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Language family: Finno-Ugric (part of the Uralic family)
Number of speakers: 13 million
Writing system: Latin
Official language in: Hungary, Vojvodina (autonomous province in Serbia)
HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE
Hungarian is a mysterious little island in the sea of Slavic languages in the middle of Europe. It is surrounded by countries where completely different languages are spoken, with no relatives near or far, so it is not surprising that over the years there have been many theories about the origins of the language. Many have paired it with Turkic languages and some unorthodox ideas have popped up from time to time that linked Hungarian to Greek, Persian, Hebrew, Japanese and even English! Although these are very interesting suggestions, according to the official standpoint, Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family with Finnish and Estonian (yep, they are both spoken up north!).
Throughout history, Hungarian came in contact with many different languages, such as Turkish, German, Italian, French and Slavic languages, so although most of the vocabulary is quite unique, you will find some loan words from these languages.
Hungarian is an agglutinative language which means that word stems are “glued together” with suffixes, prefixes and circumfixes to make up new words, turn verbs into nouns, mark their grammatical function, etc. This ability makes Hungarian German’s rival in terms of creating super-long word monsters.
Hello! Szia! (singular, inf.) Sziasztok! (plural, inf.)
My name is… … vagyok
Thank you Köszönöm szépen
WHAT OUR LINGUISTS SAY…
Scott, one of our Hungarian to English translators cannot really compare Hungarian to any other languages: “I’m not really the person to ask as I’ve become used to listening to it after a couple of decades. If I remember back to when I first heard it – very different to any other language I had heard.”
“Hungarian is a very unique language,” says Eszter, who is one of our Hungarian translators. “I never thought it sounded like any other language until I visited Iceland and heard Icelandic. I felt that the rhythm and the tone of Icelandic was very similar to Hungarian. This is of course my personal view only, I have never heard anyone else compare Hungarian to Icelandic.”
As a native Hungarian speaker myself, I can agree with Eszter and Scott, Hungarian sounds pretty different from anything else I’ve heard. Some said to me that they felt it has a Russian or Slavic feel to it. It might be because of all those loan words?!
Due to the fact that Hungarian belongs to a completely different language family as English, it is very hard to pinpoint one major difference between the two languages. Scott highlights grammar and vocabulary, and adds that if he “had to narrow it down to only one, then [he] would say the vocabulary, as there are very few words in common between the languages.”
I would go for grammar, if I had to focus on one thing. Let’s take the conjugation of verbs, for example. When conjugating verbs in Hungarian, just like in English, we match the verb to the subject for number and person. But we also have the object of the sentence to consider. Many verbs can be “definite” or “indefinite”. If there is a definite object (such as a specific person), we need to use “definite” conjugation: “látom a férfit”, meaning “I can see the man”. However, if there isn’t a specific object (e.g. if we don’t know who exactly we can see), we need to use “indefinite” conjugation: “látok egy férfit”, meaning “I can see a man”.
Eszter cannot pick just one difference between Hungarian and English either, however, she finds it interesting “how subtle and diplomatic the English language can be compared to Hungarian. For example an English person would say ‘I struggled to understand him.’ In Hungarian this would simply be ‘I did not understand him.’”
There are many idiomatic expressions in Hungarian that make it a fun language to speak – and to translate them literally into English for the amusement of others! Scott doesn’t really have a favourite word as such, but there are some that just stick in his mind because he finds “them bizarre and amusing”. One of these phrases translates to “under the frog’s bottom”, which he learnt from a novel, “Under the frog” by British-born Hungarian writer, Tibor Fischer. This expression can be used when you want to describe something or someone that is in a very bad shape or in a very low position.
Eszter really likes the sound of the word “pillangó” which means butterfly. The soft “l” and “n” sounds evoke the ethereal, delicate nature of these beautiful creatures and you can imagine them flitting around a field of flowers.
I would actually like to mention two words, not one: “szeretet” and “szerelem”. While in English the word “love” covers both the love you feel towards your family, friends, pets and the love you have for your partner, in Hungarian, there are two nouns for it. The “love” towards your parents is “szeretet”, however, “szerelem” describes the romantic feeling, when you have a “pillangó” fluttering in your stomach.
We hope you liked this little article about the Hungarian language. If you have any questions about Hungarian or translations in general, or have a translation request, don’t hesitate to get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01223 356 733.