Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘hungarian’ Category

Irredentist

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 October, 2006

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one’s nation but now subject to a foreign government.
________________________________________
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
________________________________________
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Posted in hungarian, intercultural communication, nationalism, romanian | 4 Comments »

Irredentist

Posted by Andy Hockley on 4 October, 2006

Today’s word of the day is Irredentist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person who fixes your teeth.

ir•re•den•tist
n.
One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one’s nation but now subject to a foreign government.
________________________________________
[Italian irredentista, from (Italia) irredenta, unredeemed (Italy), Italian-speaking areas subject to other countries; see irredenta.]
________________________________________
ir re•den tism n.
ir re•den tist adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003

As you can see it’s quite posh, and dead clever, and being able to use it (and use it correctly) bestows great kudos on the user. It has the added cachet of being derived from an Italian political movement, which obviously means the word has a certain style and élan.

Now the reason it has come to my attention is that I’ve recently found myself marveling open-mouthed at the behind-the-scenes pages of Wikipedia. When you look at something on Wikipedia, you see something akin to an encyclopedia entry, explaining and outlining a concept, person, place, or what have you. We all know that it’s edited by users and therefore you have to be a little bit careful with the information contained therein, but in general I reckon it’s a pretty good resource. However, when you look at an entry there, you may not have noticed the little tabs at the top of the page through which you can look at the history of a page and the discussion surrounding what’s gone into the entry. Here, for example, is the entry for Harghita County. Clicking on the tab marked “Discussion” will lead you into a strange nether world of pedantry, nerdiness and (in the case of all Wiki articles on places in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania) nationalism.

This is where I have encountered the words “irredentist” and “irredentism”. They are usually used as the last resort in an argument on a Wiki page, when nothing else makes sense, the loser will shriek something like “Well, I don’t care. It’s irredentism”. An example of something that is “irredentism” in this way is the alternate (ie Hungarian) spelling of the name Harghita as Hargita. Now the argument seems to go like this (and this is repeated all over Wikipedia articles for this region):
A: The county is Harghita. That’s the spelling recognized by the Romanian government.
B: Yes, it is, but the majority of the people living in the county spell it Hargita (since they are Hungarian)
A: Ah, but it’s a Romanian county – and it wasn’t even invented as a county until the 1960s so it has never existed as a Hungarian county
B: yes, but it has a Hungarian spelling which the population use because the county is named after a mountain (which has been there since before the 1960s)
A: But what does it add to the article to give it two different spellings? How is this useful?
B: Well, it’s supposed to be an encyclopedia right? Are we rationing knowledge/information now?
A: Well, I don’t care, as far as I’m concerned it’s irredentist.

Thus, in the hope of A, bringing the argument screeching to a halt and allowing him to walk away the victor for using a big word and stating opinion as fact. Obviously utter bollocks.

People like A, and I’m mentioning no names, but you can find some if you spend long enough looking through these dark-side-of-the-wikipedia pages, would have you believe that me calling my blog Csikszereda Musings is in fact irredentist. i.e. That I am concerned with returning Transylvania to Hungarian control, and that my decision to refer to the town in which I live as Csikszereda is proof of that. So, lest I be accused of irredentism, I would like to make it plain that I have no desire for Transylvania to be ruled from Budapest, and furthermore, know nobody who does (I suspect there are a few people in Hungary who advocate for it, but I’ve met no-one in Transylvania that way inclined). I just call this town Csikszereda because that’s what everyone else calls it here, because that’s what it’s called in their language. We all recognize that the Romanian name is Miercurea Ciuc, of course (a name which is directly derived from the Hungarian name), but frankly both names are equally valid. I, in short, am no form of dentist – either irre- or otherwise.

Now, this use of a word as an attempt to silence argument is not new. Those of us on the left are often rightly accused of throwing out the word “fascist” at anything we disagree with. Which is obviously just as bollocks as the use of irredentist for similar purposes. (Intriguingly, fascism is another word which has its origins in an Italian political movement. What is with Italy and these words?). The right has recently cottoned on to this “soundbite argument” style and has started throwing around the word “Islamofascist” in an attempt to lump wars on Arabs and other Muslims together with the war on Nazi Germany. It’s all bollocks.

