Guarani with Duolingo

Complementary remarks on Duolingo’s Guarani course. Some examples of Guarani / Jopara differences.

You may have noticed that Duolingo has recently inaugurated its Guarani course. As of now it is the smallest (in terms of number of learners – less than 14k) of all the courses there and it’s only available if you take Spanish as your starting point (ie. the “language you speak” in the settings).

This actually makes a lot of sense because since virtually all study materials are in Spanish and the vast majority of Guarani speakers also speak Spanish fluently you have little business learning the former without first knowing the latter.

Moreover, what many Paraguayans speak -and what the course actually teaches!- is a variant of Guarani called Jopará (Guarani for ‘mixed’), which feels like, you’ve guessed, a mixture of Guarani and Spanish. For instance, where in ‘proper’ (or better, ‘traditional’) Guarani there are no articles, Jopará often uses the word peteĩ (‘one’) the way Spanish employs un / una and borrows la as the definite article (no gender, so it’s only la and never el apparently).

Even more obviously, names of many everyday objects, foodstuffs etc. are imported wholesale into Jopará, so ‘bread’ for instance is pan (it’s mbujape in Guarani), ‘rice’ is arro (from Spanish arroz ‘pure’ word being avati’i ‘maize-small’) and ‘book’ is libro and not kuatiañe’ê (literally ‘paper-speech’ – ñe’ê means ‘word; speech; language’). Verbs are also borrowed but they take Guarani prefixes -not Spanish suffixes- to mark the person (‘I cook’ is acocina – compare Sp. cocino Gn. ajapo tembi’u ‘I-make food’)

Now, if you’re interested in the kind of comparisons and explanations I put above… you won’t find them in the Duolingo course (your best chance is to dig deep into comments of each phrase) which is -as usual there- quite lacking in grammar and background info.

For me learning a  bunch of randomized sentences and not learning that Guarani is called ava ñe’ê ‘people’s language’ and Spanish was (maybe still is?) called karai ñe’ê ‘masters’ language’ is somewhat unsatisfactory.

If you are a bit like me, let me know, pass the word, maybe there’ll be more comments on Duolingo’s material, explaining the grammar and expanding the background a bit. Written in English, because my Spanish is atrocious (I actually learnt the word ‘tomar’ from this course – that’s how broad my vocabulary is)

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