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About Hungarian Language

Hungarian (magyar nyelv listen (help·info)) is a Uralic language, more specifically a Finno-Ugric language related to Finnish, Estonian and a number of other minority languages spoken in the Baltic states and northern European Russia eastward into central Siberia. Finno-Ugric languages are not related to the Indo-european languages that dominate Europe but have acquired loan words from them.

Hungarian is mainly spoken in Hungary and by the Hungarian communities in the seven neighbouring countries. The Hungarian name for the language is magyar (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈmɒɟɒr̪]), which is also occasionally used as an English noun, such as Mighty Magyars. There are about 14.5 million native speakers, of whom 9.5–10 million live in present-day Hungary. About 2.5 million speakers live outside present-day Hungary, but in areas that were part of the Kingdom of Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon (1920). Of these, the largest group lives in Romania, where there are approximately 1.4 million Hungarians. There are large, majority Hungarian territories also in Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine, but Hungarian speakers can also be found in Croatia, Austria, and Slovenia, as well as about a million people scattered in other parts of the world, for example the more than a hundred thousand Hungarian speakers in the Hungarian American community in the United States.


Hungarian is a Uralic language, more specifically a Ugric language; the most closely related languages are Mansi and Khanty of western Siberia. Connections between the Ugric and Finnic languages were noticed in the 1670s and established, along with the entire Uralic family in 1717, although the classification of Hungarian continued to be a matter of political controversy into the 18th and even 19th centuries. Today the Uralic family is considered one of the best demonstrated large language families, along with Indo-European and Austronesian[citation needed]. The name of Hungary could be a corruption of Ungrian/Ugrian, and the fact that the Eastern Slavs referred to them as Ǫgry/Ǫgrove (sg. Ǫgrinŭ) seemed to confirm that. As to the source of this ethnonym in the Slavic languages, current literature favors the hypothesis that it comes from the name of the Turkic tribe Onogur (which means "ten arrows" or "ten tribes").

There are numerous regular sound correspondences between Hungarian and the other Ugric languages. For example, Hungarian /aː/ corresponds to Khanty /o/ in certain positions, and Hungarian /h/ corresponds to Khanty /x/, while Hungarian final /z/ corresponds to Khanty final /t/. For example, Hungarian ház ([haːz]) "house" vs. Khanty xot ([xot]) "house", and Hungarian száz ([saːz]) "hundred" vs. Khanty sot ([sot]) "hundred".

The distance between the Ugric and Finnic languages is greater, but the correspondences are also regular.

Antiquity and the early Middle Ages

As Uralic linguists claim[who?], Hungarian separated from its closest relatives approximately 3000 years ago, so the history of the language begins around 1000 BC. The Hungarians gradually changed their way of living from settled hunters to nomadic cattle-raising, probably as a result of early contacts with Iranian nomads. Their most important animals included sheep and cattle. There are no written resources on the era, thus only a little is known about it. However, research has revealed some extremely early loanwords, such as szó ('word'; from the Turkic languages) and daru ('crane', from the related Permic languages.)

Hungarian historian and archaeologist, Gyula László refutes this theory, however, citing geological data as evidence, stating, "This seemed to be an impeccable conclusion until attention was paid to the actual testimony of tree-pollen analyses, and these showed that the linguists had failed to take into account changes in the vegetation zones over the millennia. After analysis of the plant pollens in the supposed homeland of the Magyars, which were preserved in the soil, it became clear to scientists that the taiga and deciduous forests were only in contact during the second millennium B.C., which is much too late to have an impact on Finno-Ugrian history. So the territory sought by the linguists as the location of the putative ‘ancient homeland’ never existed. At 5,000-6,000B.C., the period at which the Uralic era has been dated, the taiga was still thousands of kilometers away from the Ural mountains and the mixed deciduous forest had only just begun its northward advance." This geological data contradicts earlier claims by linguists about the ancient homeland of the Magyars near the Urals.

The Turkic languages later, especially between the 5th and the 9th centuries, had a great influence on the language. Most words related to agriculture, to state administration or even to family relations have such backgrounds. Interestingly, Hungarian syntax and grammar was not influenced in a similarly dramatic way during this 300 years.

The Funeral Sermon and Prayer

The Hungarians migrated to the Carpathian Basin around 896 and came into contact with Slavic peoples – as well as with the Romance speaking Vlachs, borrowing many words from them (for example tégla – "brick", mák – "poppy", or karácsony – "Christmas"). In exchange, the neighbouring Slavic languages also contain some words of Hungarian origin (such as Croatian čizma (csizma) – "boot", or Serbian ašov (ásó) – "spade"). 1,43% of the Romanian vocabulary is of Hungarian origin.

The first written accounts of Hungarian, mostly personal and place names, are dated back to the 10th century. Hungarians also had their own writing system, the Old Hungarian script, but no significant texts remained from the time due to, as researchers say, Stephen I of Hungary, who gave an order to burn the written sticks.