Anyway, to sum up, arguing that Transylvania ought to be a part of Hungary = irredentist. Calling Miercurea Ciuc Csikszereda = not irredentist.

(I ought to point out that most of the people who edit and then discuss edits on Wikipedia seem to be perfectly normal reasonable individuals (if a tad obsessive and pedantic), and that indeed there is a refreshing amount of agreement between most Hungarian and Romanian editors. It’s just one or two mad ones. And if you thought the “discussion” pages were seriously manic, then try out the Mediation cabal pages. Blimey.)

Posted in hungarian, intercultural communication, nationalism, romanian | 4 Comments »

Sütő András

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 October, 2006

Sütő András has died. He was, until last night, one of the most famous living Transylvanian Hungarians. To Hungarians he is a great playwright and novelist, who, through his work, highlighted the cause and charateristics of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. To the outside world he is probably most remembered for being blinded in one eye by the Romanian nationalist peasant mob that was whipped up and bussed in to Targu Mures in 1990 to attack a Hungarian student demo. The mob attacked the offices of the Hungarian politcal association and attempted to kill Sütő – obviously they failed, but did instead manage to poke out one of his eyes. He always remained in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely, rather than moving to Hungary.

Short biography.

And here is an obituary (the only English language one I can find at the moment using Google News)

Posted in famous transylvanians, hungarian, romanian | Leave a Comment »

Sütő András

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 October, 2006

Sütő András has died. He was, until last night, one of the most famous living Transylvanian Hungarians. To Hungarians he is a great playwright and novelist, who, through his work, highlighted the cause and charateristics of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. To the outside world he is probably most remembered for being blinded in one eye by the Romanian nationalist peasant mob that was whipped up and bussed in to Targu Mures in 1990 to attack a Hungarian student demo. The mob attacked the offices of the Hungarian politcal association and attempted to kill Sütő – obviously they failed, but did instead manage to poke out one of his eyes. He always remained in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely, rather than moving to Hungary.

Short biography.

And here is an obituary (the only English language one I can find at the moment using Google News)

Posted in famous transylvanians, hungarian, romanian | Leave a Comment »

Magyarisms

Posted by Andy Hockley on 8 May, 2006

English has, I’m told, 6 words which come to us from Hungarian. One or two of these words are only used to illustrate Hungarian concepts or things – like goulash for example. The English version of goulash is, I suspect, somewhat un-goulashy, which is reflected in the fact that we have interpreted the word poorly too – the Hungarian pronunciation of gúlyas is in fact goo-yash, since that “ly” combo in Hungarian does not contain any “l” sound. English is not the only language that manages to mangle the word in this way though – Romanian also makes it sound like goulash by spelling it gulaş. Having a quick look on the web, it seems that there is some controversy about what a goulash actually is. Here is one bloke’s opinion, for example.

The next one on our list of 6, is another food. Paprika. Now we tend to use it to describe the powdered pepper used to flavour dishes (such as the goulash for example), but in Hungarian it is used for fresh peppers too. The powder is called piros paprika (red paprika) which may leave you wondering what a red fresh pepper would be called. This is solved by the fact that Hungary and Hungarian speaking areas have a bewildering array of peppers, such that “red pepper” would not be a very helpful description anyway. There is the round red pepper for example, which is known as the paradicsom parika – the tomato pepper, and the long one, the not quite as long one, the fatter one, and many others beside. I usually just point.

There are a couple of military ones – hussar and sabre. Not quite sure how they are spelled and pronounced in Hungarian, but I presume hussar is more like huszar. Why are hussars so often gay, by the way? I have no idea. You’d think being cavalry soldiers, they’d pretty much be cannon fodder, and not especially gay at all. But you never hear of the glum hussar do you?

