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.

My Language Learning Calendar!

This is a picture of my language learning calendar, to mark the order in which I learn languages. It may not end up being in this exact order, but I aim to do so! Wish me luck, as this may take several years!

My language calendar!

Constructed Languages

Ah, the horror that is a constructed language (con-lang for short). Con-langs are languages that take elements of existing languages to create the new one, usually with the intent of making accessible to a wide variety of people. I personally think the process of making a con-lang is ultimately fruitless, with respect to actually putting them into use. You can’t force millions of people to adopt a language that they have no real reason to speak. That would involve legislating the language, and history has shown too many times over that legislating a language does not work. This happened in Russia and its captured territories, where a campaign of Russification was started. The government tried to force the people in non-Russian territories to assimilate in terms of not only territory, but also religion, culture, and specifically, language. A similar event occurred as Germany began to gather territory pre-World War II, and also during the days of the Holy Roman Empire.

Unless you’re as talented as J.R.R Tolkien to construct languages for one’s universe in a book, I consider it highly unnecessary. English has already proven itself many times over the international language, but its difficulty necessitates the learning of the other languages. Adding new, made-up ones will just make things more difficult.

However, this is not to say that con-langs should be discouraged. It is perfectly OK to make them. I started making one two weeks ago, just for fun. I’ll attach it to the post, if anyone wants to look at it. However, I feel that there are some minimum criteria con-langs should meet, if you actually plan to advocate the use of said con-lang.

1) They should be usable by a wide variety of people, because that’s usually what a con-lang is for: to enable communication between larger groups of people. This is a major failing of Esperanto and Interlingua, because they are really only understood and learned easily by English, Romance language, and possibly German speakers. Not so easy for people from China or Vietnam, because they have no common roots with those con-langs.

2) It should be relatively simple and easy to pick-up. This can be easy in terms of grammar. This is especially the case if you speak English, because while some conjugations and pronunciation rules are absolutely terrible for non-natives, English grammar is relatively simple: SVO (Subject-Object-Verb), essential lack of mood distinction, and relatively intelligible to most when grammar is not perfect.

3) Make sure your vocabulary is wide enough to accommodate a wide variety of settings. This is probably what makes a con-lang the most difficult, because if you really wanted to make a language that everyone on the planet could learn if he or she sat down and studied, that language’s vocabulary would have to encompass word/word roots from all language families, and also include words for everything. Kannada speakers will need a word that means the same thing as sankocha, embarrassment due to an inordinately grand or expensive gift or being asked to stay for dinner when you just wanted to chat (basically receiving an obligation you don’t want). Spanish speakers will want a word for paella and Russian speakers will want words for all the different kinds of the same verb they have.

As for my con-lang, it’s supposed to be a conglomerate of Spanish, Catalán, and Italian, which I have dubbed Avreça. I’ve done away with all moods, so things like the imperative are indicated solely by the way you intone words. Again, because I did this for fun, I’m at liberty to make this however complex I want, but for my purposes, supposing I wanted to teach my kids the language, I’m making it simple and relatively easy to understand. If my kids did speak Avreça, they could branch off and learn Spanish/Italian/Catalán with little to no difficulty. In any case, this con-lang serves no particular purpose. Also, note that it is a work in progress. The lists of verbs, adjectives, and such can be by no means be considered complete. The current lists allow for a more topics to be discussed, and also adds a new tradition for learners to take part in.

Download Link: Avreça