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Hungarian 

hungarian
Üdvözöljük – Welcome

 Hungarian (Magyar) is a member of the Uralic language family. It is the largest of the Uralic languages in terms of the number of speakers and the only one spoken in Central Europe. Its closest relatives are Khanty and Mansi, minority languages of Russia, spoken 2,000 miles away, east of the Ural mountains in northwestern Siberia. It is estimated that Hungarian has been separated from Khanty and Mansi for about 2,500-3,000 years.

Hungari mapLinguists believe that the ancestors of modern Hungarians first migrated westward from the eastern slopes of the Ural mountains into the steppes of southern Russia in the 4th-6th centuries, and eventually moved further westward into the Danube basin west of the Carpathian Mountains in the 9th century. Over the centuries, the Hungarians have become assimilated into the surrounding European cultures. Only their language testifies to their origin in Asia.

Status

Hungarian is spoken by 9,840,000 people in Hungary. It is the country’s official language used in education and government administration. It is one of the official languages of the European Union. There are  sizable populations of Hungarian speakers in Romania, the Czech and Slovak Republics, the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Israel, and the U.S. Smaller pockets of Hungarian speakers  live in Canada, Slovenia, and Austria. The total number of speakers of Hungarian worldwide is 12,605,590 (Ethnologue).

Click on the MLA Interactive Language Map to find out where Hungarian is spoken in the U.S.

Dialects

Standard Hungarian is based on the variety spoken in the capital of Budapest. Although use of the standard dialect is enforced, Hungarian has a number of urban and rural dialects. Ethnologue identifies the following dialects of Hungarian:

  • Central Transdanubian
  • North-eastern Hungarian
  • Palóc
  • Southern Great Plains
  • Southern Transdanubian
  • Tisza–Körös
  • Western Transdanubian
  • Oberwart spoken in Austria
  • Csángó spoken in Rumania

 

Speakers of standard Hungarian have difficulty understanding the Oberwart dialect spoken in Austria and the Csángó dialect spoken in Rumania.

Structure

Sound system

The Hungarian sound system is rich in both vowels and consonants.

Vowels
Hungarian has 14-15 vowels. There are 7 or 8 short vowels. In the table below, long vowels are marked by a macron over the vowel. Seven of the short vowels have long counterparts which are represented in writing with an acute accent í, é, ú, ó, á, õ, ű. One of the salient characteristics of Hungarian is vowel harmony which means that, with a few exceptions, stems with front vowels can be followed by only by suffixes containing front vowels, while stems with back vowels can only be followed by suffixes that contain back vowels.

Unrounded
Close
i, ī
y, ȳ
u, ū
Close-mid
ē
ø, ø̄
o, ō
Open-mid
ɛ
Open
ā
ɒ
  • /y/ = second vowel in statue
  • /ø/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ɛ/ = e in set
  • /ɒ/ in some pronunciations of cot-caught

 

Consonants
Hungarian has more consonant phonemes than other Uralic languages. Unlike other Uralic languages, Hungarian features an opposition between voiced and voiceless stopsfricatives and affricates, as well as between plain and palatalized stops and nasals. The Hungarian consonant phonemes are given below.

Stops voiceless plain
p
t
k
palatalized
voiced plain
b
d
g
palatalized
Fricatives voiceless
f
s
ʃ
h
voiced
v
z
ʒ
Affricates voiceless
ts
voiced
dz
ɟʝ
Nasals plain
m
n
ɲ
ŋ
palatalized
Lateral
l
Trill
r
Semivowels
j
  • /tʲ/, /dʲ/, /kʲ/, /nʲ/ = palatalized consonants pronounced with the blade of the tongue coming in contact with the hard palate
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /ʒ/ = s in vision
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chap
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /cç, ɟʝ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ɲ / = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /j/ = y in yet

 

Grammar


Like other Uralic languages, Hungarian features a combination of agglutinative and fusional elements. In an agglutinative language, grammatical suffixes are added to stems in a prescribed sequence, with each suffix representing one grammatical function. In a fusional (inflecting) language, several grammatical functions are represented by one suffix.

Nouns
Hungarian nouns consist of a stem + number suffix + possessor suffix + case suffix.

 

Verbs
Hungarian verbs consist of a stem + tense/mood suffix + person/number suffix.

  • There are two tenses: present and past.
  • There are three moods: indicativeconditional and subjunctive.
  • The person/number suffix represents the person/number of the subject and the person of the object.

