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Include macrons the same way accents are in Greek

I am sorry for posting a copy of something I wrote in a different post, but I believe my point was made there. So, here goes:

Macrons should be included in all lessons, the same way they are in Greek. Macrons were used by the Romans themselves to some extent. They were not always consistent, but they were aware, and numerous inscriptions show this. Ward forwarded a solid argument for this already back in 1962, if my memory serves well, and modern teachers are leaning more and more—it seems—to considering the emission of macrons in student works as an error on par with not using double consonants in German or Norwegian.

An example:

  • emō: I buy; emit: s/he buys
  • ēmī: I bought; ēmit: s/he bought

Vowel length matters! Compare pax to pāx, English /hɪt/ to /hiːt/, German isst to ist or Pollen to Polen, Norwegian hatt to hat.

As already stated: Macrons should be included the way accents are in Greek. Technically this could be solved the same way as in German, where they have included clickable letters for ä, ö, ü and ß, and as in Greek where you get told to mind the accents if you leave them out. Not including them is poor pedagogy and this should be adressed by the developers.

We do, after all, pay for this service (some of us, that is).

Edit: Corrected IPA and autocorrect error.

November 14, 2019



This is not possible in the current tree for technical reasons. The contributors may be considering changing how this is handled in a future tree version, I don't know. If so, and they do change, be aware that it will make the next tree version take far longer to develop, and when the new version is rolled out it will show skills as having a lot of new things to learn (possibly uncomplete them all) even if they were just old words with the macrons/accents added.


This is a fair point, and one that is worth discussing. Is it worth the further delay? Would I personally be saddened if that made me lose all my progress? Sure. But I would still think it worth it. I would rather have a solid product that was worth the wait, rather than a rushed product. Presently, I would not recommend any of my future students to go through Duolingo’s Latin course, without having a solid dictionary to help, to make sure they learn the words correctly. I do believe it is worth noting that several OpenAccess projects now releasing commented Latin classics. The Latin Library (https://thelatinlibrary.com/vergil/aen1.shtml), and The Dickinson College Commentaries (http://dcc.dickinson.edu/) to mention but a few.


I'm not the one making the decision, I'm not the one you have to convince (personally I don't have an opinion either way, I see arguments on both sides). :)

But I am interested if you would recommend any of your future students to do any Duolingo course without a solid dictionary to help. Personally I wouldn't, because good as Duo courses can be, they're not enough to learn the language thoroughly on their own.


That is a very sound point, which I haven't even considered. I believe Duolingo's strength lies in phraseology. But building on that, one would perhaps come to a point where one, of studying a language thoroughly (aiming for mastery to a confident level), one would have a very good head start, learning speed. For me, I learn Korean with the goal of being able to understand films and series. It does seem like that is very far away in the future, but I am noticing small progress. Being linguophile, I unsurprisingly have gotten myself both study books and dictionaries.

But that is besides the point. Your point, would I recommend Duolingo for any language learner without a purpose dictionary to support? For some languages, yes. For the languages on which I were at a high level before starting Duolingo, I feel comfortable having an objective opinion: I find German to be well done thus far; Latin has the potential to be. For the other languages I'm learning, my level is too low to know, but Korean is giving me a good impression. So I guess the answer is it depends; each language must be individually examined.


I doubt many would agree with me, but if that what it takes.... I'm trying to learn Latin with the goal of reading poetry. If repeating the material is what I'd have to do, than I'd do it.


Honestly, as a Latin teacher, if you spend time reading sentences from LLPSI or Wheelock's or the Oxford Latin Course, or frankly any other source, you'll pick up the trends. Also, the endings of verbs, nouns, and adjectives are all consistent, so you can follow them. Also, some words in poetry will change to fit the meter. There are also plenty of poetry readers available with macrons listed. So you're far from doomed.


Also, when reading poetry, take the time to learn the meter, as this will provide lots of information on how it sounded (as well as, in many cases, what word you're actually reading, since the letter gives you a clue about vowel length). Martial is a great poet to start with, due to many of his poems being short. He's also at times incredibly funny! And for a Northern Norwegian, his rough language is a thrill to read. I highly recommend Allen's The Latin Sexual Vocabulary as a companion to Martial. If you read Norwegian, part of my MA thesis was about him, so I could provide some more insights if desired.

