[Idea/Curiosity]: Can the duolingo interface handle pictograms/hieroglyphs to teach writing systems(languages) that rely on pictures?

I was thinking about whether the interface can actually handle complex symbols and graphics used in some ancient languages such as Egyptian hieroglyphs (‎).

If it can then this would be a boon to scientists and scholars learning or studying ancient languages.

In addition, I think that symbols can be used to illustrate things in other languages . For example, according to the image below, the letter A is represented by a bird (an Eagle perhaps?), and this can help with memory recall.


Edit: The forum at least doesn't allow unicode containing hieroglyphs, guess my question is answered.

October 17, 2013


It would be awesome if we had a chance to learn egyptian hieroglyphs or (old) mayan language here! :D ( or just about any other ancient language )

October 17, 2013

Indeed, the trouble with those languages is that there are very few experts that truly understand the language, and these tend to be very busy people.

October 17, 2013

I would love to learn hieroglyphics I have always been extremely interested in the Egyptian culture. (Especially Egyptian mythology-gods and goddesses)

October 17, 2013

Middle Egyptian is an awesome language (I studied it at uni), but I think it would be pretty hard to fit into the standard that Duolingo has set up. The fact the forum doesn't display hierolgyphs could probably be fixed pretty easily, but there are two big issues I think would cause problems. First of all Middle Egyptain isn't a spoken language, and there's really no reason to learn how to pronounce it. Egyptian (like modern Arabic) didn't write down vowels, therefore we have absolutely no idea how to pronounce anything. We have a rough idea of what the consonants sounded like but not the vowels. As such basically anyone who studies the language doesn't care about speaking, only being able to read. It would probably be reasonably hard to organize Duolingo for a course where there was no sound.

Secondly, the bigger issue is the writing system. It is kind of a bizzare mashup of alphabet (one letter standing for one sound), syllabary (one letter standing for a syllable), and logographs (one letter standing for one word). As such there are multiple ways to write words and the Egyptians don't seem to have been too consistent about this. For example 'nfr' (beautiful, good, fine) could be written with the heart character [nfr] or as the heart character with an 'f' and an 'r' after it so it could be written 'heart' or 'heart, snake, mouth'. In total there are about 900 hieroglyphs that are used. That means it isn't really reasonable to add in a keyboard in order to enter hieroglyphs – it would just take up too much space. In any event, as a dead language the only thing you ever really need to do is be able to read it – you're never going to need to write it.*

Overall I think a course would be very hard to embed into Duolingo. If one were to think about doing this, I would probably make it entirely transliteration and translation based – you only ever get given hieroglyphs and have to convert them either into the consonants that make the words up or translate them. If this is all you want though you probably could just get the same results with a basic flashcard program. Though the best way to learn is probably still just with a book, pen, and paper, at least until we get a better way of using hieroglyphs with computers (I would not hold my breath on that)

  • Okay, I did once write my ex-boyfriend a poem in Middle Egyptian**

**This wasn't the reason we broke up

September 3, 2016

Also, if anyone wants recommendations for books for self learning I can highly recommend James Hoch's “Middle Egyptian Grammar”. It is a reasonably complete and self contained course. If you are looking for an easier course “How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs” by Mark Collier and Bill Manley is a good simple introduction, that will teach you enough to be able to impress your friends by reading one or two stealae in museums (the basic ones all say basically the same thing). "Egyptian Grammar" by Gardiner is a truly awesome resource. I absolutely love my copy and it is still used frequently in university programs. However I would not recommend it for self study. It is a reasonably old work, and while it is comprehensive there are several parts of it that are out of date. If using it in a university course your teacher can warn you about those sections, but I would not recommend it if studying alone.

September 3, 2016

I think Coptic can help with that phonetic problem. I think it already does.

August 17, 2017

Yeah, Coptic would be much easier to implement. Not only would it help with the phonetic issues, but also it uses an alphabet, so it would be no harder to code than the Russian or Greek courses. (Though presumably we don't just want to optimize just for what's easy to teach, we also want to cover what would be popular to learn.)

August 17, 2017

Plus, it's relatively a spoken language.

