The Hungarian language is a Finno-Ugric language spoken in Hungary and in adjacent areas of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Austria, Slovenia (all territories lost after World War I). The Hungarian name for the language is Magyar.
There are about 14.5 million speakers, of whom 10 million live in Hungary.
Hungarian is generally believed to be a member of the Ugric languages, a sub-group of the Finno-Ugric language family, which in turn is a branch of the Uralic languages.
There are various alternative theories about the origins of Hungarian language, but these are dismissed by most linguists owing to a lack of evidence:
- Hungarian has often been claimed to be closely related to Hunnish, since Hungarian legends and histories show close ties between the two peoples. Some people believe that the Székely, a minority people in Hungary, are descended from the Huns. However, the link with Hunnish is uncertain, as are other theories (such as Hungarian being derived from the Sumerian language, which is also agglutining).
- For many years (from 1869), it was matter of dispute whether Hungarian was a Finno-Ugric language, or was more closely related to some Turkic languages, a controversy known as the "Ugric-Turkish war". It is only in the discipline of linguistics that the "victory" of the Finno-Ugrists can be described as more or less complete, due to a lot of evidence from the languages themselves. However, significant evidence in some other sciences, including genetics and mainly archeology, still clashes with this theory. Finno-Ugrist scientists explain this phenomenon by stating that the origin of the language is not necessarily equal with the origin of the people, genetically. Thus the language is Finno-Ugric, some scientists say, but according to genetics and anthropology, the Hungarian people are rather similar to their neighbors: Germans and Slavs, than the Finnish, who are like the Swedes according to these points. The lack of serious direct (e.g. archeological) evidence also leads to the questioning of Finno-Ugric theory time and time again.
Hungarian is spoken in the following countries:
(*) of whom, according to the 2002 census, 1,450,000 speak it as mother tongue.
- Source: Ethnologue
Hungarian speakers are also found in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States and at other parts of the world, in number altogether about a million people.
Hungarian is the official language of Hungary, and thus an official language of the EU.
The dialects of Hungarian identified by Ethnologue are: Alföld, West Danube, Danube-Tisza, King's Pass Hungarian, Northeast Hungarian, Northwest Hungarian, Székely and West Hungarian. They are all mutually understandable to native Hungarians.
main article: Hungarian phonology
There are some sounds which do not exist in English, such as /ɟ/. For example the pronunciation of "Magyarország" (Hungary) is /mɑɟɑrorsaːg/, with the stress on the first syllable.
The order of words in a sentence is determined not by syntactic roles, but rather by pragmatic - i.e., discourse-driven - factors. Words can be compound (as in German) and derived (with suffixes).
The passive voice is almost extinct, but can be found in old literary texts.
Vowel harmony is typical for agglutinating languages like Sumerian, Hungarian or Turkish. Vowels can be high/front (eéiíöőüű) or deep/back (aáoóuú). An ending must be the same type, as the last syllable of the word; if the word have front vowels, the ending will also be front (vér - vérek), a word with back vowels takes a back ending (ház - házak). Old Hungarian words contain typically either only front or only back vowels (malac: deep, egér: high). See in more details at Vowel harmony.
Many grammatical and syntactic functions, elements and constructions are based on suffixes. The mark for the plural of a noun is a suffix -k, preceded by a vowel if the word ends in a consonant. Usually, vowels are inserted between the word and its suffix to prevent a buildup of consonants (and hence to prevent unpronouncable words). The inserted vowels must follow the rules of vowel harmony.
Hungarian grammar uses endings to express the relation of things, which are in other languages usually called cases. For example: at the table = az asztalnál (space relation), at 5 o'clock = öt órakor (time relation). Some people debate if these relations can be called cases, arguing that this usage was only introduced by the Swedish linguist B. Collinder. This is in fact a matter of definition of "case", and the case system is widely used in contemporary grammatical description of all agglutinating languages, including Hungarian.
Most common of the cases in Hungarian are the nominative case, accusative case and dative case; some express location and placement (see the chart below); and some express other relations (terminative case, essive-formal case, instrumental-comitative case, translative case, causal-final case). There are further cases of restricted use (locative case, essive-modal case, distributive case, distributive-temporal case, sociative case). For examples of these cases, refer to the article List of grammatical cases.
