What you need to know about the Hungarian language for your translation project

Posted on July 20, 2015 · Posted in Hungarian Culture, Linguistics

If you have ever heard a Hungarian person speaking, you might have been struck by how utterly foreign the language sounds. French and German might sound pretty strange, but you are still likely to recognise at least some of the words!

The Hungarian name for their language is “Magyar”. The language has a completely different grammar and vocabulary when compared to the family of Indo-European languages spoken by the countries which surround Hungary. Hungarian is part of the Finno-Ugric group, and its closest European relatives are Estonian and Finnish.

Where Is Hungarian Spoken?

There are around 14 million native speakers of Hungarian around the globe. Around 10 million of these live within Hungary itself, with the rest mostly living in Romania, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Austria. A smaller number of Hungarian speakers have emigrated to the USA, Canada and Australia. This means that being able to do business in Hungarian can open many new doors for your company.

Ancient Roots

Hungarian has preserved a large number of its ancient roots, or ‘etymons’. Over time, as most other languages have evolved, ancient forms of grammar, dialects, words, and colloquialisms are usually changed and lost. The English language consist of around 4% of etymons, Latin about 5%, Indian languages have 9% and Tibetan Sanskrit has 12%. However, the Hungarian language still contains 68% of its ancient etymons.

Dialects

The Hungarian language has several dialects which, although being distinct from each other, do not differ as much as the dialects of other languages. The dialects are Northwest Hungarian, West Danube, Danube-Tisza, King’s Pass Hungarian, Alföld, Northeast Hungarian, Hungarian Csángó, Székely and West Hungarian. Each of these dialects are mutually intelligible. All of our professional translators are native speakers, so they can understand and translate any Hungarian dialect.

No Prepositions

Hungarian word order baffles less sophisticated translation software, and inexperienced translators, as the language does not use prepositions. Instead, postpositions only are used to provide information about space and time. So ‘the boy is beside the dog’ becomes ‘the boy the dog beside is’. Our experienced Hungarian translators are native speakers of the language, adept at manipulating sentence structure to convey the intended meaning.

Alphabet and Pronunciation

Because Hungarian uses the same Roman alphabet as English, it is possible to read Hungarian once you have learnt the rules of pronunciation. Hungarian contains several additional letters when compared to the traditional Latin alphabet. While most modern languages contain up to seven vowels, Hungarian uses 14, including the letters á, é, í, ó, ú, ő, ű, which have acute accents, and the short vowels ö and ü. The Hungarian alphabet also contains ‘letters’ which are composed of multiple combinations of other letters. For example, for the sound “J” as in “Jack”, Hungarian uses the letter “dzs”, with the three combined letters being considered one.

Agglutination

This term may sound like an illness that befalls someone who has eaten too much wheat, but it actually refers to a method of word formation. In Hungarian, as with other agglutinative languages, multiple root words are glued together with suffixes, prefixes and circumfixes to create one long word, written without spaces, and pronounced in one breath.

Adjectives

Just as in the English language, adjectives in Hungarian precede nouns. However, every adjective has three degrees of meaning. So while you could say, ‘The red apple’, depending on which adjective you use, you could say the ‘red’, the ‘redder’, or the ‘reddest’ apple. Our highly trained translators can help you to navigate the shades of meaning within the Hungarian language, ensuring you always communicate exactly what you want to say.

Mind Your Manners

In Hungarian, there are no less than four levels of politeness. Styling your text to the correct politeness tier is essential for your business communications. Our Hungarian translator will work with your American team to understand your target audience and intended message, before agreeing the appropriate level of politeness to use throughout the translation.

Learning Hungarian is different from learning most other European languages. Because of the uniqueness of the Hungarian language, there are very few similarities with other languages. This also means that there are no short cuts to mastering the language, or even opportunities for comparison. That is why if you are preparing to do business in Hungary, it’s best to employ the services of a professional Hungarian translator who will be able to translate meetings, phone calls and documents on your behalf.