August 17, 2017

Forget hieroglyphs, that can be arranged in a future update, at least in theory. What are you going to do about audio?

July 6, 2016

Well, they could always buy the soundtrack from "The Mummy".

Anyway, seriously, it would be a course that only scholars could create and they've done some work on it ( They would know roughly how to pronounce it. Alternatively, it could be a unique course that centers on the understanding of the glyphs rather than than learning how to pronounce them.

In fact, one good reason for such a type of course would be a sign language course:

July 6, 2016

I've studied the language at uni, and we seriously don't know how to pronounce it. We have a rough approximation of the consonants, but almost no idea what the vowels were (very occasionally we can find other languages that did use vowels write names in their writing system and preserve their approximations of the vowels, but a) this is like how people used Greek transliterations of Egyptian places (i.e. pretty far off the local spelling) and b) we honestly don't have many words like that.

Zooming out, I don't think we'd want to teach pronunciation (even if we could), nobody uses it for real time communication the only way someone is ever going to use the language (nerdy poems aside) is for reading.

A sign language course would be awesome (though bags not being the one to create it :P)

August 17, 2017

I studied the Language, and writing system in University, If you somehow end up getting it up and going feel free to hit me up :)

January 29, 2017

Coptic is on my lists of languages I really want to learn.

January 30, 2018

That would be cool. Or at least we can have Coptic, which is still spoken by 300 people.

July 24, 2016

A lot more than 300 people.

November 7, 2016

I have no idea how they overlooked Coptic and thought of Hieroglyphics instead! :D I mean it's an awesome idea of course, but shouldn't Coptic be at least easier a bit if they're discussing capability? Also Coptic is still used today, and has few numbers that are fluent in it, and it could come to life again one day!

August 17, 2017

I agree! I would love for there to be a Coptic tree. I'm reading Ishak Emile Maher's thesis on old Bohairic pronunciation, but I don't know Arabic so it is really difficult.

December 16, 2017

[deactivated user]

    That would be awesome! I would love to learn Coptic, Arabic, and Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics!

    October 17, 2017

    good question I will try to email the creator of duolingo and ask

    August 23, 2016

    That sounds great!!! :)

    October 29, 2016

    this would be super interesting!

    November 4, 2016

    Wouldn't it be better to start with Coptic (the modern language evolved from ancient Egyptian)? Coptic was used to crack the Rosetta Stone. Many people still speak it.

    November 7, 2016

    Indeed, sounds like a great starting point. Although that's probably a good separate request. The trouble of course will be finding the speakers, and the dreaded recordings which consume so much time.

    Anyway, I'm curious, how are people finding this very old post?

    It should be buried in Duolingo forums, and be very hard to find ...

    November 7, 2016

    Because it gets bumped often enough to be near the top, probably because everyone wishes they could read something cool and esoteric like hieroglyphics. Yeah, I think I'll make a request for Coptic.

    November 8, 2016

    Have you made the request yet?

    August 17, 2017

    I hope that it would be possible to learn this language soon.

    December 23, 2016

    I wish to go into egyptology, seeing that I already read, write, and speak a little ancient Egyptian I would love for it to be on here.

    January 12, 2017

    This would be really awesome to learn. I've always loved hieroglyphics.

    February 7, 2017

    this would be awesome!

    February 14, 2017

    Egyptian hieroglyphs are so beautiful and so unique, and they belonged to an interesting culture. I really hope somehow Ancient Egyptian gets on Duolingo! It's been on my linguistic bucket list for a while.

    February 17, 2017

    byłoby super

    March 18, 2017

    I would love this! I'm planning on studying to become an archeologist and want to spend time doing field work in Egypt

    March 29, 2017

    I've always had a huge fascination with Ancient Egyptian, so this idea is something I'd love to see happen!

    May 5, 2017

    I would like ancient Egyptian but the pronunciation is hazy. Unicode for hieroglyphs exist but hieratic or demotic is easier to have compatible. I do not agree Coptic first will help. It today is a liturgical language for religious use only. It has many dialects that will throw off Egyptian.

    June 8, 2018

    That would be amazing! It would be so great to learn hieroglyphs :)

    November 7, 2016
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