Hungarian uses plural sparsely, ie. only if no quantity is marked. Plural is not used with definite or indefinite numerals. Examples: öt fiú five boys; sok fiú many boys; fiúk boys.
Hungarian verbs have two conjugations: a definite and an indefinite. The definite conjugation is mostly used in case of a direct and definite object. For example: várom a buszt "I am waiting for the bus", várok "I am waiting". Látok (valamit) "I can see (something)", but látom a könyvet "I can see the book".
Forms are presented in this order:
These pronouns don't usually appear (since the suffix is enough in itself to mark the person), unless they are contrasted or emphasized.
Beside te and ti, which are used informally, there are polite forms for the second person pronouns: ön or maga. Ön is official and distancing, maga is personal and even intimate. (There are some older forms for you, like kend, which is still used in rural areas.) See also: T-V distinction.
Verbs with the polite 2nd person forms ön and maga take the suffixes of the 3rd person verb forms. For example te kérsz (second person, informal), but ön kér or maga kér (second person, formal), just like ő kér (third person).
As you can notice, Hungarian does not have gender-specific pronouns, like e.g. Turkish.
The basic verb form for derivation is always the third person singular.
The infinitive of verbs is the radical suffixed by -ni.
A regular sample verb
Here is a regular verb, kér ("ask for something"). — The personal suffixes are marked in bold.
The substantive verb (to be)
The substantive verb "to be" in Hungarian is lenni. Like in most other languages of the world, this verb is irregular. In Hungarian it comes from three (or four) bases: vagy- (or van-), vol-, and len-. — As it cannot have an object, it doesn't have definite forms.
Hungarian uses the verb "to be" much less frequently than English, because it is omitted in the present tense in the third person (singular/plural), if one speaks about what someone or something is (see copula). On the other hand, the substantive verb must be used in other tenses and other persons, and every time one speaks about where or how something is, or if one emphasizes the existence or availability of something. Examples:
- Péter orvos Ř - Peter is a doctor. (present tense, third person, speaking about what someone is: no linking verb in Hungarian)
- Péter jól van - Peter is well.
- Péter itt van - Peter is here.
- Péter orvos volt - Péter was a doctor.
- Orvos vagyok - I am a doctor.
Van orvos a szobában - There is a doctor in the room.
Further information on verbs
Hungarian uses verbal prefixes which modify the meaning of the verbs and form separate verbs out of them. These prefixed verbs usually have meanings which are consistently build up from the basic meaning of the elements, and many of them have figurative, idiomatic meanings as well. For example: ír he writes, leír he writes down, kiír he writes out, beír he writes into etc. (basic meanings). On the other hand, leír may also mean "declare as useless" (cf. "write off"), and beír "give a written warning" (to a schoolchild).
There are also compund words using verbs which have their individual meanings, for example egyedülálló single (eg. person), whereas egyedül álló means something which stands alone.
Due to the existence of compound words, lexicon of Hungarian could be considered to contain about 1 million words, but as a matter of fact, this estimate is disputed, because in agglutinating languages is hard to define what to call "a word". Hungarian words are built around so called word bushes, for example kör-köröz-körös-kering-kerge-kurta etc. Due to this feature words with similar meaning often arise from the same root.
The lexicon of Hungarian contains words borrowed by various Turkic languages, including Turkish, as well as several loans from German and Slavic.
The basic vocabulary shares about 1000 words from Uralic languages like Finnish and Estonian (e.g., the numbers egy ~ yksi ~ üks (1), kettő ~ kaksi ~ kaks (2), három ~ kolme ~ kolm (3), négy ~ neljä ~ neli (4); víz ~ vesi ~ vesi (water); kéz ~ käsi ~ käsi (hand); vér ~ veri ~ veri (blood); fej ~ pää ~ pea (head) which have systematic sound correspondences, so most linguists classify them as Finno-Ugric languages, a subgroup of the Uralic language family.
Hungarian is written using a variant of the Latin alphabet, and has a phonemic orthography, i.e. pronunciation can generally be predicted from the written language. In addition to the standard letters of the Latin alphabet, Hungarian uses several additional letters. These include letters with acute accents (á,é,í,ó,ú) which represent long vowels, the diaereses ö and ü and their long counterparts ő (unicode Ő and ő) and ű (unicode Ű and ű). Sometimes ô or ő is used for ő and ű for ű, due to the limitations of the Latin-1 / ISO-8859-1 codepage. Hungarian can be properly represented with the Latin-2 / ISO-8859-2 codepage, but this codepage is not always available. (Hungarian is the only language using the ő and ű codes.) Of course, Unicode includes the glyphs, and they therefore can be used on the Internet.