Apologies for any errors; I wrote this in bed and can barely read it without glasses. I guess this means I should go to bed when I'm in bed …


and when the new version is rolled out it will show skills as having a lot of new things to learn (possibly uncomplete them all)

Yeah, welcome to Duolingo :). Having trees reset themselves when new versions are released seems to be a recurring theme in many languages ;). I'm not saying it's a joyous event of anything, but it does happen.


I'm a course contributor for multiple courses, I know. :) But rarely is it the entire tree, it's a few skills here, a few there, when there's new stuff in those skills (and sometimes for technical reasons I can't get into). This would be the entire tree, not for new stuff like on most trees, but just adding macrons to things you already know (but the system will think you've never learned it).


Macrons ARE important for learning Latin if you want to do anything with poetry. I was learning Latin with Lingua Latīna per sē Illūstrāta but I wasn't using the macrons. When I got to Capitulum XXXIV, the poetry chapter, I realized how important macrons are to correctly scan lines of Latin poetry and I am currently going back through the book, struggling to re-learn words with macrons. If I was able to, I would go through this course and add macrons to words that need them.

Thank you, Duolingo people for what you do and if I can help, please allow me.


Which I too would be happy to do. Thank you for your point on poetry, which I completely agree with.

By the way, I find that studying the etymology of words help me remember quantity. If from a Greek word with an η or ω, this is usually kept (I cannot think of any cases where it is not). Adverbs generally (some extensions here, of note bene, not benē) have long final vowels; this applies particularly to those made from adjectives by adding -ē (obviously) but also to those made from dative/ablative, such as quō, quotīdiē. And finally IE original h1, h2 or h3 were realised in different ways; if of interest, I can provide more detail on those.


Most of us don't pay, especially because Duolingo promoted itself as free-to-use, so that final remark is technically wrong. Other than that I am all for the accents suggested here, but, that would be a nice addition and not all too necessary. I do think you're being a little too demanding though, saying that if Duolingo doesn't implement more accurate vowels then they are bad at teaching or whatever.


I changed my final comment to reflect your point about paying users; you probably are correct in this.

If I teach you Norwegian, and do not care whether you write fult vs. fullt, hatt vs. hat, suge vs. sugge, hake vs. hakke, I am a bad teacher. (For reference, the words were horrible–full, hat–hate, suck–sow (female pig), chin–pick.) If I teach you Latin, and I do not teach you the difference between málum vs. malum, páx vs. pax, émo vs. emo, véní vs. vení, mánus vs. manus, líber vs. liber, I am a bad teacher. (For reference, the words were apple–bad (n.), peace–period/presto/stop, I bought–I buy, I arrived–I arrive, good–hand, free–book).

If it is poor teaching in any other language, it is the same for Latin. Disagreeing to that is simply a special pleading fallacy; there is no good reason Latin should get special treatment.

Now, if we were talking about mediaeval Latin, it would be a completely different thing, as quantity was lost (more or less completely). In classical Latin, this was not the case yet. It should therefore be an included part of the Latin course. If nothing else, it would prevent the audio from being wrong (which it is in so many cases, especially with verbs where vowel length dictates the difference between present and perfect tense.


This analogy is not entire accurate, the accents (macrons) were not used in Latin until a while, initially no accents were really used. Even after macrons became a thing for Latin like they are in Greek, they still are not perfectly consistent, so it is not necessarily like hat vs hatt.

Many courses have issues, ESPECIALLY the audio for Esperanto, and I can entirely see Duolingo's Latin course...sufficing for now, and I think calling them bad at teaching specifically because of this macron thing to be a bit much. If you want to ask for, I guess more accurate (and actually present) accent markers, then I also want Esperanto audio to be a little clearer.

  1. As I've said before, I don't consider it necessary.

  2. As Duolingo have said, if they decide to include them, this will delay the development of the Latin course by many months.

  3. There is still a lot of dispute about when and how often macrons or apex marks were used in Classical Latin. Please see the information regarding the Vindolanda tablets - the unique letters written by ordinary Romans during the occupation of Britain, which clearly shows them only used rarely when there would otherwise be ambiguity in the writing.

  4. I think it's sufficient to understand when and why some vowel are long vowels, and that macrons or apex marks can be used if there is ambiguity in meaning.

