The Magyar language is very difficult to learn, even though more than ten million speak it in Hungary, and another ten million scattered here and there around the globe -- less than a million? Budapest alone has more than two million inhabitants! No, the reason it's very difficult to learn for speakers of Indo-European tongues (like, say, English) is because it is not Indo-European (like, say, Japanese, another well-known member of the Altaic family of languages). Actually, of course, it is precisely as difficult to learn Hungarian as it is to learn any other language -- so easy even a child could do it.

In studying the Magyar language, there are several unique concepts about general grammar. There are, as mentioned above, no gender marks at all -- according to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis you'd think there would be no sexism in Hungary, eh? You'd be wrong. Strike one against Sapir-Whorf.

I've noticed no particular stigma against German words -- except, of course, the usual tendency of people to use words from their own language instead of somebody else's. There are some German stealth words, though. "Eper" (strawberry) is derived from "Erdbeer". "Patika" (pharmacy) is derived from "Apotheke". It sometimes takes a couple of years of thought to figure out stealth words.

Word order is important in Hungarian, although not as important as in English. It's easy to understand why: in English, words carry no indication of their grammatic functions. In Hungarian, though, nearly everything does get a suffix indicating what it's doing in the sentence. Example: I eat cake. "Én eszek tortát." The root form of "cake" is "torta" -- the "t" on the end (along with the lengthening of the "a" to "á" means this is a direct object. So I can rearrange the sentence to "Én tortát eszek." Now, everything has the same grammatical function, but the emphasis is more on the fact that it's cake I'm eating, than on the fact that I'm eating it. Similarly, the conjugation of "to eat" ("eszik") into "eszek" signifies that the subject is "I" -- English only does this with its "s" on the end of the third-person singular noun, the only remnant of a once-rich Germanic conjugation structure. So no matter where I put the verb, I'll still know who's eating what. Of course, in English, there's still enough information in the individual words that if I were to say "cake eat I" I wouldn't confuse it with "cake eats me" -- but there are plenty of cases in English where the word order is crucial for understanding ("man eats shark" versus "shark eats man", for instance -- in Hungarian, the difference between "zápa eszik embert" and "zápát eszik ember" means this joke doesn't work. It's left as an exercise for the reader to decode the meanings of the two sentences.)

Mag"yar (?), n. [Hung.]

1. Ethnol.

One of the dominant people of Hungary, allied to the Finns; a Hungarian.


The language of the Magyars.


© Webster 1913.

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