Two left, and the first is coach. Not coach in the sense of trainer, but in the sense of vehicle. Apparently coaches (horse drawn ones I’m guessing) originated in the Hungarian town of Kocs (pronounced fairly similarly to coach). Thus in Hungarian a coach (and these days a car) is known as a kocsi (from Kocs), and a driver/coachman as Kocsis (hence Erika’s family name, and that of the ever-so-slightly more famous Kocsis, Sandor of the Magnificent Magyar 1950s football team).

Finally, biro. The humble ball point pen, named after its inventor Laszlo Biro, or more properly, Bíró László. Another Hungarian word we manage to mispronounce, since it should be more like beer-o. And that’s about it, as far as I know. If you know of any others, please let me know.

As far as I know there are no specifically Romanian words in English, but since Romanian is derived from Latin, there are an awful lot of words that exist in both languages.

Posted in hungarian, language | 7 Comments »

Magyarisms

Posted by Andy Hockley on 8 May, 2006

English has, I’m told, 6 words which come to us from Hungarian. One or two of these words are only used to illustrate Hungarian concepts or things – like goulash for example. The English version of goulash is, I suspect, somewhat un-goulashy, which is reflected in the fact that we have interpreted the word poorly too – the Hungarian pronunciation of gúlyas is in fact goo-yash, since that “ly” combo in Hungarian does not contain any “l” sound. English is not the only language that manages to mangle the word in this way though – Romanian also makes it sound like goulash by spelling it gulaş. Having a quick look on the web, it seems that there is some controversy about what a goulash actually is. Here is one bloke’s opinion, for example.

The next one on our list of 6, is another food. Paprika. Now we tend to use it to describe the powdered pepper used to flavour dishes (such as the goulash for example), but in Hungarian it is used for fresh peppers too. The powder is called piros paprika (red paprika) which may leave you wondering what a red fresh pepper would be called. This is solved by the fact that Hungary and Hungarian speaking areas have a bewildering array of peppers, such that “red pepper” would not be a very helpful description anyway. There is the round red pepper for example, which is known as the paradicsom parika – the tomato pepper, and the long one, the not quite as long one, the fatter one, and many others beside. I usually just point.

There are a couple of military ones – hussar and sabre. Not quite sure how they are spelled and pronounced in Hungarian, but I presume hussar is more like huszar. Why are hussars so often gay, by the way? I have no idea. You’d think being cavalry soldiers, they’d pretty much be cannon fodder, and not especially gay at all. But you never hear of the glum hussar do you?

Two left, and the first is coach. Not coach in the sense of trainer, but in the sense of vehicle. Apparently coaches (horse drawn ones I’m guessing) originated in the Hungarian town of Kocs (pronounced fairly similarly to coach). Thus in Hungarian a coach (and these days a car) is known as a kocsi (from Kocs), and a driver/coachman as Kocsis (hence Erika’s family name, and that of the ever-so-slightly more famous Kocsis, Sandor of the Magnificent Magyar 1950s football team).

Finally, biro. The humble ball point pen, named after its inventor Laszlo Biro, or more properly, Bíró László. Another Hungarian word we manage to mispronounce, since it should be more like beer-o. And that’s about it, as far as I know. If you know of any others, please let me know.

As far as I know there are no specifically Romanian words in English, but since Romanian is derived from Latin, there are an awful lot of words that exist in both languages.

Posted in hungarian, language | 6 Comments »

