First Impressions of Hungarian

I have made my first steps in my journey towards learning one of the most difficult languages in the world,  Hungarian.  I have managed to make it through the first two units of the Foreign Service course and the first three units of the Defense Language Institute course.  The differences between them are interesting considering one course was written for diplomats and the other for soldiers.  The FSI course covers such useful phrases as:

This is the American Embassy = Ez az amerikai követség.

Certainly useful information for any non-diplomat just arriving in Hungary.  I’m sure the Embassy is on most people’s “must see” list.  But it is also clear the authors intend for the diplomats to get out and socialize bit with phrases like:

At what time does the movie begin? = Mikor kezdődik a mozi?

The DLI course clearly has a different scope in mind. The first three units cover vocabulary such as:

katona   –  soldier

százados –  captain (Army rank)

tiszt – officer (commissioned)

civil – civilian

őrmester –  sergeant

őrvezető  – private first class,

Interestingly enough, in the first three units the words for: please, thank you and how are you? are not taught.  I suppose that’s the military for you. I’m sure by lesson six I will surely learn the words for tank, grenade, bazooka and “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Hungarian is a very impressive sounding language.  If you have never heard Hungarian my bet is you haven’t ever heard anything quite like it.  My first impression was that Hungarian sounded like Swedish played through a tape player at double-speed backwards!  There is a lot of “shussh-ing” and some peculiar consonant combinations such as “gy” which sounds something like the letter “y” with a “d” sandwiched in the middle. The thing that makes Hungarian so fun to pronounce is its 14,  yes,  that’s 14 vowels.

Hungarian has its basic a,e,i,o,u vowels, but then if you put a grave accent on top, like á, é, etc.. it lengthens the vowels considerably.  There are also two kinds of umlauts.  The regular sort like one would see in German (ö,ü ) and the lengthened umlaut (ő, ű ) . This is like an umlaut on steroids!  The ö and ü are pronounced like a “irr” sound but the ő and ű are prounounced like “EEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWRRRRRRRRRRRRRR”. It makes words like:

őrvezető  (EEWWwrvessetteewwr)- private first class,

repülőtér (REHPewleeewwwtehr) – airport

gyönyörű város (djyIIRRRn-yirreew VAAHroosshh) – beautiful city

Csak űlok és olvasok. (chok EWWlohk esh OHLvawshokk) – I’m just sitting here reading

so much fun to say!

Hungarian also utilizes a quality called vowel harmony in its word formation.  Vowel harmony is defined by Wikipedia as :

Vowel harmony is a type of long-distance assimilatory phonological process involving vowels that occurs in some languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on what vowels may be found near each other.”

….say what??

Hungarian is an agglutinative language.  That means that when constructing sentences, many particles pertaining to prepositions and possession can be stuck onto the end of a word rather than using a different, separate word.  It can give such words as

megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért

which means “because of your continuous pretending to be indesecratable”. When constructing words such as megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért ( which thankfully doesn’t need to be used that often ) the vowels must agree or harmonize with each other. This quality is shared with the other Finno-Ugric as well as the Turkic languages.  For example one could not say kavehasben ( in the coffee house) but would rather say kavehasban. One would not say kézba ( into the hand) but would rather say kézbe. This gives Hungarian a pleasant flow, an almost musical quality,  that is unique ( along with Finnish and Estonian)  to the languages of Europe.

I must admit that while Hungarian is quite different than English, it doesn’t seem extremely difficult…yet…  There is no gender, no declensions of numbers, a relatively straightforward pronunciation and what appears to be a logical (though complex) grammar.  I’m sure as I delve deeper into the language, I might not be quite as confident!

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6 thoughts on “First Impressions of Hungarian

  1. Hey man! I’ve just come accross this page. It’s so cool that there’s another “hungarian” project under way 🙂 (the other being http://www.fluentin3months.com) If you have any question don’t hesitate to ask a native speaker, they’ll help you for sure.

    Try to socialize with younger people, whose knowledge of languages is way better than older’s. They are more open-minded as well.

    I’ll check out your progress later, so don’t forget to update this page frequently! 😀

    Sok sikert a magyarhoz! 😉

    PeterB

  2. Thanks Peter!

    I’m having a lot of fun with it so far. Sadly there’s not any Hungarian speakers that I know of where I live so once I get a little more vocab under my belt I’ll try to find some “cyber magyars” to talk with !

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