 

Word order
The normal word order in Hungarian is Subject-Verb-Object. . At the same time, word order is determined by topic and comment. Topic is the part of the sentence that is known, while comment is the new information that is being added about the topic. In Hungarian sentences, topic comes first. A certain amount of flexibility allows speakers to express emphasis.

Vocabulary

The basic vocabulary of Hungarian reflects its Uralic origin. The language has also borrowed a large number of words from other languages. Some of the earliest borrowings came from Iranian and Turkic languages during the Hungarian migrations. Later borrowings from GermanItalianFrenchSlavic languages, and English entered the language after the Hungarians settled in Europe.köszönömBelow are some common phrases in Hungarian.

Hello!
Szia, zervusz
Goodbye
Viszlát!/Viszontlátásra
Thank you
Köszönöm
Please
Kérlek/Kérem
Excuse me!
elnézést, bocsánat
Yes
Igen/de
No
Nem/ne
Man
Férfi
Woman
Nő, asszony

Below are Hungarian numerals 1-10.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
egy
kettő
három
négy
öt
hat
hét
nyolc
kilenc
tíz

Writing

Much of early Hungarian history was recorded in runic writings carved into stone, clay, leather and wood. When Saint Stephen, First Christian King of Hungary, converted the Magyar people to Catholicism, he ordered all runic writings to be destroyed. As a result, very few of them have survived.

Click here to learn more about ancient Hungarian runic writing.

Hungarian is written with the Latin alphabet. In addition to the standard letters of the Latin alphabet, Hungarian uses several additional letters. These include vowels with acute accents á, é, í, ó, ú which represent long vowels, the diaereses ö and ü, and their long counterparts ő and ű. The alphabet also uses a number of digraphs and trigraphs. The letters q, w, x and y are used only in foreign names and loanwords.

a
á
b
 c
cs
d
dz
dzs
e
é
f
g
gy
h
I
í
j
k
  l
   ly
m
n
ny
o
ó
ö
ő
p
r
s
 sz
t
ty
 u
ú
ü
ű
v
z
zs

 

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights in Hungarian.

1. Cikk
Minden emberi lény szabadon születik és egyenlő méltósága és joga van. Az emberek, ésszel és lelkiismerettel bírván, egymással szemben testvéri szellemben kell hogy viseltessenek.

Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

These words came into English from Hungarian, sometimes by way of other languages.

coach ‘large carriage’, from Middle French coche, from German kotsche, from Hungarian kocsi ‘carriage’ of Kocs, the village where it was first made
goulash from Hungarian gulyashus, from gulyas ‘herdsman’ + hus ‘meat’. It refers to ‘beef or lamb soup made by herdsmen while pasturing’.
paprika from Hungarian paprika
saber ‘single-edged sword’, from French sabre ‘heavy, curved sword’, from German Sabel, probably ultimately from Hungarian szablya ‘saber’, literally ‘tool to cut with,’ from szabni ‘to cut’.

 

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Hungarian?
Hungarian is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

17 Responses to Hungarian

  1. Brigi Kovács

    Hi!
    I’m Hungarian and thought I’d let you know that the translations of the words are wrong (well, most of them).
    “Below are some common phrases in Hungarian.

    Hello! – Szervusz
    A really few people would use Szervusz, we usually say Hello!

    Good bye! – I enhozzád
    That doesn’t even mean anything..
    Good bye!=Viszlát!/Viszontlátásra!

    Thank you! – Köszönöm!
    This one is actually correct 🙂

    Please! – Meeldima
    I don’t know what kind of dictionary you used but there’s no such word as “meeldima” in Hungarian. Please!=Kérlek!/Kérem!

    Excuse me! – Pardon, bocsánat!
    Bocsánat is great but we don’t say pardon. You could also say Elnézést!

    Yes – Igen
    This one’s correct 🙂

    No – Jelentéktelen, nem
    No=nem. Jelentéktelen means unimportant.

    Man – Ember
    Ember means human/person. Man=férfi

    Woman – Asszony, nő
    Woman=nő but asszony is also good.

    Anyways, everything else was really great and well written!

    Greetings from Hungary:
    Brigi Kovács

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your helpful comment. Take a look at the Hungarian page now!

       
  2. Pingback: Hungary Population in 2013 | Population Fun

  3. Vnce Tovizi III

    Hungarian is not Indo-European. The fact that it is being used in counties surronding Hungary is purly based on HISTORY. After WW1, the peace treaty that had to be signed by the countries who participated in the war. A book that I onw will help you understand.

