in my previous post.


Philadelphia (the American city) is named after an ancient Hellenic city of Philadelphia which belonged to the Roman empire for quite a while. It is now known as Amman, the capital of Jordan. It's a perfect choice for this course.


America borrows so much from the ancient Greeks and Romans, from their architecture, names, slogans, etc.


You mean, without paying for it?!


Twas paid for in 1776, no?


Thanks for that info I enjoyed it. And likewise Eboracum is the Roman name for York when they occupied Britain. Although they were repeated quite a bit - in fine Duo tradition - and likewise used creatively, I don’t remember any place names that wereentirely without some classical Roman connection.


So we should use Latin American place names next time. Gotcha. ;)

(I'm joking, btw. ;)

In all seriousness, you must remember that the course is in Beta, and the current tree is a bonsai. This means that the course is incomplete (I would be far more surprised if they didn't add other place names as well eventually). And seriously - if a dead language can be given words like autocinetum, saccharum, althaea, etc. and no one bats an eye, well, it can also gain new place names. And that means they can easily be used in a course teaching the language.

(Except for New York. Eboracum being the original Latin name for what is now York makes Novum Eboracum a pretty obvious name for New York. And for the record, both a Boston and a Philadelphia exist in the UK.)

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


I bet that Boston only accepts "Bostonia" as an answer (despite being modern coinage) and not Villa Sancti Botulfi (the historical Latin name of Boston, Lincolnshire).


I would be far more surprised if they didn't add other place names as well eventually

But the initial effort went into "New York is an American city" etc.


Why do you always say that last phrase?


It's my comment marker, written in one of my conlangs, which means "Two rivers do not flow the same direction." Since Duolingo offers no option to search by username, and my Followed list is already super long, I need a way to find my comments using something the Duo search can search for. As you can imagine, conlangs work beautifully for such purposes. ;)

Thanks for asking!

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


What language is that by the way? The way you employ your slogan on all your comments feels like a user flair used in some subreddits on Reddit.


The language is one of my conlangs, as I said. (It hasn't been published as of yet.)

And it's more just a habit to put it in all of my comments than anything else, for in case I miss one. :)

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


You mention the word relevance, which I agree it's something important. On Duolingo I think relevance should be seen in relation to usefulness. And that is something which is quite lacking, not only in the Latin but in other language courses also. As funny as it is to see a sentence talking about a drunk violent parrot for the 20th time, I for one would welcome more common conversational phrases, especially in the beginning lessons.

But if your main goal of learning Latin is to be able to read classics then I would highly recommend LLPSI which is actually built up in a way leading to exactly that. It's also one best (if not the best) language courses I've come across, for any language.


Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata. :)

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


As a (Latin Rite) Catholic, I pray and sing in Latin regularly. To me it is a living language, so the names of modern cities are helpful.

Furthermore, I routinely handle church catalogues where the names of American cities are latinized. So it is profoundly helpful to see these cities used.

It also helps one understand the Latin in various college insignia, such as my alma mater in Vigornii, Massachusetts.


The name "Novum Eboracum" actually appears in the seal of New York City, so that's official. As for the modern use, Latin is still the official language of the Vatican, so while you'd mostly need it for old texts, there are also people who still use it to speak of and about the modern world.


Latinising was important for the young country: E pluribus unum.


Are those mustelae on the seal of New York? =D


Rather Castors.


They might as well add Latin mottos of states, cities, and institutions into the course.



The whole discussion here boils down to "Esse quam videri" (To be, rather than to seem, North Carolina's motto). So yes, it might be interesting to use some of them in the course, to have a good laugh about the discrepancy between having a motto and what is done with it, and also from a philosophical point of view.

Sic semper tyrannis! ;-)


I read that question in the sense of "why stop at American?". As a Canadian, I would not mind seeing Edmontonia or Marianopolis. I guessed at Edmontonia because it must be as good as Bostonia, but Marianopolis is the Latin for Montreal.


Those would be great additions to the course. Noted!