For a complete table of the pronunciation of the Hungarian alphabet, see the X-SAMPA description in the Hungarian Wikipedia (in Hungarian, but the table is obvious), which transliterates Hungarian letters into IPA and X-SAMPA characters.
Additionally, the letter pairs <ny>, <ty>, and <gy> represent the palatal consonants /ń/, /tj/, and /dj/ (like the "dy" sound in British "duke" or American "would you"). Hungarian uses <s> for /S/ and <sz> for /s/, which is the reverse of Polish. is /Z/ and <cs> is /tS/. All these digraphs are considered single letters. is also a "single letter digraph", but is pronounced like <j> (English <y>), and mostly appears in old words. More exotic letters are <dz> and <dzs> /dZ/. They are hard to find even in a longer text. Two examples are madzag; edzeni (rope; to train) and dzsungel (jungle).
Single R's are tapped, like the Spanish "pero"; Double R's and initial R's are trilled, like the Spanish "perro" or "romper".
Hungarian distinguishes between long and short vowels, where the long vowels are written with accents, and between long consonants and short consonants, where the long consonants are written double. The digraphs, when doubled, become trigraphs: +=. Usually a trigraph is a double digraph, but there are a few exceptions: tizennyolc "eighteen" is tizen + nyolc. There are doubling minimal pairs: tizenegyedik (eleventh) vs. tizennegyedik (fourteenth).
Primary stress is always on the first syllable of a word. There is sometimes secondary stress on other syllables, especially when two words have been combined (like "viszontlátásra" (see you later) pronounced "VEES-ohnt-LAH-tahsh-raw").
While it seems unusual to English speakers at first, once one learns the new orthography and pronunciations, Hungarian is nearly totally phonemically written.
- Hungarian (person, language): magyar ['mAdyAr]
- hello: szia ['sia] (informal) (sounds almost exactly like American "see ya") But you only say this to people that you know well. When you address a stranger you use the more formal "good day": jó napot (kivánok) (YOnahpot)
- good-bye: viszontlátásra (formal) (see above), viszlát [vislAt] (semi informal)
- please: kérem (szépen) [kayrrem saypen] (This literally means "I ask (it) well". See next for a more common form of the polite request)
- I would like ____, please: Szeretnék ____ [seh-reht-neyk] (This example illustrates the use of the conditional tense, as a common form of a polite request)
- sorry: bocsánat [BOchAnAt]
- thank you: köszönöm [kYs-Yn-Ym] (pout your lips for a kiss and say "uh")
- that/this: az [Az] ez [ez]
- how much?: mennyi? ['mennyee]
- how much does it cost?: mennyibe kerül? ['mennyee-be keh-rool]
- yes: igen ['igen]
- no: nem [nem]
- I don't understand: nem értem ['nEm 'ayrtem]
- I don't know: nem tudom [nem 'too-dohm]
- where's the bathroom?: Hol van a vécé? ['hole vAn A 'vay-tsay], more polite (and word-to-word) version Hol van a mosdó? ['hole vAn A 'mosh-daw];
- generic toast: egészségedre! [this is tough. Say it like this: EGG-ayss-shay-ged-rreh]
- juice: gyümölcslé [dyu-mulch-lay]
- water: víz [veez]
- wine: bor [bohr]
- beer: sör [shuhr]
- milk: tej [tay]
- Do you speak English?: Beszél angolul? ['bes-ayl 'Ahn-go-lool?]
- I love you: szeretlek ['seretlek]
- Help!: Segítség! [sheg-eet-shayg]
Sir John Bowring
Sir John Bowring English linguist, political economist and writer was the author of the first Hungarian anthology in English. In the preface of Poetry of the Magyars (1830) he writes:
- "The Magyar language stands afar off and alone. The study of other tongues will be found of exceedingly little use towards its right understanding. It is moulded in a form essentially its own, and its construction and composition may be safely referred to an epoch when most of the living tongues of Europe either had no existence, or no influence on the Hungarian region."
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