Hungarian Catholic Mission

Hungarian Language

Hungarian (Magyar) is the official language in the Central European country of Hungary and is also the mother tongue of people of Hungarian ancestry living in seven neighboring countries. Hungarian is a logical language, utilizing diacritics to assist the pronunciation and even the emphasis of different syllables in words. Nothing is left to wonder or confusion. The word is written exactly as it is pronounced, and vice versa. The diacritics even control voice inflection. The diacritic symbols follow their respective standard vowels in the alphabetical lineup.

The number of Hungarian native speakers exceeds 14 million. 9.5–10 million live in present-day Hungary. About 2.5 million speakers live outside 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 Transylvania, the western half of present-day Romania, where there are approximately 1.4 million Hungarians. Because of immigration during the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, native Hungarian speakers also live in North America, Western Europe, Australia and Israel. For example there are more than one hundred thousand Hungarian speakers live in the Hungarian American community in the United States.

Linguists classify Hungarian as a Finno-Ugric language and linguistic relatives include Estonian, Finnish and Lappish. Finno-Ugric in turn is part of a larger "Uralic" language family which includes the Samoyedic and Yukaghir languages. The respective languages of the Khants and Mansis show the most similarity to Hungarian. Khanty and Mansi speakers are concentrated in western Siberia near the confluence of the Ob and Irtysh rivers. The combined number of Khanty and Mansi folk is no more than 30,000 and some dialects of these languages are extinct or on the verge of extinction. Overall, many linguists consider Uralic as unrelated to any other language group. It also has distant ties to Turkic, Mongolian and some minor Asian languages. Effectively, Hungarian is an isolate in Central Europe and unrelated to the Slavic, Germanic and Latin languages spoken in neighboring states. As a non-Indo-European language, it has some special features which distinguish it from most languages in Europe.

Historically, The Kingdom of Hungary was founded in 1000, by Stephen I of Hungary. 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 heavily influenced by Latin. The earliest Hungarian literature, dating from the 12th century, was in Latin. Texts in Hungarian started to appear during the 13th century. The earliest example of Hungarian religious poetry is the Old Hungarian 'Lamentations of Mary' from the 14th century. The first Bible translation is the Hussite Bible from the 1430s. The first printed Hungarian book was published in Krakko in 1533. In the 17th century, the language was already very similar to its present-day form. 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 a number of dialectal words spread nationally, extinct words were reintroduced, 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' and produced more than ten thousand words, many of which are used actively today. The reforms led 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. However, Hungarian remains one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn.

The full Hungarian alphabet (including foreign letters):

a, á, b, c, cs, d, e, é, f, g, gy, h, i, Í, j, k, l, m, n, ny, o, ó, ö, õ, p, q, r, s, sz, t, ty, u, ú, ü, ũ, v, w, x, y, z, zs

We have some special vowels:

  • a - is similar to "hot" or "dot"
  • á - is near to the usual "a" as in "bar", "guy" but it's a bit longer
  • é - is similar to the first vowel in "make", "aim", etc.
  • í - is a long "i" as in "teeth", "feed"
  • ó - is a long "o" as in "wall", "show"
  • ö - is equal as in the English "sir", "her"
  • õ - is the long "ö", similar to the first syllable of "dirty"
  • ú - is a long "u" as in "new", "loop"
  • ü - is equal to the German, as in French "vue"
  • ũ - is the long "ü", as "allure" in French

The letters õ ("o" with double acute accents) and ũ ("u" with double acute accents) can be found only in the Hungarian alphabet. It is very important to use the accents right. A word means something very different with/without accent.

Special Consonants:

  • c - is like "ts" like in "itsy-bitsy", it never becomes "k" or "s"
  • cs - is like in "cheep", "chat"
  • dz - is "d"+"z"
  • dzs - is "d"+"z"+"s", like in "jungle", “Jimmy”
  • gy - is "g"+"y", soft "g", like in "during", "due"
  • j - is like "y" in English "youth", "yogurt"
  • ly - is "l"+"y", soft "l", almost equal to "j"
  • ny - is "n"+"y", soft "n", like in "new"
  • s - is like "sh" in English "short", "shy"
  • sz - is like "s" in English "spam", "spy"
  • ty - is "t"+"y", soft "t", like in English "Tudor", "tube"
  • zs - is "z"+"s", like in French "Jules", "Jacques"

Finally, the accent is always on the first syllable when speaking.

We don't have genders in our grammar. So there is no "he" and "she", and no gender for words either. This is why Hungarian people occasionally say "he" for a girl or vice versa. Unlike in several major languages, the first letters of certain words are not capitalized. The only capitals are for names/places, etc., and for the first letter of a sentence. The order of words is not fixed, in contrast to English. Usually the sequence of the words reflects decreasing importance.

Lesson Books

Géza Balázs,

The Story of Hungarian: A Guide to the Language, Corvina Books, Ltd., Budapest, Hungary, 1997, 2000.

A history of the Hungarian language, filled with fascinating facts, statistics, stories, and so on. Hungarian once had a passive tense (perhaps under the influence of Indo-European Languages), which disappeared at the beginning of the 20th Century. Remnants of this remains in the so called `-ik' verbs. Hungarian palindromes, loan words, place names, incunabula.

Katalin Boros.

Beginner's Hungarian: Revised Edition, Hippocrene Books, New York, 2001.

Beginner's Hungarian in 10 lessons. Each lesson starts with a dialog in Hungarian, followed by the English translation and new vocabulary terms. Next comes a grammar lessons, and exercises. This is a good book. Watch out for typos, especially in accented words.

Zsuzsa Pontifix.

Hungarian: A Complete Course for Beginners, Teach Yourself Books, Lincolnwood Illinois, 1993.

Emphasis on dialog and conversation, and includes some background information on Hungary and Hungarian customs. The book introduces new terms in dialog, encouraging the reader to infer their meaning. Later vocabulary lists provide sufficient meaning for exercises.

Carol H. Rounds and Erika Sólyom.

Colloquial Hungarian: The Complete Course for Beginners

Rout ledge, London and New York, 2002.

This book is an introduction to Hungarian, based on graduated dialogs. The grammar and usage are introduced as dialog progresses.

Hungarian Catholic Mission Hungarian Catholic Mission Hungarian Catholic Mission Privacy Policy Hungarian Catholic Mission Hungarian Catholic Mission Site Map Hungarian Catholic Mission NBR Computer Consulting, LLC