Googling for Hungarians

Posted by Andy Hockley on 16 February, 2006

When I was in Kiev a few months back, I realized that all web addresses are in Roman script. Now this may not be much of a revelation, I’ll grant you, but I was intrigued to imagine that while I’m guessing much of the older generation in countries that don’t use the same alphabet as I do have very little understanding or recognition of the Roman letters, the younger, Internet savvy generation, probably have to have. And not just the ones who have learned English either.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was searching for something on Google, but unusually (in fact maybe uniquely) I was looking up something in Hungarian. It was then that I realized that the way Google works in English may not be quite as successful in Hungarian. If I type an English word into it, I know Google will find all the instances of that word in its database. Exactly that word. But in Hungarian, a word will vary in its spelling depending on its role in a sentence and whether it has suffixes stuck on it. If I type in “tojás” (egg) for example, it will presumably return all instances of the word tojás. But, if tojás is the direct object of a verb (as in “I boiled an egg”) it will be “tojást”, or, as far as a search engine is concerned, a completely different word. And that’s just one possibility. For place names the range of possibilities is endless. Off the top of my head the name of this town could be rendered as Csikszereda, Csikszeredán, Csikszeredában, Csikszeredára, Csikszeredába, Csikszeredát, Csikszeredához, Csikszeredával, Csikszeredábol, Csikszeredárol, and almost certainly loads of others depending on whether you’re in the town, going to the town, coming from the town, or just hanging around in the general vicinity of the town.

I checked this out on Google, as I suspected that they may have worked something out for this – after all even in English you get plurals which are in essence different words – and it seems they have. They claim to use something they call “Stemming technology” (isn’t that what George Bush wants to ban?) to ensure that different variants of the same root word are recognized when you search. I wonder if this only works with English or it somehow crosses languages. Or if google.hu uses a different Magyar version of stemming technology? If not I fear there are a lot of searches that may miss their targets. But how does stemming technology work – is it a piece of software that guesses which words have the same roots? So if you type in station you might get hits for both stationary and stationery? And if not, then presumably the groups of related words have been programmed by someone.

If not (or before the miracles of stemming technology) I’m guessing use of a search engine is/was quite a different skill for a Hungarian than it is for me, for example. Thinking about it occupied my brain for a few minutes anyway, and now, thanks to the miracles of the internet, I’ve shared that inner monologue with all of you. My generosity knows no bounds.

Some new favourite Hungarian words: Kinel, which is a question word meaning (something like) “at whose place?”, and which is amusing because, well it sounds like “kinel”. It may be only British readers who see why that’s remotely amusing to my puerile mind, but if you are really interested I’ll explain it in the comments. And Prezli, which means “breadcrumbs” and is amusing basically because it is pronounced exactly the same as the surname as the singer of Heartbreak Hotel, and one or two other songs. It amuses me to think of Elvis Breadcrumbs. Not sure why, but there you go. Hungary even has it’s own Elvis figure, a bloke called Fenyö Miklos (Nicholas Pine-Tree), who is very big on the rubbish variety programmes shown on New Years Eve circuit.

Posted in hungarian, language | 8 Comments »

Googling for Hungarians

Posted by Andy Hockley on 16 February, 2006

When I was in Kiev a few months back, I realized that all web addresses are in Roman script. Now this may not be much of a revelation, I’ll grant you, but I was intrigued to imagine that while I’m guessing much of the older generation in countries that don’t use the same alphabet as I do have very little understanding or recognition of the Roman letters, the younger, Internet savvy generation, probably have to have. And not just the ones who have learned English either.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was searching for something on Google, but unusually (in fact maybe uniquely) I was looking up something in Hungarian. It was then that I realized that the way Google works in English may not be quite as successful in Hungarian. If I type an English word into it, I know Google will find all the instances of that word in its database. Exactly that word. But in Hungarian, a word will vary in its spelling depending on its role in a sentence and whether it has suffixes stuck on it. If I type in “tojás” (egg) for example, it will presumably return all instances of the word tojás. But, if tojás is the direct object of a verb (as in “I boiled an egg”) it will be “tojást”, or, as far as a search engine is concerned, a completely different word. And that’s just one possibility. For place names the range of possibilities is endless. Off the top of my head the name of this town could be rendered as Csikszereda, Csikszeredán, Csikszeredában, Csikszeredára, Csikszeredába, Csikszeredát, Csikszeredához, Csikszeredával, Csikszeredábol, Csikszeredárol, and almost certainly loads of others depending on whether you’re in the town, going to the town, coming from the town, or just hanging around in the general vicinity of the town.

