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While doing DuoLingo today, I came across a section where the app pronounced 来なかった as kinakatta. When I selected that in the dictionary on my iPhone and had it pronouce it, it also said kinakatta. It's been a few decades since I spoke fluently, but I always thought this was konakatta. Am I mixed up, is the DuoLingo AI hallucinating, or are there cases for both?

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  • You are correct. Mar 1 at 16:48
  • @user3856370: Source for this? I've never heard that 「きなかった」 is an acceptable reading.
    – istrasci
    Mar 1 at 17:10
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    I assume that that application is mistaken (since it should rather teach Standard Japanese mostly based on Tokyo dialect), but apparently there are some dialects with 来ない = きない etc. See japanese.stackexchange.com/q/18128.
    – Arfrever
    Mar 1 at 17:14
  • @istrasci I didn't say it was. Read carefully. Mar 2 at 7:38

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As @Arfrever noted and linked in his comment, 来ない read as kinai is technically a valid pronunciation — but only for a small set of dialects, apparently stretching geographically between Gunma and Miyagi prefectures. No one else is going to hear kinai and think 来ない — they are most likely going to think 着ない instead.

What you've got is the Duolingo team doing their usual "bang-up job" — that is, tackling a hugely complicated problem-space (teaching a language), and doing a mostly-decent job of it, but with glaring holes and mistakes in their approach.

One shortcut they take to save costs is using a lot of text-to-speech to generate the audio. If there's a bug in the text-to-speech engine such that the output audio is incorrect, often times the Duolingo staff does not have sufficient people fluent enough in the target language to catch all the mistakes.

My strong suspicion here is that the audio pronouncing 来ない is kinai is simply an artifact of a poorly programmed text-to-speech engine (or, alternatively, a poorly programmed set of internal code that feeds the engine its input strings).


Anyone using Duolingo should be aware that they are not in the business of providing reliable and easy-to-use means to learn other languages. Rather, Duolingo is in the business of making money. The app is simply their way to try to do this. With profit as their primary goal, we should not be too surprised that they cut corners here and there.

Given the inevitability of mistakes in any human effort, and the higher likelihood of certain kinds of mistakes from certain kinds of providers, anyone using Duolingo should also be using other materials, to corroborate and reinforce correct knowledge, and to identify and root out mistakes.

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    The annoying thing is, it used to be much, much better. Then they changed the way they did speech and completely ruined it, and then chose to ignore all the feedback on the problem. Mar 2 at 7:41
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    @user3856370, I’ve seen the same thing with the Hungarian module. Not too long ago (a couple years back), the Duolingo company turned off commenting and shut out all the volunteer mods and unit updaters (the people who responded to users marking module errors), and around the same time they also got rid of a lot of human-recorded audio and replaced it with text-to-speech. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was right around when they held their initial stock offering. I view the overall trend of who is running the show there as a shift from language-impassioned geeks to money-obsessed hucksters. Mar 3 at 8:21
  • Follow-on comment — Sadly, I suspect that Duolingo is on the road to some form of enshittification. This has emerged as a common pattern for companies that offer various kinds of free or semi-free services. Apr 16 at 17:52

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