I like to know the names of cities that didn't even exist at the time of the romans. It proves that Latin is not a dead language.


That's something I like too. Latin really should be taught like a living breathing language.


Still, the choice of these modern cities is painfully America-centric.


Eye roll. If only that were the worse problem facing our world today.


This discussion fills my inbox far too much now and it is full of childish twaddle, please just get over it and if the course does not suit you drop it, if you are happy then get on with it instead of wasting time arguing in here.


There are so many cities known to the Romans that still exist (Athens, Alexandria, London, etc.); why not use them instead of names like New York which not only is in the Americas (a place they did know of) but also is a city that didn't exist in ancient times. I think that it's fine to refer to modern cities, but there are many cities that would make good examples that are actually attested in ancient texts.


Ancient Rome no longer exists. Nor do Romans. Nor does Latin as the Romans spoke it. This course is, at best, an approximation of a language that only the Catholic church tries to keep alive. It's fun to study and informative, but to pretend that there's anything authentic or contextual is ridiculous. So many place names around the world have been informed by Latin. Embrace them.


I'll concede the point that there is little point being precious about the language, however, my personal preference, when I play make-believe, is to enter as "authentically" as I can into the world I'm imagining, Ancient Rome in this case. That's enough reason, as far as I'm concerned to leave contemporary terms and concepts out of a Latin course. I'm not asking anyone to jump on board with that, its just my preference.

Now, while I see your point as far as allowing that many people "embrace" whatever is thrown at them, I can't see any justification for having to suffer the annoyance of having to type long American place names rather than something more easily manageable. It's needless.


Try 'the Hitchhiker's Guide to Rome' if you want to know all the Roman place names ; )


I got curious enough to look that up ...

Well then. That's an oof.

I'll be sure to look into that a bit further if I can find it somewhere. It sounds interesting already, from the description. :)

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


It's currently only on Amazon, but it's free to read with Amazon Prime. If you can't get it anywhere, I'll send you an ebook copy.


And so off you go. To each her own. I actually don't really care.


You assume other place name are more manageable. Why? More so than Boston? Eboracum was a Latin place name. Yep. That's easy. Londinium, Venta Belgarum. Ratae Corieltauvorum - All classical Latin Names for Places in Britain. The others are just as friendly if not more so. Yes. They would be much easier. Why don't you make a list of all these easy wonderful classical Latin place names and send them to the people who creating this course, just to give them a little education?


I think it's wonderful from the perspective of an American company with an American audience. It's a perfect way to highlight some influence Latin has in modern day concepts such as places that where never even visited by the Romans.


with an American audience

only with american audience? Are you sure?


I am also highly frustrated by the focus on American places in the course, but apparently not for the same reasons as most people studying Latin. My concern is not that the Romans never knew that the Americas even existed; I simply do not find these names useful. I want to learn Latin as a living language, so I'd prefer to be able to say that I've lost all my pens before learning to recite the names of places that have no relevance to me. I would like to point out that this is not just because I am not American: I would be similarly annoyed by having to learn the Latin names of my own country's states and cities.

I think the course would be much more enjoyable if the places taught had greater global significance - for example, Jerusalem (sacred to Jews and Muslims), Sarajevo (where Princip pulled the trigger that began World War I), China (where so much of our stuff is made), and fictional places such as Mordor, Araluen, Narnia, and Kirrin Island - the beauty of fictional people and places is that they are cherished wherever the story is read, not just in their own country.

bas sake buxbeze sabeDev


I can see people's point about teaching Latin that is modern and relevant as a "living language", but I also believe that languages encode many aspects of culture simply because people of a certain culture speak the language. So, the ways things are expressed and what is most often said should give us some 'feeling' of the Roman world. And I don't know, focusing too much on the modern world, we might miss out on getting to know part of the Roman world and lifestyle through the language. So, while I do think referring to modern things and places is necessary, I would also love to see some places, objects, people and concepts that were relevant to the Romans. It's not like they haven't done this, there were plenty of references to Rome, Greece and Sparta, but I do hope they keep a healthy balance of the two.