I checked this out on Google, as I suspected that they may have worked something out for this – after all even in English you get plurals which are in essence different words – and it seems they have. They claim to use something they call “Stemming technology” (isn’t that what George Bush wants to ban?) to ensure that different variants of the same root word are recognized when you search. I wonder if this only works with English or it somehow crosses languages. Or if google.hu uses a different Magyar version of stemming technology? If not I fear there are a lot of searches that may miss their targets. But how does stemming technology work – is it a piece of software that guesses which words have the same roots? So if you type in station you might get hits for both stationary and stationery? And if not, then presumably the groups of related words have been programmed by someone.

If not (or before the miracles of stemming technology) I’m guessing use of a search engine is/was quite a different skill for a Hungarian than it is for me, for example. Thinking about it occupied my brain for a few minutes anyway, and now, thanks to the miracles of the internet, I’ve shared that inner monologue with all of you. My generosity knows no bounds.

Some new favourite Hungarian words: Kinel, which is a question word meaning (something like) “at whose place?”, and which is amusing because, well it sounds like “kinel”. It may be only British readers who see why that’s remotely amusing to my puerile mind, but if you are really interested I’ll explain it in the comments. And Prezli, which means “breadcrumbs” and is amusing basically because it is pronounced exactly the same as the surname as the singer of Heartbreak Hotel, and one or two other songs. It amuses me to think of Elvis Breadcrumbs. Not sure why, but there you go. Hungary even has it’s own Elvis figure, a bloke called Fenyö Miklos (Nicholas Pine-Tree), who is very big on the rubbish variety programmes shown on New Years Eve circuit.

Posted in hungarian, language | 7 Comments »

Hunganian

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 January, 2006

My Hungarian is progressing. Painfully slowly but it is progressing. I attend a Hungarian class twice a week with two Romanians and a German (and for a couple of weeks a Greek bloke), and this is helping a lot. Here are my latest observations about the language: It is not as difficult as people make out. People are very quick to tell you how hard Hungarian is to learn. This is particularly mentioned by Hungarians themselves who are often at great pains to let you know that their language is amazingly difficult. I am not sure if this comes from sympathy for those learning the language and a desire to be understanding of errors, or from a kind of perverse pride in having a complex and impenetrable language (I actually suspect it’s more the latter than the former).

But it’s a myth (or at least an exaggeration). To start with, Hungarian verb tenses and conjugations are relatively simple. There are only three verb tenses, for example – past, present, and future. Contrast with English, for example, and its mysterious and unfathomable present perfect tense, the correct and shifting use of which is seemingly designed to ensure that foreigners remain foreigners and never mistaken for native speakers. Now there is a catch here, in the each verb tense has two sets of conjugations – one when the verb is referring to a defined thing and one when it is referring to something less specific. To give an example from English it would be as if the conjugation of “watch” in “I watched a film last night” were different from its conjugation in “I watched Top Gun last night”. [I’d like to point out that I didn’t, and would never again watch Top Gun – the one and only time I saw it was a waste of enough of my life]. But even with this you are left with a mere 6 separate sets of conjugations. While this results in more verb forms than English, it is many many fewer than most Latin languages. This area is actually the one in which English really shines in the simplicity stakes – in that each verb has very few forms – “watch” can be watch, watches, watched, or watching. And that’s it. I’ve never encountered another language that has this level of simplicity. The most complex verb in English – to be – has a grand total of 8 forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were, Look at any Latin language and all the conjugations of each verb and your brain starts to melt.

Like most Latin languages and unlike English, Hungarian also has a very clear correlation between spelling and pronunciation. This also makes it easier for the learner. If I hear a word I can spell it (well I’m getting there – I’m still often guilty of mistaking an “a” for an “o”) and if I read a word I can pronounce it (though I sound like a 5 year old sounding words out, especially with some of the long words that exist in Hungarian. Bogi sometimes asks me to read her a bedtime story – not because she likes the way the story sounds in my deeper masculine voice, but because it cracks her up to listen to me struggling through the words).

