The Hungarian language

In general, little is known about the Hungarian language. Those who are "better informed" know that Hungary lies somewhere in Eastern Central Europe, therefore they conclude that Hungarian is one of the Slavic languages. Only few are aware of the fact that Hungarian has less to do with Slavic languages than, for example, English or German. Namely, Indo-German and Slav languages belong to the family of Indo-European languages and this relatedness may be detected in structural similarities as well as shared word stems even today. Hungarian, on the other hand, belongs to the family of Finno-Ugrian languages, although Hungarians became separated long ago from their linguistic relatives.

Hungarian is known to be a difficult language. This "bad reputation" is related to the fact that Hungarian is very different from Indo-European languages. It follows a completely different logic and structure. This, however, should not discourage anyone from studying it: similarly to all other languages in the world, Hungarian is a beautiful language that is possible to learn.

Sonority, sounds

The characteristic sonority of the Hungarian language is based on the following:

1 - In Hungarian, emphasis is always placed on the first syllable of the word.

2 - Most syllables end with a vowel ("open" syllables).

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3 - Hungarian has retained a strict vowel harmony characteristic of the ancient Finno-Ugrian languages. This means that one may find either palatal (uttered at the front of the mouth cavity) or velar (produced at the back of the mouth cavity) vowels.

Depending on the type of vowels included in a word, its vowel system may be palatal or velar. This usually poses no difficulty to non-Hungarian speakers who aspire to learn the language. However, since this rule must be observed when endings are attached to words difficulties may arise. This principle of vowel harmony is facilitated by the fact that the majority of endings have at least two variants (a palatal and velar). Some endings, however, may even have three or four different forms. In this book, the "permanent" and "changing" elements   of every newly mentioned ending are typographically distinguished. Permanent sounds, usually consonants, are marked by block capitals, while changing palatal and velar vowels are written with small (fat) letters (e.g. házBaN - in the house, kertBeN - in the garden, hajóN - on the ship, buszoN - on the bus, repülőgépeN - on the plane, földöN - on the ground).

Some words have mixed vowel systems. One of their groups is formed by compound words which are made up of both palatal and velar components: út+Ievél, fürdő+szoba (passport, bathroom). In this case, the ending is defined by the vowel system of the last component: útlevélben (in the passport), fürdőszobában (in the bathroom). Another group of words with mixed vowel systems is made up by loan words from other languages: sofőr (driver), komputer (computer), in such cases, the vowel in the last syllable defines the ending: sofőrrel, komputerrel (with the driver, with the computer).

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4 - The intonation of Hungarian sentences is usually falling. This pattern makes learning living speach easy. The only form to be practiced is the interrogative sentence without a question word, in which the question is expressed by the intonation itself.

The length of vowels in pronunciation deserves special attention. In Hungarian, long and short vowels are precisely distinguished, as expressed in writing as well. This distinction often functions to differentiate meanings. Long vowels are marked by diacritical mark in the form of a hyphen above the letter. Short vowels either have hyphen or are marked by double dots above the letter. In everyday Hungarian the sounds a and e have no corresponding long forms, while á and é have no corresponding short forms. In the case of consonants, the length of Iong sounds is indicated by doubling the letter: Anna, Bella. The long form of sound transcribed using two different letters is always marked by doubling the first letter: aszú - hosszú, öcsem - öccse.

Morphological characteristics

The nominal phrase

The term nominal phrase covers nouns, adjectives, numerals and pronouns.

The most important difference between Indo-European languages and Hungarian is that Hungarian is an agglutinating language. What does this term mean? In Indo-European languages, the declension of nominal phrases is based on cases: there are a certain number of cases with singular and plural forms of respective endings. The resulting cases, however, are rather meaningless by themselves. True meaning expressed by prepositions, each of which govern their respective cases. Possession expressed by possessive pronouns. By contrast, Hungarian (as all agglutinating languages) functions in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. There are special endings to express all aspects of meaning, which must be attached to the word stem and to each other observing well defined rules. Possession, plural, location etc. are all expressed endings. The sequences of endings is strictly determined: