About Learning Hungarian with Berlitz
Hungarian is the national language of Hungary, spoken by virtually all of its 10 million inhabitants. An additional 1 1/2 million speakers live in northwestern Romania, in the area known as Transylvania, which was part of Hungary before World War II. About 500,000 more are to be found in Slovakia to the north, where they constitute about 10 percent of that country’s population. Yugoslavia (Serbia) also has some 400,000 speakers, mostly in the northern province of Vojvodina.
Hungarian is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, which include Finnish, Estonian, and a number of languages spoken in Russia. It is thus completely unrelated to any of the languages of Western Europe. Most Finno-Ugric languages, however, belong to the Finnic branch of this group, while Hungarian belongs to the Ugric. The only other existing Ugric languages, and thus the only other languages to which Hungarian is closely related, are the remote Khanty and Mansi languages of Siberia, spoken in an area more than 2,000 miles from Hungary.
As may be gathered from these facts, the original Hungarian people came from Asia, having long lived a nomadic life on the eastern slopes of the Urals. Forced to migrate westward between the 5th and 9th centuries AD, they eventually reached the Danube where they settled in 896. In the ensuing millennium and more the Hungarians have become completely Europeanized, with only their language serving to reveal their Asian origins. While much of Hungary’s basic vocabulary is still of Finno-Ugric origin, a large number of loanwords are to be found from the Turkic and Slavic languages, as well as from Latin, Italian, and German.
The Hungarians call their language Magyar. It is difficult for foreigners to learn, with much of its vocabulary from Asia, and its grammar containing a number of complex features not to be found in Western languages. The alphabet, however, is phonetic, with s pronounced sh (e.g., sör – beer), c pronounced ts (ceruza – pencil), sz pronounced s (szó – word), cs pronounced ch (csésze – cup),zs pronounced zh (zseb – pocket), and gy pronounced dy (nagy – big). The many vowel sounds in spoken Hungarian are indicated by acute accents, umlauts, and the unique double acute accent which appears over o and u (bõr – skin, fŰ – grass). The stress is always on the first syllable.
The Hungarian word for a number of nationalities, and countries, is very different from the native name or the name used in other languages. German is német, Italian is olasz, Polish is lengyel, and Russian is orosz. Adding the word ország (country) to each produces the name of the country: Németország (Germany), Olaszország (Italy), Lengyelország (Poland), and Oroszország (Russia). Hungary itself, of course, is Magyarország.
The most important English word of Hungarian origin is coach, after the village of Kocs (remember cs = ch), where coaches were invented and first used. Others are goulash and paprika.