Where Hungarian is difficult, at least for this learner, is in its cases. Now because I’m a mediocre language learner I can’t just accept cases and immerse myself in them. I have to associate them with something in English. In this instance prepositions. So, rather than prepositions, Hungarian has dense thickets of suffixes. -vol, -völ, -hoz, -hez, -ben, -ban, -rol, -röl, -ra, -re, -bol, -böl, the list is (not quite, but seemingly) endless. I hope that one day my mind will clear and suddenly I will be able to automatically suffixise words like I’ve been doing it all my life. But for now, they just leave me tongue tied and gasping for air. Which word or words should take the suffix, which order should the suffixes come in (you can add more than one onto each word), which suffix it should be, and what the vowel in the suffix should be to obey the rules of vowel harmony. All of these questions have to go through my mind every time I say a sentence. And my mind’s not that quick.

So, I have invented my own hybrid language, which I call Hunganian. This is basically Hungarian but without the suffixes and with Romanian prepositions instead. You see, Romanian, while I’m not actually studying it, is similar enough to languages I have studied in the past for me to be able to pick it up relatively easily. I can’t really produce Romanian, but my listening and reading skills are fairly OK. And here in Csikszereda, if you can’t produce the correct Hungarian, you know what everybody’s second language is and you can try that instead. So, for example I might be in a pizza place and say something like “Kerek egy pizzát cu paradicsom, gomba, es paprika, de fara sajt” This is a Hungarian sentence with two Romanian prepositions in it (and one internationally understood Italian word). It translates as “I’d like a pizza with tomato, mushroom and pepper, but without cheese”, where the italicized words are Romanian. Or I’ll be in the chemist and ask for “D-vitamin pentru baba” which means (as you may be able to guess) “Vitamin D for a baby”, with the pentru (for) being Romanian.

Now, as it goes, this works fine. I can get things done and live a relatively normal life. Sadly however, Hunganian is a language that is only very locally useful. Outside Harghita and Covasna counties in the Eastern Carpathians, I suspect it will prove to be a language of no great value. Unless I set myself up as some kind of bringer of Transylvanian harmony and promote the language as a new kind of Esperanto, uniting people in a gloriously peaceful tomorrow.

[Just to riff a little further on the pizza sentence, I’m still not sure of the correct Hungarian version of my original Hunganian. My instinct tells me that it ought to be a “paradicsomos, gombás, paprikás pizza” which would translate something like a tomatoey, mushroomy, peppery pizza, but that sounds too clunky. There must be a suffix I could add to the pizza rather than to all the toppings. And yes, paradicsom is the word for tomato, and yes it does also mean paradise. The first Magyar to sink his teeth into one after they were brought back from the new world must have been more effusively positive than most Magyars seem to be.]

Posted in hungarian, language | 6 Comments »

Hunganian

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 January, 2006

My Hungarian is progressing. Painfully slowly but it is progressing. I attend a Hungarian class twice a week with two Romanians and a German (and for a couple of weeks a Greek bloke), and this is helping a lot. Here are my latest observations about the language: It is not as difficult as people make out. People are very quick to tell you how hard Hungarian is to learn. This is particularly mentioned by Hungarians themselves who are often at great pains to let you know that their language is amazingly difficult. I am not sure if this comes from sympathy for those learning the language and a desire to be understanding of errors, or from a kind of perverse pride in having a complex and impenetrable language (I actually suspect it’s more the latter than the former).