  1. Necessary or not: That seems to often be argued for on subjective reasons.
  2. A long delay is not desired, but I do believe it should be a stated goal to teach as accurately as possible.
  3. I’m currently taking a course on Roman epigraphy, so I am aware of the not exactly consistent usage, even within the same document. A good example of this is the announcement of games in Pompeii (CIL IV 3884, my copy of it from Cooley’s The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy), where you see numerous apices, but also numerous examples of omitted apices (Lucreti, not Lucrétí/LucretI (i longa); flaminis, not fláminis; but Nerónis and fílI (again, i longa)). Quintilian (if my memory serves me correctly) comments on the usage of apices; his opinion is that they should be used to make clear the meaning of a word, such as malum vs málum. Ward discusses the evidence for vowel length in his series of articles; see https://www.jstor.org/stable/4344896?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents for more. A point of interest here is his comment on final -m before initial vowel as per Quintilian and Velius Longus; it was merely an indication of nasalisation and a means to separate two vowels from each other.
  4. I agree with you. My point is that in modern writing our way of communicating this in Latin, is by adding macrons. For beginner students, especially, learning this immediately will alleviate so many problems one may encounter later on, caused by laziness either from teacher or student in properly learning the vowel length of words.

  1. That does not really mean that the pronunciation was not distinct or that it was not important for the meaning. In my language I will drop the diacritics in a text message or a short e-mail because you can just guess what belongs where if you already know the words well - that worked for the Romans, but does not work for a student of Latin as a foreign language.

If you don't know the words (and their vowel lengths) well, you can easily mistake a hag for something ugly. Textbooks without macrons work well for classroom courses but here many learners may not even notice there were any long vowels in Latin at all. It is not particularly emphasized anywhere.


Yes, this is the point. The Romans didn't write them, because they didn't need them. However, I wonder how students can ever be expected to learn how to conjugate, e.g., a 2nd conj. verb (habère) vs. a 3rd conj. verb (currere), and know that the forms with e's (habèmus, habet) of a 2nd conj. are PRESENT, while the forms with e's (currèmus, curret) of a 3rd conj. are FUTURE, if you haven't taught them to memorize the infinitives properly (with long e vs. short e).


Classical Latin was never writen with macrons. If you want to improve syllabic skills put more listening and speaking exercises.


I refer you to my answer above.


Thank you so much to those kind folks who offered a lingot; you made my day!


I am against using macrons unless users are not obliged to write with macrons


This is what I propose: ‘Include macrons the same way accents are in Greek’. In Greek, your answer is approved without diacritics, but you get a warning saying ‘Please mind the accents’ or something like that.


Classical Latin was never written with macrons


This is plain wrong. To prove you wrong, one would need to point to but a single case where this happened, and for that I give you Augustus’ altar at Herculaneum, which reads (apices shown with an acute accent; i longa shown with a grave accents (because Duolingo’s font makes it very hard to distinguish capital I from lowercase l); and linebreaks with pipe): ‘Augustó sacr|a a lúciì a fìliì men | proculus et iúliánus | p s | dédicátióne decuriónibus et | augustálibus cénam dedérunt.’ You can see it for yourself via this page: https://snl.no/apeks_-_lengdetegn. This is but one of many examples. As I have stated, they did not always do it (they often did not), and sometimes they were not consistent; consistency seems to be found simply by: the more expensive the monument was, the better a scribe was commisioned.

Before this was common, either a doubling of letters was used, e.g. maarco for márcó (notice the inconsistency) or an ie for I longa, for example deividunda for dívidunda. For more on this, see Ward, Ralph L.: ‘Evidence for the Pronunciation of Latin (Continued)’, from The Classical World, vol. 55 № 9 (June 1962), pp. 273–5; available through JStor at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4344896.

Further, Quintilian discusses it. He writes in Inst. I.7.2 that ‘It is meaningless to place an apex over all long syllables, since the length of the words themselves is obvious, but sometimes it is necessary when the same letter has different meaning based on whether it is shortened or extended; such that “malus” either means “apple tree” or “man who is not good” differentiated by apex.’ Quintilian’s opinion was written a couple of hundred years after the practice of distinguishing vowel length was well established. The practice is documented by thousands of inscriptions, but there are only a few preserved texts to have all long vowels thus marked.


Now, were one to be pedantic, you are technically correct. The Romans did not use macrons; they used apices combined with I longa. Modern typographical convention replaces these two systems of showing long vowels with a unified system matching that common in the transcription of other languages (which this, after all, technically is) with adding a dash-like symbol on top of the vowel. We call this a macron.