Since the foundation of the Kingdom of Hungary

The Kingdom of Hungary was founded in 1000, by Stephen I of Hungary (Hungarian: I. (Szent) István király). The country was a western-styled Christian (Roman Catholic) state, and Latin held an important position, as was usual in the Middle Ages. Additionally, the Latin alphabet was adopted to write the Hungarian language.

Therefore, Hungarian was also heavily influenced by Latin. The first extant text of the language is the Funeral Sermon and Prayer, written once in the 1190s. More extensive Hungarian literature arose after 1300. The earliest example of Hungarian religious poetry is the Old Hungarian 'Lamentations of Mary', a poem about the afflictions of Mary when she saw the death of her son - from the 14th century. The first Bible translation is the Hussite Bible from the 1430s.

The language lost its diphthongs, and several postpositions transformed into suffixes, such as reá 'onto' – 1055: utu rea 'onto the way'; later: útra). Vowel harmony was also developed. At one time, Hungarian used six verb tenses; today, only two (the future not being counted as one, as it is formed with an auxiliary verb).

The first printed Hungarian book was published in Kraków in 1533, by Benedek Komjáti. The work's title is Az Szent Pál levelei magyar nyelven (In original spelling: Az zenth Paal leueley magyar nyeluen), i.e. The letters of Saint Paul in the Hungarian language. In the 17th century, the language was already very similar to its present-day form, although two of the past tenses were still used. German, Italian and French loans also appeared in the language by these years. Further Turkish words were borrowed during the Ottoman occupation of much of Hungary between 1541 and 1699.

In the 18th century, the language was incapable of clearly expressing scientific concepts, and several writers found the vocabulary a bit scant for literary purposes. Thus, a group of writers, most notably Ferenc Kazinczy, began to compensate for these imperfections. Some words were shortened (győzedelem > győzelem, 'triumph' or 'victory'); a number of dialectal words spread nationally (e. g. cselleng 'dawdle'); extinct words were reintroduced (dísz 'décor'); a wide range of expressions were coined using the various derivative suffixes; and some other, less frequently used methods of expanding the language were utilized. This movement was called the 'language reform' (Hungarian: nyelvújítás), and produced more than ten thousand words, many of which are used actively today. The reforms led[citation needed] to the installment of Hungarian as the official language over Latin in the multiethnic country in 1844.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw further standardization of the language, and differences between the mutually already comprehensible dialects gradually lessened. In 1920, by signing the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary lost 71% of its territories, and along with these, 33% of the ethnic Hungarian population. Today, the language is official in Hungary, and regionally also in Romania, in Slovakia, and in Serbia.

Official status

Hungarian is the official language of Hungary, and thus an official language of the European Union. Hungarian is also one of the official languages of Vojvodina and an official language of three municipalities in Slovenia: Hodoš, Dobrovnik and Lendava, along with Slovene. Hungarian is officially recognized as a minority or regional language in Austria, Croatia, Romania, Bukovina, Zakarpattia in Ukraine, and Slovakia. In Romania it is an official language at local level in all communes, towns and municipalities with an ethnic Hungarian population of over 20%.


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. These dialects are, for the most part, mutually intelligible. The Hungarian Csángó dialect, which is not listed by Ethnologue, is spoken mostly in Bacău County, Romania. The Csángó minority group has been largely isolated from other Hungarian people, and they therefore preserved a dialect closely resembling medieval Hungarian.


Hungarian has 14 vowel phonemes and 25 consonant phonemes. The vowel phonemes can be grouped as pairs of long and short vowels, e.g. o and ó. Most of these pairs have a similar pronunciation, only varying significantly in their duration. However, the pairs "a"/"á" and "e"/"é" differ both in closedness and length.

Consonant length is also distinctive in Hungarian. Most of the consonant phonemes can occur as geminates.

The sound voiced palatal plosive /ɟ/, written , sounds similar to 'd' in British English 'duty' (in fact, more similar to 'd' in French 'dieu', or to the Macedonian phoneme 'ѓ' as in 'ѓакон'). It occurs in the name of the country, "Magyarország" (Hungary), pronounced /ˈmɒɟɒrorsaːɡ/.

Primary stress is always on the first syllable of a word, as with its cousin Finnish and neighboring languages, Slovak (Standard dialect) and Czech. There is sometimes secondary stress on other syllables, especially in compounds, e.g. viszontlátásra ("goodbye") pronounced /ˈvisontˌlaːtaːʃrɒ/. Elongated vowels in non-initial syllables can also seem to be stressed to the ear of an English speaker, since length and stress correlate in English.

Front-back vowel harmony is an important feature of Hungarian phonology.

Single /r/s are tapped, like the Spanish pero; double /r/s are trilled, like the Spanish perro.

Grammar and syntax

Hungarian is an agglutinative language – it uses a number of different affixes, including suffixes, prefixes and a circumfix to define the meaning or the grammatical function. Instead of prepositions, which are common in English, Hungarian uses only postpositions.

There are two types of article in Hungarian:

  • definite: a before words beginning with consonants and az before vowels (in a phonological sense, behaving just like the indefinite article ’a(n)’ in English)
  • indefinite: egy, literally ‘one’.