    “One of the mistakes of the nationalities (under Astro-Hungarian rule) was their greed – they cut off huge ‘chunks’ from the country as soon as they had the chance. Although it’s true that the Hungarians have always been the minority throughout the recent centuies of the country’s history, still the various nationalities exaggerated their territorial claims of their individual states in 1918. This wasn’t good for anyone, since the more Hungarian territories they took away from Hungary, the more Hungarian nationals they got, which became a source of lasting problems. The powers-that-be made secret pacts with the Czechs, Slovakians, Serbs, Croats, Romanians ect. during WW1. This means that the Trianon treaty, named for the Trianon palace near Paris – the location of the discussions – didn’t start in 1920, they just ratified what they couldn’t change then. Unfortunatley, they newly created nations used deception, false cartographic and economic statistics to gian as much as they could. They disregarded the opinion of the Hungarians, since they were defeated and blamed for causing the war in the first place. While Germany lost only 10% of its territory, Hungary’s territory shrank from 325 thousand square kilometers to 93 thousand square kilometers and its population dropped from 21 million to 8 million (most of whome weren’t Hugarian). Over 3 million Hungarians were struck beyond the borders and those who chose to move back to Hungary lost all of their property and never recieved any compensation. The Hungarians were even forced to pay large amounts of military compensation. Countries that didn’t even exist during the WW1 were declared winners of the war, recieving rights and benefits appropriate to the victors. Trianon defined Hungarian foreign policy in the inter-war period. Thus, to a certian extent, WW1 began in 1914 by the seeds the victorius countries planted in the Trianon, which ‘blooomed’ in the 1930s. This is the reason why Hungary became Hitler’s ally, participating, and losing the war. Thus the Trianon led to 45 years of communist oppression as well.”

    That is my Explination!

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the historical background post WWI.

       
    • Brian Cleary

      Mr. Tovizi,
      For people who don’t know about Hungary and her history,, in English I think that you need to differentiate between Hungarian and Magyar.

       
  4. Ryan Zsoldos

    Köszönóm isn’t correct, the proper way to say “Thank you” is “Köszönöm”

     
  5. caindwan

    Hi!
    Two is not a kettö. Is kettő.

     
  6. John F

    Kovács Brigi says few people say Szervusz but I have heard it said to me, more than once, and I’m surprised she didn’t mention that “hello” can also mean goodbye in Hungarian e.g. on the phone.

    I’m an Irish speaker of the language (a rare breed indeed). My party pieces on what Hungarian is like include explaining the words they have for things like cheese (sajt) and trees (fák), so that “a fákon sajt”, which means ‘cheese on the trees’ (grammatically, if not idiomatically), sounds like pure swearing in English.

    Then there is the, eh, poetic appraisal of the language by the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran (1911-95):

    “Hungarian Language — savage it may be but of a beauty that has nothing human about it, with sonorities of another universe, powerful and corrosive, appropriate to prayer, to groans and to tears, risen out of hell to perpetuate its accent and its aura… words of nectar and cyanide.”

    Bementem a magyar nyelvbe, mint folyóba, és féltem, hogy fulladnám benne, de végül feljöttem ujra, a bűvös tudással. (‘I went into the Hungarian language like into a river and I feared I would drown in it but eventually I came up again, with the magical knowledge’).

     
  7. L.B.

    Nice article, however let me add a few things:
    Á and É are not A and E pronounced longer. Actually they are different sounds. E sounds like in EN ‘bed’ while É is more or less similar to what A stands for in ‘day’. Á is like how the vowel starts in ‘wow’, while A is somewhere in between Á and O (as in’long’). Or at least something like those. Technically, all four can be pronounced both long and short, however in standard speech their length corresponds to the macron on the letter.
    @Brigi Kovács – ‘man’ can indeed correspond to ’ember’, partially because HU uses this general noun (indeed meaning human/person) more often. Like, say, “we were looking for this man five years ago” can be traslated as “ezt az embert kerestük öt évvel ezelőtt” (as well as ‘ezt a férfit…’ but that sounds slightly unnatural in Hungarian).

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the comment. We will look into it.

       
  8. L.B.

    Another comment on Word Order: as an agglutinating language, word order is not bound strictly in Hungarian, therefore it can be used to express emphasis or other subtleties. This is quite a fun part of our language so I thought it is worth adding.

     
  9. LG

    Hungarian is related to Finnish (and Estonian) language. It gets very confusing to read through the errors and corrections, using examples of words adopted from English and other languages, and not real Hungarian words. There are also dialects, depending on the country and region and the mother tongue of the speaker, however, those are easy to understand once you know the language.

     

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