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Hungarian - interesting facts


Hungarian, or "Magyar" as it's known natively, is a unique and vibrant language that stands as a testament to the cultural richness and history of the Hungarian people. Unlike most European languages, which belong to the Indo-European family, Hungarian is a member of the Uralic language family, which primarily consists of languages spoken in regions of Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Russia. Hungarian is the most widely spoken Uralic language, and it stands out even within this family due to its significant variations from other members of the group.

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, Hungarian is spoken by approximately 13 million people globally. The vast majority of these speakers reside in Hungary, where it is the official language. However, significant Hungarian-speaking communities also exist in neighbouring countries, including Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Austria. Smaller communities can be found scattered worldwide, including in the United States, Canada, and Israel. The diaspora's resilience and cultural strength have enabled the Hungarian language to persist and thrive far beyond its geographical origins.

Despite being spoken by a relatively small proportion of the global population, Hungarian carries a strong cultural and academic significance. Hungary is renowned for its contributions to the fields of science, music, and literature, among others. In fact, more than a dozen Nobel laureates hail from Hungary, many of whom have used the language to communicate their groundbreaking works. The famous Hungarian mathematicians known as the "Martians" have had a significant impact on mathematics and computer science, and their work is part of the legacy of the Hungarian language.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Hungarian language for English speakers is its unique structure and syntax. Unlike English and many other European languages, Hungarian relies heavily on agglutination – a process of stringing together smaller word parts, or morphemes, each carrying its own meaning, to create complex words and nuanced expressions. For instance, a single word in Hungarian can convey what would take a full sentence in English. This linguistic characteristic, while intriguing, also makes Hungarian considered one of the more challenging languages for English speakers to learn.

Furthermore, the Hungarian language has a system of vowel harmony, where the type of vowel in the root word often determines the vowels that can be used in suffixes. This phonetic cohesion gives the language a particular rhythm and balances that some learners find captivating and musical.

A rich tapestry of influences has also shaped the vocabulary of Hungarian. While it possesses an ancient Finno-Ugric core, it has absorbed words from a plethora of languages, including Turkic, Slavic, German, Latin, and even Italian and English, reflecting the country's complex history and its location at the crossroads of Europe.

Hungarian's intriguing characteristic is its informal and formal pronouns and verb conjugations, which go far beyond the English "you". The form of address chosen depends on a range of factors including the speaker's age, the level of familiarity between the speakers, the situation, and more. This feature of Hungarian provides a linguistic framework for expressing respect and social relationships.

Hungarian poses an exciting and rewarding challenge for those seeking a language-learning adventure. The country's rich literary tradition, from classical works to modern novels and poetry, provides ample materials for practice and immersion. The experience of understanding Hungarian offers unique insights into a distinct culture and a way of thinking that may be different from what English speakers are accustomed to.


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The only one of its kind in Europe

The Hungarian language is unique in Europe because of its origin. Unlike most European languages, Hungarian does not belong to the Indo-European language family. It is a representative of the group of Finnish languages, which also includes Finnish, Estonian and several smaller languages. Learning Hungarian can be an extremely interesting challenge, discovering new language structures.

Hungarian and Turanian languages

Although Hungarian is a Finnish language, it has much in common with Turanian languages such as Turkish or Mongolian. This is related to the long-standing contact between Hungarians and nomadic tribes from the east. As a result, Hungarian contains numerous borrowings and grammatical characteristics characteristic of the Turanian languages, which makes it even more unique.

Complicated grammar

Hungarian grammar is difficult for people who speak Indo-European languages because it has many different characteristics. One of them is the case system. Hungarian uses as many as 18 cases, while Polish has only 7. In addition, Hungarian is based on agglutination, that is, combining morphemes, which makes the words very long and complex.

Wealth of suffixes

Hungarian is known for the richness of its suffixes, which are used to express a variety of grammatical functions, such as time, number or chance. An example is "ház", which means "home". By adding various suffixes, you can get forms such as "házak" (houses), "házban" (at home) or "háztól" (from home). 

Specifics of the Hungarian Alphabet

The Hungarian alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet but contains several additional letters. Some of them, such as ó, ő, ö, ű and ü, have diacritics that are used to denote different sounds. Hungarian also has two-character consonants, such as "cs", "dz", "gy" or "sz", which represent individual sounds. 

Variation of verbs

The verb variation in Hungarian is complex and different from Polish. Hungarian does not have personal endings but changes verbs with suffixes that define time, mode, aspect, and page. There are also many irregular verbs to master. For Poles, understanding this system can be extremely instructive. 

Hungarian numbers

The counting system in Hungarian is different from Polish, which makes learning this aspect interesting for Poles. Hungarian has a unique way of creating complex numbers. For example, numbers from 10 to 19 are formed by adding the ending "-tizen" to the integers of unity, e.g. "tizenkettő" (12). Numbers from 20 to 99 are formed by combining the numeral of tens with "ötven" (50) or "száz" (100) and the numeral of unity, e.g. "huszonegy" (21) or "ötvenkettő" (52). Hundredth numbers, such as 200 or 300, are formed by adding the ending "-száz" to the numerals of unity, e.g. "kétszáz" (200) or "háromszáz" (300). Thanks to this, Poles learning Hungarian have the opportunity to discover a new, unusual counting system.


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Your Essential Hungarian




yes igen (ˈiɡɛn)
no nem (nɛm)
please kérem (ˈkeːrɛm)
thank you köszönöm (ˈkøsønøm)
I'm sorry elnézést (ɛlneːzeʃt)
good morning jó napot (joː ˈnɒpot)
good evening jó estét (joː ˈɛʃteːt)
goodbye jó éjszakát (joː ˈeːjsɒkaːt)
good night viszlát (ˈvislaːt)
hi szia (siɒ)
how are you?  Hogy vagy? (hoɟ vɒɟ)
well Köszönöm, jól (ˈkøsønøm ˈjoːl)
My name is... A nevem (ɒ ˈnɛvɛm)
I don't understand Nem értem (nɛm ˈeːrtɛm)



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