Duolingo and Conlangs: Some Brief Thoughts

Recently I was having a conversation with Rizael regarding Duolingo having a course for Klingon in their incubator. He shared the opinion that it was useless and took away from Duolingo’s purpose of teaching people languages in order to foster worldwide communication. He also went on to state the opinion that the Esperanto course had no particular place on Duolingo either, as so few people use Esperanto anyway. While I don’t disagree that learning these languages may not necessarily be worth one’s time from a utility standpoint, I do think that proponents of these languages have every right to have a Duolingo course.

We can consider this from the angle that Duolingo is nothing more than a platform for language courses. In other words, it’s not the people at Duolingo itself who build the courses, but individuals and groups who wish to promote their languages. Duolingo’s Incubator actually has an application to submit a language, and as far as I can tell, puts courses in the incubator as per popular demand and availability of users who can contribute to the course. It’s for that reason that a course for Irish Gaelic has been released, and a course for Welsh is in the works, despite these languages not necessarily being “useful” in the traditional sense: very few people actively speak either language. Therefore, I see no real problem in Duolingo merely hosting courses for Klingon and Esperanto, as there is clearly a subset of the population who wishes to promote and learn these languages, and it in no way takes away from the development of courses for natural language. While I don’t necessarily believe it is worth speaking a constructed language, those who speak a language have every right to use and promote it in the ways they see fit.

What do all of you think? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

  • I am a person, &, I find the harsh criticism of languages such as Klingon, Welsh, Esperanto, Welsh, etc. quite ridiculous. I, for one, was inspired after reading J.R.R Tolkeins series, Lord Of The Rings, & went on to learn some basic phrases of Elvish because the clicking of the words coupled with the sounds of consonants and vowels appealed me to it. In the same way, it is also the reason I would like to learn Orcish. Orcish has this indescribable ring to it that makes you sound “cool” in one way or another. I have not tried Dwarfish although I want too. When I am not learning these languages, I am learning Spanish and French, and already know Russian, Belarussian. To be honest, I have more fun with the languages that are not useful such as Elvish. And, I still want to learn Greek and Latin. While these languages may not be useful, they themselves push for a greater imagination of society. In fact, J.R.R Tolkien encourages readers to pursue their dreams. J.R.R. Tolkien set a good example in two ways: making a famous series, Lord Of The Rings, & by creating three entirely new languages each with grammar rules, etc. That is imagination. Dubbing languages as “crap”, or “not useful” does not, in any way, help.

  • Within the context of Duolingo, I might argue that constructed languages don’t have a place, when Duolingo is clearly a platform for learning natural languages and preserving them. I don’t think either Ineptitude or I said that constructed languages were “crap”. As for utility, I think it is simply a matter of priorities, which vary from person to person. Personally, I think it is more important to encourage the learning of minority languages that are in desperate need of revival or connection with the modern world. That said, Duolingo’s courses are open-source, and whether people make courses for Esperanto, Welsh, Klingon, etc. is not up to me or those who founded and manage Duolingo. In that respect, Duolingo is highly democratic, and what courses exist are up to the people who want them around.

  • I agree that adding Klingon is pointless as next to no one speaks it and only a handful of people learn it for novelty value. If the Duolingo course ever is finished, people will have a look at it but hardly anyone will finish it. Esperanto is a different case as it has a thriving community and culture behind it. There are lots of international Esperanto events some of which attract thousands of people. The merit in the Duolingo course can be seen from the fact that more than 250,000 people have signed up for it in less than a year.