The wonders of the Hungarian language

Happy New Year, folks!

This post will not be about Hungarian politics or international politics related to Hungary. I  thought I would write my very first blog entry about 2016 this year, the year which may well enter history books as the year when the worldwide rebellion against globalist, politically correct liberalism started (apart from pioneer Hungary or Poland). But I’ve changed my mind.  I’m going to write about our wonderful language instead.

Let’s give a thought about the language rhythm first.  This is a  very common sign which every customer may read in Hungarian shops every day:

afas-szamla-igeny-a5-tabla-118418

Please tell us in advance if you need a VAT invoice!

Listen here! This is a hexameter.  Yes, Hungarian is very well suited to metrical poems and Hungarian speakers may enjoy the language music perfectly in, say, an Iliad  translation just like the ancient Greeks could.  So is Hungarian a mora-timed language like Greek or Latin?  Hungarian words are always stressed on the first syllable, so Hungarian cannot be mora-timed. So is Hungarian a stress-timed language like English is?  The lengths of Hungarian vowels always stay constant, so this statement is debatable at least.  Or is Hungarian a syllable-based language like French? There are short and long vowels in Hungarian so that cannot be true either.   Perhaps Hungarian doesn’t fit in either linguistic category.

Now let’s take a random expression from a news site: adóhatósági eljárás  Er… literally this means “tax authority procedure”, that is what people (hopefully!) end up with if they evade tax.  (You see I just couldn’t resist bringing some politics in! 🙂 )

  • ad – give, yield
  • adó – giving, the one who gives =>  transmitter or…  tribute, duty or tax  !
  • hat (verb) – affect, influence, cause
  • ható – the one who affects/enforces something
  • hatóság  –  -ság (or -ség in other cases) is a noun-making suffix which often creates abstract concepts, e.g.:  boldog (happy)  -> boldogság (happiness), rendőr  (order+guard=policeman) -> rendőrség (police)
    hatóság
    means ‘authority

-ság or -ség?  Oh, well, vowel harmony makes Hungarian sound nice.

  • el  – away
  • jár  –  walk, travel, move (back and forth), frequent, etc.
  • járás –  a noun, moving around, the act of walking… Járás  is also an administrative unit in Hungary, below megye (county), which corresponds to a ‘shire’ in the UK.
  • eljárás – procedure … er, that may be unexpected but there’s logic to it:  eljár = 1. proceed 2. attend

Yes, Hungarian is a very analytical language. We create words and phrases from small building blocks. Let’s see another fun example

  • köz – public, common
  • társ – companion, mate, partner, peer
  • ság (see above)
  • i : This suffix turns a noun into an adjective.  (It often denotes location like Budapest -> budapesti ,  that is a person living in Budapest or coming from there.)
  • el–  short for “elöl“, that is “front”, also as in “first in rank”
  • nök : a person in some position, for example:  ügynök  (ügy=matter, cause), that is an agent or spy or door-to-door salesman or írnok (ír=write), that is a scribe or a clerk

Can you guess, without consulting a dictionary, of course, what  köztársasági elnök  means?   Yes, it’s a political term. Please comment below.

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