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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Hungarian Language: Magyar nyelv

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Hello everyone.

Welcome to the LangFocus channel

and my name is Paul.

Today's topic is the Hungarian language

Or, "magyar nyelv," as it's called in Hungarian.

Hungarian is not just another European language.

There's nothing else quite like it.

For starters, it's not an Indo-European language.

So when you look at a map,

and see that Europe's Hungarian-speaking areas

are surrounded by Indo-European languages,

You have to ask yourself: how did Hungarian get there?

Most Hungarian speakers live in the Carpathian Basin,

bordered by the Carpathian Mountains

to the north, east, and south.

That includes not only around 10 million speakers in Hungary,

but also in areas of the basin in neighboring countries,

including Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The largest Hungarian-speaking minority is in northwestern and central Romania

where around 1.2 million people speak it,

or around 6 percent of the country's population.

All of these Hungarian areas in the Carpathian Basin were part of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1920,

when many areas were ceded to other countries.

But how did they get there in the first place?

Hungarian is a member of the Ugric branch of the Uralic language family

which originated in the vicinity of the Ural mountains which separate Europe from western Siberia.

The Uralic languages include two main groupings: Samoyedic, which was the first group to branch off from Uralic,

and Finno-Ugric.

Around 2000 BCE, or maybe earlier, Finno-Ugric split into Proto-Ugric, the ancestor of the Ugric branch,

and Proto-Finnic, the ancestor of the Finnic languages, including Finnish and Estonian.

Proto-Ugric remained a unified language for more than a millenium until Hungarian diverged from it, around 800 BCE.

There's some debate about whether the Hungarian ethnic group, the Magyars, originated to the west or to the east of the Ural mountains.

But at some point, around 2000 years ago, they became nomadic in response to changes in climate and landscape

and began gradually migrating towards the west,

eventually reaching the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century.

Both while settled near the Ural mountains and while migrating west, the Magyars had extensive contact with Turkic peoples.

For instance, the Magyars formed part of a tribal alliance with Turkic tribes called Onogur, meaning "ten tribes"

which was based in the northern Black Sea area.

This, by the way, is the most likely origin of the term "Hungarian" and its equivalents,

"Ungari" in Latin, "Oungroi" in Greek, and "Qguri" in Proto-Slavic.

After the Onogur alliance disintegrated, they became part of the Khazar Khaganate,

a Turkic empire covering much of the Caucasus region and the Black Sea area.

For a time, they collected taxes from Slavic peoples on behalf of the Khazars

until they became politically independent from the Khazars in the year 830.

This interaction with Turkic tribes and political entities led to significant Turkic influence on the Hungarian language.

It's hard to give an exact count of the number of Turkic loan words in Hungarian, but this lexicon contains around 500 loan words from Old Turkic.

Also, the Old Hungarian script developed from the Orkhon script,

the Turkic runic script that was used by the Khazars.

In the 9th century, the Magyars were carrying out frequent raids in Europe

and in the year 896 they crossed the Carpathian Mountains under the leadership of Árpád,

and began settling in the Carpathian Basin.

By the year 1000, a Christian Kingdom was established under King Stephen I.

Under him, Hungarian began to be written in the Latin alphabet

but for some time the Old Hungarian script was used as well for vernacular writing.

It was used by the Székely Magyars until at least the 17th century,

and since the early 20th century it has undergone a revival to some extent, with limited use for symbolic and cultural reasons.

Stephen I also made Latin the sole official language of Hungary, and it remained so until the 19th century.

The Old Hungarian period:

The Old Hungarian period conventionally begins with the settlement of the Carpathian Basin.

This is around the time of the earliest fragments of written Hungarian,

which date back to the 10th century and are written in the Old Hungarian script.

Isolated words written in the Latin alphabet can be found dating back to the mid-11th century,

and the oldest extensive text is from 1192, the late 12th century.

Hungarian has changed relatively little since the Old Hungarian period.

But due to contact with other languages and the assimilation of different tribes, it has absorbed words from a variety of languages

including German, and Iranic and Slavic languages, as well as Latin, and the Turkic languages we've already discussed.

Middle Hungarian

The Middle Hungarian period began with the printing of the first books in Hungarian.

During much of this period, the Ottoman occupation of central and southern Hungary took place

and the Habsburg Empire ruled the northern and northwestern areas,

which likely brought some additional Turkic, specifically Turkish, and German influences to the language.

Modern Hungarian

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hungarian underwent a language reform, in order to standardize it,

to make it more suitable for literature, and to make it more suitable for the sciences.

They revived old vocabulary, used existing roots and affixations to create new words, and introduced some dialectal words on a national level,

in order to expand the vocabulary.

In 1836 it became the official language alongside Latin, and in 1844 it became the sole official language of Hungary.

From 1867 to 1918, the Kingdom of Hungary was part of the union of Austria-Hungary.

In 1920, after Austria-Hungary's involvement in the first world war,

the Treaty of Trianon redrew the borders of Hungary, and assigned many of its areas to neighboring countries

based on the ethnic composition of their populations.

This resulted in the current situation in which millions of Hungarian speakers live outside Hungary in neighboring countries.

Despite the fact that Hungarian has ancient connections to other Uralic languages,

today its similarities to them are not immediately obvious.

And despite the fact that Hungarian vocabulary has been widely influenced by other languages,

the borrowed words are mostly older words that are further obscured through compounding and affixation.

For example, the word "gomba," meaning mushroom.

This was borrowed from Old Slavonic "gǫba."

In modern Bulgarian, it's гъба ("gŭba")

and in Super Mario Brothers, it's "goomba"!

(Super Mario theme playing aggressively)

But this word can also form a compound word with this word here, "féle," meaning species.

"Gombaféle" means fungus.

To make it plural, we add a 'k'. "Gombafélék".

Then there might be a case ending - "gombaféléket". Now it's in the accusative case.

You may be thinking, hey, that beginning part is still recognizable to speakers of Bulgarian.

Yeah, maybe. But in other Slavic languages, that root is not so commonly used anymore, or has changed more than it has in Bulgarian.

Like in Slovak, it's "huba".

The main point I'm getting at is that a lot of the loan words in Hungarian are not immediately recognizable.

But anyway, that brings us to the most important question: What's Hungarian like?

Hungarian is an agglutinative language, meaning that words are made up of a linear sequence of morphemes

that each contribute a piece of meaning to the word.

So let's start with this word - "város," meaning city.

For the plural, we add "ok." "Városok," meaning cities.

And for words ending in a vowel, you just add 'k'.

For the first person singular possessive, we add "om."

"A városom," meaning "my city."

Now let's make it a location. "A városomban" means "in my city."

This here, by the way, was the definite article, which we'll look at a little later.

So you can see how we start with the root word and add suffixes to it to add meaning.

But, the suffixes are not always exactly the same.

For example, "zseb," meaning pocket.

For this word, the plural would be "zsebek." "My pocket" - "A zsebem."

"My pockets," in the plural: "A zsebeim." "In my pocket": "A zsebemben."

"In my pockets" - "A zsebeimben."

So, what's up with all the Es instead of the Os and the As we saw in the first word?

Well, Hungarian features something called vowel harmony.

This means that the vowels which appear in suffixes depend on the vowel in the final syllable of the word.

So, the suffixes in the first example, "város," are in harmony with the vowel O.

And the suffixes in the second example, "zseb," are in harmony with the vowel E.

The exact vowel used also depends on the type of suffix.

We can also see vowel harmony and agglutination in Hungarian's verb conjugations.

The base form of the verb meaning "to write" isr."

For regular verbs, these verb endings here are added to verbs with one of the following vowels in the final syllable.

The base form of the verb meaning "to drive" or "to lead" is "vezet."

And these verb endings here are added to verbs with one of the following vowels in the final syllable: either short E or long E.

The base form of the verb meaning "to sit" isl."

These endings right here are added to verbs with any of these vowels in the last syllable.

But... there's more.

These conjugations you see here are indefinite conjugations.

Transitive verbs in Hungarian have different conjugations depending on whether the object is definite or indefinite.

Let's take the verb "to write."

n írok" means "I write." Or justrok," because Hungarian is pro-drop,

meaning the subject pronoun can be dropped.

rok valamit" - "I write something."

rok egy könyvet" - "I write a book." Here we have a direct object.

And "egy" is an indefinite article.

rom a könyvet" - "I write the book."

"a" is a definite article, androm" is the definite conjugation.

Hungarian verbs also have past tense forms, both definite and indefinite ones.

With almost no exceptions, there is no separate form for future tense,

but the future can be expressed using the infinitive of a verb plus the present tense of the verb "fogni."

So "I will write a book" isrni fogok egy könyvet."

And "I will write the book" isrni fogom a könyvet."

There are also numerous prefixes which can be added to verbs,

some of which add a new shade of meaning to the verb, and others which completely change the meaning of the verb.