Eboracum and Philadelphia were names of towns that existed in Roman times and were mentioned in classical texts, and that's not to mention medieval and more recent texts--even Bostonia is probably to be found in Latin from a couple of centuries back, and here's a very nice reference to Philadelphia in modern Latin, and another, with the added bonus of reading "nummus," another word taught in the course :) The American city names work perfectly well as Latin words, a few first declension, one second. If brevity is your goal, be glad you were spared Pennsylvania, where Duolingo is located!

The course was developed in the U.S., and those words are as fine to practice with as any others, especially as they give practice in referring to town names, which are a bit difficult in Latin. Although, I'll grant you that it's be nice to see some mention of Iowa.


As an Iowan, you betcha you will see a mention!


Thank you. :)

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


I figure you'd know exactly why, just by listening to the very heavy American English accents of the audio.


Ok "Shotgun". I took a look at your profile. You are in medical school. As one who graduated medical school some time ago, I invite you to an exercise in critical thinking. Unless you want to be a drone, a slave to your EHR and what ever corporation you work for, you may wish to acquire the skill of critical thinking.
One of the greatest barriers a clinician, as well as a pure research scientist faces, is the issue of bias. Bias comes in many forms, economic, the desire for positive results, but most insidiously, cultural bias. Many are not even aware of such bias. Now the OP suggests cultural bias. This may or may not be true. The next thing one may ask is, in this particular situation, giving one's actual goal (which is to learn Classical Latin) is her assertion relevant? If proven true, will it interfere with your goal of learning classical Latin? Only then is it worth pursuing..... As to your reply. In spite of the clever tone, it provides no information what so ever as to the reason for so many American place names - For more than on reason. As a physician, you must really think about this. You will hear superficial BS like this all the time which passes for clinical reasoning. Don't buy it. 1. Many people who are US citizens have "foreign" accents (even those born here). 2. Many US people living overseas (even born there have US accents (raised in American families). 3. If the US accent does indeed indicate a native US speaker, is that in fact the actual reason for all the US place names? You need actual evidence for that. Remember: Just because 2 things happen at the same time is not proof that one caused the other. That is the laziest kind of thinking. Then consider the snarky sarcasm of 'very heavy American accent' Do you have audio of the classical Latin accent? No proof it was Italian or Romanian. The fact, is Latin spoken in any modern language will be accented. So, do you have a particular problem with 'heavy (sic) American English accents?' Bias.


I agree with paul55776

Furthermore, I do not know of any modern language that changes the names of big-cities-that-are-not-ancient. "Nova York" in Spanish of Italian? "Nieuw York" in Dutch? Not really... Londra/Londres/Londen, Parigi/París/Parijs - yes.

And no, Paris in the state of Texas, is not Parigi in Italian; Brooklyn is not translated to Breukelen in Dutch (although its original name was Breukelen); and Los Angeles is not referred to as "The Angels" in English newspapers.

Also, all the courses here discourage students to translate Juan, Jean, Jan, Johann, Giò to John. So why force people to translate a name of a city. The existence of York in Roman times has nothing to do with it.

It's OK to teach Novum Eboracum as a fun fact, as long as the modern version, New York is considered to be THE translation in the exercises.

PS To end on a lighter note: Discussions like these would be a lot more interesting if we had the vocabulary to have them in Latin, with the occasional use of (classical) Greek to show off, like the Romans did. χαίρετε!


Within the past year I saw someone's college degree (in law, perhaps) that was written entirely in Latin. Because the college was located in New York City, the diploma referred to the city as Novum Eboracum. So there is a modern American application for learning the Latin names of US cities. (I myself live in a town called New Iberia, but for a time in the 1800s it was known as "Nova Iberia" -- "Iberia" already being Latin (i.e., for the name of the European peninsula where Spain and Portugal are now located) and "Nova" being the feminine form of the Latin for "New".)

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