But it’s a myth (or at least an exaggeration). To start with, Hungarian verb tenses and conjugations are relatively simple. There are only three verb tenses, for example – past, present, and future. Contrast with English, for example, and its mysterious and unfathomable present perfect tense, the correct and shifting use of which is seemingly designed to ensure that foreigners remain foreigners and never mistaken for native speakers. Now there is a catch here, in the each verb tense has two sets of conjugations – one when the verb is referring to a defined thing and one when it is referring to something less specific. To give an example from English it would be as if the conjugation of “watch” in “I watched a film last night” were different from its conjugation in “I watched Top Gun last night”. [I’d like to point out that I didn’t, and would never again watch Top Gun – the one and only time I saw it was a waste of enough of my life]. But even with this you are left with a mere 6 separate sets of conjugations. While this results in more verb forms than English, it is many many fewer than most Latin languages. This area is actually the one in which English really shines in the simplicity stakes – in that each verb has very few forms – “watch” can be watch, watches, watched, or watching. And that’s it. I’ve never encountered another language that has this level of simplicity. The most complex verb in English – to be – has a grand total of 8 forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were, Look at any Latin language and all the conjugations of each verb and your brain starts to melt.

Like most Latin languages and unlike English, Hungarian also has a very clear correlation between spelling and pronunciation. This also makes it easier for the learner. If I hear a word I can spell it (well I’m getting there – I’m still often guilty of mistaking an “a” for an “o”) and if I read a word I can pronounce it (though I sound like a 5 year old sounding words out, especially with some of the long words that exist in Hungarian. Bogi sometimes asks me to read her a bedtime story – not because she likes the way the story sounds in my deeper masculine voice, but because it cracks her up to listen to me struggling through the words).

Where Hungarian is difficult, at least for this learner, is in its cases. Now because I’m a mediocre language learner I can’t just accept cases and immerse myself in them. I have to associate them with something in English. In this instance prepositions. So, rather than prepositions, Hungarian has dense thickets of suffixes. -vol, -völ, -hoz, -hez, -ben, -ban, -rol, -röl, -ra, -re, -bol, -böl, the list is (not quite, but seemingly) endless. I hope that one day my mind will clear and suddenly I will be able to automatically suffixise words like I’ve been doing it all my life. But for now, they just leave me tongue tied and gasping for air. Which word or words should take the suffix, which order should the suffixes come in (you can add more than one onto each word), which suffix it should be, and what the vowel in the suffix should be to obey the rules of vowel harmony. All of these questions have to go through my mind every time I say a sentence. And my mind’s not that quick.

So, I have invented my own hybrid language, which I call Hunganian. This is basically Hungarian but without the suffixes and with Romanian prepositions instead. You see, Romanian, while I’m not actually studying it, is similar enough to languages I have studied in the past for me to be able to pick it up relatively easily. I can’t really produce Romanian, but my listening and reading skills are fairly OK. And here in Csikszereda, if you can’t produce the correct Hungarian, you know what everybody’s second language is and you can try that instead. So, for example I might be in a pizza place and say something like “Kerek egy pizzát cu paradicsom, gomba, es paprika, de fara sajt” This is a Hungarian sentence with two Romanian prepositions in it (and one internationally understood Italian word). It translates as “I’d like a pizza with tomato, mushroom and pepper, but without cheese”, where the italicized words are Romanian. Or I’ll be in the chemist and ask for “D-vitamin pentru baba” which means (as you may be able to guess) “Vitamin D for a baby”, with the pentru (for) being Romanian.

Now, as it goes, this works fine. I can get things done and live a relatively normal life. Sadly however, Hunganian is a language that is only very locally useful. Outside Harghita and Covasna counties in the Eastern Carpathians, I suspect it will prove to be a language of no great value. Unless I set myself up as some kind of bringer of Transylvanian harmony and promote the language as a new kind of Esperanto, uniting people in a gloriously peaceful tomorrow.

[Just to riff a little further on the pizza sentence, I’m still not sure of the correct Hungarian version of my original Hunganian. My instinct tells me that it ought to be a “paradicsomos, gombás, paprikás pizza” which would translate something like a tomatoey, mushroomy, peppery pizza, but that sounds too clunky. There must be a suffix I could add to the pizza rather than to all the toppings. And yes, paradicsom is the word for tomato, and yes it does also mean paradise. The first Magyar to sink his teeth into one after they were brought back from the new world must have been more effusively positive than most Magyars seem to be.]

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