[Edit: Corrected a couple of typos, as well as the poor sentence structure in one sentence.]


Thank you very much for all information. I however believe that your point has just proven my point. If Duolingo is to be faithful to the specificities of Classical Latin, one should use those signs you mentioned instead of macrons, write æger instead of aeger, uinum instead of vinum, use lots abbreviations and capitals as seen in the classical sources. I fear latin course in Duolingo looses interest to lots of people if macrons become a thing. I look at Latin everyday in documents from the Middle Ages to present and never see a macron. There is a world of Latin outside of the classical corpus, as there is English outside the USA or Spanish outside of Mexico. You will not be ready to read Shakespeare or Hemingway with what you learn in Duolingo alone, but it will be a starting point. Samewise for latin. I believe Duolingo courses should provide the basics that you could use in most circumstances, i.e. it should present the common block of the language that you can use everywhere, from a poem to a modern monument, a church musical text or a present-day shampoo label. It should not consider wrong some variation (e.g. cœlus or celus instead of caelus) that would be found throughout the ages, even in the phonological aspect e.g. reading selus instead of kailus or tshelus should be accepted. Why should it be specifically oriented at literary analyses of the ancient poets with the due respect that the activity deserves? I believe the students interested on those specific matters will find opportunity elsewhere to learn them, in the same manner that someone devoted to ecclesiastical chants will not use Duolingo to learn theological concepts or someone devoted to the history of medicine will not learn the human anatomy and specific instruments described in Renaissance treatises via this platform. Duolingo is above all conversational so that the necessity of macrons ceases to exist when you read out aloud all the presented sentences in Latin, and if you have exercises of actually speaking Latin to the microphone (as is found in other language courses in this platform). Once again thank you very much for the references.

  • æger: For the Romans, æ was merely a ligature. They had numerous ligatures, apparently sometimes made up for the occations, for example a TR ligature, where the R was simply extended leftwards. Just as with old-fashioned classifieds in paper newspapers, you payed the inscriber by the letter. In letterwriting, where they would use their own cursive, such ligatures are not commonly found. (I have thus far seen none in my course on Roman epigraphy; that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, though.)
  • uinum–vinum: The normal way for a Roman to write the vowel-consonant /w/, was with V. There is nothing more to say about this.
  • Abbreviations: Abbreviations are just that: Abbreviations. They belong at a far higher level of study than what could ever be provided by DuoLingo the way it currently is structured. It is all fine and dandy to know of ‘SPQR’, ‘HS’, ‘H•S’, ‘SPD’ and so on (Sēnātus Populusque Rōmānus, dēnārius (yes, really!), hōc scriptō, salūtem plūrimam dicit), and there are quite literally probably a hundred more. If of interest, I can provide a full list, but you are better off taking a look at the Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy, ISBN 9780195336467. Just providing this book should be more than good enough of an indicator that this is a subject not relevant to what is taught at DuoLingo.
  • Capitals: Roman writing did not have miniscules, full stop. I quote Encyclopædia Britannica: ‘Carolingian minuscule was the first such style [i.e. miniscules] to emerge with consistent ascenders and descenders. This clear and manageable alphabet was perfected in the last quarter of the 8th century under the direction of Alcuin of York (England) and the monks at Aachen (Germany) and at the Abbey of St. Martin at Tours (France).’
  • Middle Ages: It is well known that Latin lost quantity. There was in other words no need for macrons in mediaeval documents. (Here I might, for you, write ‘mediæval’.) With regards to the publication of Latin documents, you must here consider two factors: The limitations of lead type (if the single characters for a, e, i, o, u and y with macrons do not exist, there was no way for a typographer to create these, without destroying his precious types; it is only to be expected that renaissance printed publications even of Roman texts which might have contained apices, would not be released with these. When we got digital type, it took us several decades to develop Unicode, meaning that it has only be feasible in the last decade—yes, in fact!—to expect to see documents with the full features of professional, digital type. We are, though, still subjected to horribly set Word documents with no typographical thought behind them on a daily basis. It hurts my typographic heart. But we are getting there.
  • Basics: I completely agree with you that DuoLingo should provide the basics for reading the language correctly. The basics for reading Norwegian correctly, is understanding the difference between long vowels with short consonants, and short vowels with long consonants; the reason for this is that Norwegian is a language where quantity matters. (The basics for understanding and speaking Norwegian correctly, further requires learning the tone for each word. There is no way to express this in Norwegian writing, which is a problem. Vietnamese, however, as well as Pinyin for Chinese, have developed systems for expressing their 4–7 tones. (Correct me if I am wrong here, but I do believe Chinese has 4–7 tones, and Vietnamese 6.)) German is a language where quantity matters as well. English is too. Not learning this, means you are missing out on the very basics of the language. As I stated in my original post, if this is a requirement for these languages, where quantity matters, then saying otherwise for Latin, is a special pleading fallacy. Please remember that the Latin taught in this course is classical Latin, and classical Latin was—which is well attested by both prose, poetry and epigraphy, as well as the grammarians—a quantitative language.