Nouns have as many as eighteen cases. Of these, some are grammatical, e.g. the unmarked nominative (for example, az alma ‘the apple’), and the accusative marked with the suffix –t (az almát). The latter is used when the noun in question is used as the object of a verb. Hungarian does not have a genitive case (the dative case is used instead), and numerous English prepositions are equivalent not to an affix, but to a postposition, as in az alma mellett ‘next to the apple’. Plurals are formed using the suffix –k (az almák ‘the apples’).

Adjectives precede nouns, e. g. a piros alma ‘the red apple’. They have three degrees, including base (piros ‘red’), comparative (pirosabb ‘redder’), and superlative (legpirosabb ‘reddest’). If the noun takes the plural or a case, the adjective, used attributively, does not agree with it: a piros almák ‘the red apples’. However, when the adjective is used in a predicative sense, it must agree with the noun: az almák pirosak ‘the apples are red’. Adjectives also take cases when they are used without nouns: Melyik almát kéred? - A pirosat. 'Which apple would you like? - The red one.'

Verbs developed a complex conjugation system during the centuries. Every Hungarian verb has two conjugations (definite and indefinite), two tenses (past and present-future), and three moods (indicative, conditional and imperative), two numbers (singular or plural), and three persons (first, second and third). Out of these features, the two different conjugations are the most characteristic: the "definite" conjugation is used for a transitive verb with a definite object. The "indefinite" conjugation is used for an intransitive verb or for a transitive verb with an indefinite object. These rules, however, do not apply everywhere. The following examples demonstrate this system:

Present tense is unmarked, while past is formed using the suffix –t or sometimes –tt: lát 'sees'; látott 'saw', past. Futurity is often expressed with the present tense, or using the auxiliary verb fog ‘will’. The first most commonly applies when the sentence also defines the time of the future event, for example John pénteken moziba megy – literally ‘John on Friday into cinema goes’, i.e. ‘On Friday, John will go to the cinema.’ In the other case, the verb’s infinitive (formed using –ni) and the ‘fog’ auxiliary verb is used: John moziba fog menni – ‘John will go to the cinema.’ This is sometimes counted as a tense, especially by non-specialist publications.

Indicative mood is used in all tenses; the conditional only in the present and the past, finally the imperative just in the present. Indicative is always unmarked. Verbs also have verbal prefixes. Most of them define movement direction (lemegy – goes down, felmegy – goes up), but some of them give an aspect to the verb, such as the prefix meg-, which defines a finite action.

Hungarian word order is often mentioned as free, the truth is that Hungarian word order is more semantical than syntactical. For example because of marking the object using –t, it is not necessary to place the subject before the verb, and the object after it, as in English. This feature makes Hungarian able to focus on particular sections of the sentence – generally, the word before the verb contains the most important information.


Hungarian has a four-tiered system for expressing levels of politeness.

  • Ön (önözés): Use of this form in speech shows respect towards the person addressed, but it is also the common way of speaking in official texts and business communications. Here "you", the second person, is grammatically addressed in the third person.
  • Maga (magázás, magázódás): Use of this form serves to show that the speaker wishes to distance himself/herself from the person he/she addresses. A boss could also address a subordinate as "maga". Aside from the different pronoun it is grammatically the same as "önözés".
  • Néni/bácsi (tetszikezés): Children are supposed to address adults who are not close friends with using "tetszik" ("you like") as a sort of an auxiliary verb with all other verbs. "Hogy vagy?" ("How are you?") here becomes "Hogy tetszik lenni?" ("How do you like to be?"). The elderly are generally addressed this way, even by adults. When using this way of speaking, one will not use normal greetings, but can only say "(kezét) csókolom" ("I kiss (your hand)"). This way of speaking is perceived as somewhat awkward and often creates impossible grammatical structures, but is still widely in use. Another problem created by this form is that when children grow up into their 20s or 30s, they are not sure of how to address family friends that are their parents' age, but whom they have known since they were young. "Tetszik" would make these people feel too old, but "tegeződés" seems too familiar. The best way to avoid this dilemma is to use the "tegeződés" in grammatical structures, but show the respect in the title: "John bácsi, hogy vagy?".
  • Te (tegezés, tegeződés or pertu, per tu from latin): Used generally, i.e. with persons with whom none of the above forms of politeness is required. Interestingly, the highest rank, the king was traditionally addressed "per tu" by all, peasants and noblemen alike, though with Hungary not having any crowned king since 1918, this practice survives only in folk tales and children's stories. Use of "tegezés" in the media and advertisements has become more frequent since the early 1990s. It is informal and is normally used in families, among friends, colleagues, among young people, adults speaking to children; can be compared to addressing somebody by their first name in English. Perhaps prompted by the widespread use of English (a language without T-V distinction) on the Internet, "tegezés" is also becoming the standard way to address people over the Internet, regardless of politeness.

The four-tiered system has somewhat been eroded due to the recent expansion of "tegeződés".


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