Before, we saw the verbl," which means "to sit," as in: you are currently in a seated position.

If you want to express the meaning of "sit" as in "sit down," you add the prefix "le." "Leül."

And it can also mean "to serve," like in this phrase meaning "to serve a prison sentence": "börtönbüntetést leül."

To say "sit up" - in other words, to stop slouching - you say "felül."

"Beül" means "sit in," sometimes used for getting into a car.

"Elül" means "to sit still" or "to sit away from."

The prefix "el" means "away." This word also means "blow over" or "subside."

And before, we saw the verb "vezet," meaning "drive" or "lead."

And it also means "to conduct electricity."

"Levezet" means "drive down," like from a hill, or from the capital to the countryside.

But it also means "deduce."

"Bevezet" means "to drive into," and it also means "introduce" - in other words, to put into practice.

"Félrevezet" means "mislead" or "deceive," and there are numerous more.

The way that these prefixes alter the meanings of words is not always consistent,

so you can't always just put two and two together.

But sometimes that works.

There are also a couple types of suffixes that can be attached to the verb to change its meaning.

"at"/"et", depending on vowel harmony, or "tat"/"tet", show causation.

For example, "vezet" means drive or lead. "Vezettet" means "make someone drive."

And after that you can add verb endings to conjugate it.

Like "Vezettettünk" - "We make someone drive."

And that's the indefinite form, by the way. "Vezettetjük" is the definite form.

"Vezettetjük Daniellel az autót." This means "We make Daniel drive the car."

"-lel" is the instrumental case suffix, which is used here to show who is being caused to do something.

Its basic forms are "-val" and "-vel" depending on vowel harmony.

But when attached to a noun ending in a consonant, the V assimilates to the final consonant,

resulting in gemination (a doubled consonant.).

"Az" is the definite article. Before, we saw the form "a," but when the noun begins with a vowel, then the form "az" is used.

The "-t" at the end of "autót" is the accusative case ending,

which is used to indicate the direct object.


One of the most notorious aspects of the Hungarian language is its system of cases which are attached to nouns.

There are 18 cases, though some people will say there are more.

Look at these tables for the noun meaning "car." This looks pretty intimidating.

However, most of these case endings function in a similar way to prepositions in English, except that they are after the word.

In other words, they're like postpositions.

Take the dative case form: "autónak." This means "to the car."

The instrumental case, "autóval," would mean "by car."

The terminitive case, "autóig," would mean something like "as far as the car."

For example, if you were going to walk until you reached the car.

The inessive case, "autóban," would mean "in the car."

The ablative case, "autótól," would mean "away from the car," and so on.

So, thinking of them as postpositions rather than case endings might make it a little less intimidating.

And it may look like there are separate forms for plural nouns,

but there really aren't.

The plural forms simply have the plural suffix "-k" and then the case endings are added after that.

The only tweak to that is the double consonant in the instrumental case that we saw before,

as well as in another case called the translative case.

Unlike in many other languages, cases only affect nouns, not adjectives or articles.

In addition to cases, there are also possessive suffixes, and these can be used together with various case endings.

"Az autóm" - "my car."

And to express this fully, we need to use the definite article.

"Az autómban vagyok" - "I am in my car."

"Az autód" - "your car."

"Elsétálok az autódtól" - "I am walking away from your car."

Or maybe it would be: "Az autódtól sétálok el" - "I am walking away from your car," with the emphasis on "your car."

Hungarian word order is not set in stone.

When something appears before the verb, it is emphasized, so by moving the noun to the beginning,

we are placing emphasis on it.

The verb prefix, or preverb, "el-", meaning "away", also moves out of the way when something else is placed in front of the verb to emphasize it.

It's like the main verb is handing the emphasis over to whatever comes before it.

But if there's a preverb in the way, the main verb can't pass the emphasis.

But if the preverb gets out of the way, then there's nothing blocking the emphasis from being handed over.

Since these preverbs can be split from the main verb, they can be referred to as coverbs.

Let's add an adverb to this sentence.

"Elsétálok az autódtól lassan."

This means "I'm walking slowly away from your car," with no particular emphasis.

Now, "Lassan sétálok el az autódtól" - this means "I am walking slowly away from your car," with the emphasis on "slowly."

When there's an explicit subject, placing it before the verb places emphasis on it, if there's no preverb in the way.

"Michael elsétál az autódtól lassan."

"Michael is walking slowly away from your car."