It is my opinion that the creators of this course have made a sound judgement in selecting for the course the language of a particular place and era. This means they can all speak in the same dialect (that of urban Rome), have a consistent vocabulary and grammar. We see in late Roman writing, that the case system was beginning to break down, with weird things such as preposition plus accusative to express indirect object (what heresy!) or e.g. an accusative partitive apposition, instead of the expected genitive. (For this, I refer you to the latest publication on the Vindolanda letters, available at doi:10.1017/S0068113X19000321.)

  • Wrong variations: This is amongst others a technical issue. With reference to my above paragraph, the creators of the course have selected a place and time for the language taught, and this makes it reasonable to expect standard spellings. One should not underestimate how well described Roman grammar was in their own time. If you were to learn Norwegian from Duolingo, by extension of your example ‘cœlus or celus instead of caelus’, you could lay claim to speaking some 400 variants of Norwegian that is the tapestry of dialects we have. In Norwegian law as well as in public life, all are considered equally correct to use; in writing, however, we generally stick to either Bokmål or Nynorsk. (And the mere existence of two written languages makes it oh, so obvious that Norwegian is … weird.) The many dialects are each divided in at least five groups, which are all distinguished by their various deviances from standard grammar, such as Northern Norwegian, where word order changes based on the number of syllables in an interrogative pronoun. No, I am not joking. To make matters harder, Sami is by law official on equal terms with Norwegian, and there are four living Sami languages just in Norway.

  • Duolingo is above all conversational: The same goes for Latin. It was, for a thousand years, the lingua franca of the Western hemisphere. When the fall came, it still remained the main spoken language between anyone of rank in the entire area. Which dialect of Latin would you teach then? Which dialect from which time? If you learn Norwegian, do you expect to learn Norwegian as spoken in Hallingdal in 1875, Romsdal in 1700, Svolvær in 1600, Kárášjohka in 1500? Or do you expect to learn Norwegian as it is spoken, written, heard and read today, in 2019? I expect the answer is the latter. I also expect you are glad you are not, as a beginning student, expected to learn 400 dialectical variants of every single thing you are trying to say, read, listen to or write.

I am afraid I find your points moot with regards to the context in which DuoLingo is taught. There are also some errors, as I have pointed out above. Yes, there were variations, but when teaching someone any language, you need to stick to a norm, teach that, which then will give the students a basis for further developing their language skills. This course teaches classical Latin, and in classical Latin vowel length matters. Our modern way of writing this is with macrons. Getting as close to the source is swell—as an historian I am all for ad fontēs—but I, for one, am glad I am not receiving this course on wooden tablets delivered by horseback.

(P. S.: ‘I however believe that your point has just proven my point.’ My point could not possibly prove your point; your point was stated by a single sentence, ‘Classical Latin was never written with macrons’. I believe I demonstrated that to be completely wrong. You did, though, elaborate well on what your intention behind that comment may have been, and for that, I give you my above answer.)


As some may already be aware, the probably easiest way to write Latin with macrons, is to install the Māori keyboard; this can be done both on computers and on phones. The installation of extra keyboard layouts is already required in Russian and Greek, so the old excuse seen in some of the Greek threads (at least) that it is too much of a hassle, is easily turned down; Greek no longer approves romanised Greek on any level.

To type the macrons, one merely presses tilde (English layout) or pipe/paragraph/½ (Norwegian/Swedish/Danish layout) followed by the desired letter. Other language users, feel free to add comments on how to achieve the same in your languages.

Example, English: ~ + a → ā.

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