Translation musings: The Hungarian language

Oct 6, 2015 | First Edition Translations, Language, Miscellaneous, Musings, Uncategorized


Although the origins of Hungarian are still disputed by some, the majority of professional linguists agree that it belongs to the Finno-Ugric family together with Finnish and Estonian. This means that there are some systematic similarities in the vocabulary and also some grammatical resemblance to these languages. (So suffixes and noun cases galore!)

A view of Budapest, the capital of Hungary

Hungarian is spoken, well… in Hungary! However, due to historical reasons, it is also the native language of many in the surrounding countries. According to some estimates, there are 13 million native speakers in the world which makes it the most widely spoken Finno-Ugric language, preceding Finnish on the second place. Surprisingly, even though Hungary as a country has been in existence since 1000 AD (what a nice round number!), Hungarian has only been the official language of the country since 1836.  In the 19th century, following the contemporary fashion of romantic nationalism, Hungarian statesmen, poets and novelists set out to promote it over the then popular German and also to “reform” the language, making it the modern Hungarian that is spoken today.

Nowadays there is a lot of talk about the influence of English on other languages, however, one must not forget that English has also been affected by numerous languages, including Hungarian. Some English words with Hungarian origins include:

Biro: from the name of the Hungarian inventor László Bíró – whose family name incidentally means judge in Hungarian)

Coach: from the name Kocs, a small village where the first coaches were made. The word also found its way to many other European languages.

Sabre: the journey of this word started with the Hungarian szablya, and lead through German and French before it arrived in the English language.

Paprika: one might argue that the word has its roots in the Latin piper, however, the form used today, paprika, comes from Hungarian. It entered the English language with the help of German.

Image credit: Anikó