This sentence has no particular emphasis.

But let's get the preverb out of the way.

"Michael sétál el lassan az autódtól."

"Michael is walking slowly away from your car."

Here, the emphasis is on "Michael," because it comes right before the verb.

"Michael lassan sétál el az autódtól."

"Michael is walking slowly away from your car." Again, the emphasis here is on "lassan" - "slowly" - because it comes right before the verb.

This position right before the verb is the most emphatic.

If the verb comes at the beginning before an explicit subject, then the verb is emphasized.

But for this sentence, the meaning wouldn't really make sense.

A couple of notes on Hungarian phonology and orthography.

In terms of phonology and orthography, Hungarian's not exactly the simplest language out there.

There are 14 vowels. This includes 7 pairs of short and long equivalents, with the acute accents indicating long vowels.

One of the immediately noticeable features is the double acute accents to show the long equivalents of the vowels with umlauts.

There are also 30 consonants, for a total of 44 letters in the Hungarian alphabet.

But some of the consonants consist of two or three orthographic letters.

These consonants with a Y are palatalized consonants.

And there are these others: cs equals "tʃ," dzs equals "dʒ," sz equals "s," and zs equals "ʒ."

In addition to palatalized consonants, another common phonological and orthographic feature is gemination,

lengthened consonants that are represented by double consonants in writing.

If you see a sentence that contains double consonants, consonants followed by Y, and multiple acute accents,

umlauts, or a double acute accent, then you're almost certainly looking at Hungarian.

Let's look at one final sentence in Hungarian and break it down.

"Nem vagyok éhes, mert már ebédeltem egy kávézóban."

This sentence means, "I'm not hungry, because I already ate lunch at a cafe."

Word for word, it's "No I am hungry because already I had lunch a cafe in."

First, we see the negation word, "nem."

This word doesn't change, and you just put it before the part of the sentence that you want to make negative.

There are other forms of negation as well, but this is the basic way in indicative sentences.

Next we see "vagyok," which means "I am."

This ending, "ok", is a typical present tense ending meaning "I", with its vowel harmonizing with this A vowel, "a."

But this verb is a rather special one.

In a regular verb, removing "ok" would give you the 3rd person singular present tense form.

But for this verb, "vagy" is the 2nd person singular, and the 3rd person singular is "van."

It also has a different past tense stem, "volt."

And it's also the only Hungarian verb with its own inflected future tense form.

Other verbs express the future using 2 verbs, like we saw before.

hes" is the word for "hungry." The singular form of this word is always the same and is never inflected for gender or case.

"ebédeltem" is the 1st person singular past tense of the verb meaning "to have lunch":

"ebédelni", which has the base form "ebédel."

"Tem" is the 1st person singular past tense inflection, and vowel harmony determines that it's "tem," not "tam."

This is the indefinite conjugation, but for the 1st person singular past tense,

the definite and indefinite forms are actually the same.

"egy" is the indefinite article.

"kávézóban" is the word for "cafe," with the inessive case ending, "ban."

In other words, it's like a postposition meaning "in."

And it's worth noting that this ending is "ban," not "ben," because it's in harmony with the "ó" at the end of "kávézó."

As you can probably see, Hungarian is quite different from any Indo-European language,

and it's different from any other language in Europe.

Its agglutinative grammar and its noun cases, which function somewhat like postpositions,

are somewhat similar to other Finno-Ugric languages.

But there are also differences, and it contains much less Finno-Ugric vocabulary than you might expect.

But despite being different, Hungarian is really not as complicated as people make it out to be.

The noun cases aren't that hard to wrap your head around if you think of them like postpositions,

vowel harmony isn't that hard to get used to because there are a limited number of variations,

and indefinite and definite conjugations work very logically; it just takes some time to get used to them.

And other aspects of Hungarian are quite simple. For example, there's no grammatical gender at all.

and adjectives and articles are not inflected for case,

which makes dealing with the cases much simpler.

The main point I'm getting at is that after digging into Hungarian a little bit, just enough to make this language profile,

I've come away with the impression that it's not as complicated as I had been led to believe.

So, if you're interested in the Hungarian people or the Hungarian culture, or the country of Hungary,

then don't be scared to start learning the Hungarian language as well.

The question of the day...

To native speakers of Hungarian: what language or languages do you think share the most similarities with Hungarian?

And to learners of Hungarian: What aspects of the language have you found most challenging? And what has been more straightforward?

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The Description of The Hungarian Language: Magyar nyelv