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The Myth of Hungarian Being a "Minor" Language

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Avatar for Izjaslaw.Katsumijovich.Naoki
6 months ago (Last updated: 5 months ago)

Those who know me know that I'm a Magyarophile. No matter how many times I exalt some other nation I love (usually Belarus or Kalmykia), or express my devotion to a historical state I admire such as the Crimean Khanate or Great Qing Empire, Hungary always remains my favorite and their language the one I love most. I started learning Hungarian on my own when I was 12 years old and living in Michigan. My interest started when I received a book from my mom called Vampyre - The Terrifying Lost Journal Of Dr. Cornelius Van Helsing. This book contained several sections with Hungarian phrases as well as details on Hungarian folklore and history (such as the tale of Erzsébet Báthory and the Fekete Hadsereg of King Matyás Korvin) and overall was my first exposure to Hungary. Ever since I got that book I started learning Hungarian on my own and in 2018 at the age of 21 I finally reached the B2 level after passing the final exam at Pécsi Tudományegyetem. Sadly I've been stuck at B2 ever since, but I'll never give up until I get a C2 and complete mastery of my favorite language.

Nevertheless, one of the things I find most annoying while learning Hungarian is how often people in general call it a "minor" language. I find the label infuriating when applied to Hungarian, especially because it's huge compared to most of the other languages I'm learning; Belarusian (3-9 million speakers), Estonian (1.5 million), Kalmyk (80,000-500,000), Manchu (10 natives and maybe a million non-natives at most), Crimean Tatar (540,000 at most), Guarani (8 million), and Erzya (maybe 330,000) are all small compared to Hungarian (13-16 million). This idea that Hungarian is "minor" is annoyingly common even among Hungarians themselves. It's probably the main reason I have to put up with Hungarians speaking to me in English here in Budapest even though I've been learning their language for 12 years and constantly wear nationalistic outfits and a mask with the Hungarian flag to show that I'm willing to speak Hungarian. On top of that Hungarian used to be the language of a Great Power and its lexicon has contributed obvious words across the world (most famously "paprika"). I've also used it in places outside of Hungary; every time I visit Austria I usually get by with just Hungarian since I don't know German. Such a convenience shouldn't be possible with a "minor" language.

Still, I have to deal with this myth of Hungarian being a "minor" language being constantly shoved in my face. This attitude is the reason Hungarian lessons in Japan are both rare and extremely expensive while lessons for languages I have no interest in that are nonetheless considered "major" (the big Romance languages, German, Mandarin) are both common and cheap. Another consequence of this is the dissatisfaction I have with my MA program, as during the beginning of my MA I was denied Hungarian lessons I explicitly stated I would take in my scholarship application form by an outrageous double standard wherein the administration enforced a system where only beginner level lessons would be provided for Hungarian even though they allowed multiple levels for Russian and Polish (this program, despite focusing on geopolitics in a region that by my count has over 240 languages, only offers 4 languages as options for mandatory lessons: Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Czech) because they think Hungarian "isn't commonly learned" and that reasoning was a direct detriment to me. Since the program ostensibly has language acquisition as a goal, it would have been far more logical to push me to improve my B2 Hungarian instead of forcing upon me a language I have little motivation for. They claimed "economic" reasons as well, which is just as absurd, for reasons I'll explain below.

History shows that there were MANY non-Magyars who mastered this language or at least put in the effort to learn it (so much for Hungarian being a "rare" language as many people like to claim). To prove this, I compiled a list of 100 such individuals (if I were to include my own friends, personal acquaintances, or people whom I've interacted with, I could easily double that number). As far as I'm concerned, a "minor" language would be one with under a million native speakers, no official status in any sovereign state, endangered or vulnerable status, and is so rarely studied by non-natives that I wouldn't be able to name even a dozen prominent people who've learned it (though exceptions exist such as Manchu, for which I can name 30). The fact that I could find 100 for Hungarian, spread across the world and throughout history, should demonstrate just how significant it is as a language and why it shouldn't be considered "minor" nor economically disadvantageous to teach.

Prominent non-native Hungarian speakers throughout history:

Gül Baba (?-1541; Turk; 16th Century Ottoman poet entombed in Budapest)

Rudolf Chmel (1939-; Slovak; Last Czechoslovak Ambassador to Hungary; Most-Híd official)

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943; Serbian-American; Preeminent scientist of the 20th Century)

Emil Krebs (1867-1930; German; Eminent Polyglot with a confirmed record of mastering 68 languages including but not limited to Hungarian, Estonian, Manchu, Buryat, Ainu, Nivkh, and Burmese)

Dušan Stevanović (1945-; Serb; Born in Belgrade, moved to Hungary at age 3; musician and playwright and winner of the Kossuth Prize)

Franz Herzog (1879-1952; German; Learned Hungarian as an adolescent in Temesvár)

Julia Apraxin (1830-1913; Russian; Raised in Vienna until parents' divorce led to mother marrying a Hungarian noble and consequently a new life in Hungary)

Giuseppe Gasparo Mezzofanti (1774–1849; Italian; Cardinal and Vatican official; mastered at least 30 languages)

Adam František Kollár (1718–1783; Slovak; Coined the term "ethnology"; Imperial-Royal Court Councillor for Maria Theresa)

Dositej Obradović (1739–1811; Serb; Writer, dramatist, monk; first Minister of Education of Serbia)

Matija Čop (1797-1835; Slovene; Linguist and writer; mastered 19 languages and thus seen as the most erudite Slovene of his time)

João Guimarães Rosa (1908–1967; Brazilian; Novelist who taught himself Hungarian)

Jovan Rajić (1726–1801; Serb; Writer and pedagogue who translated several Hungarian works into Serbian)

Georg Sauerwein (1831-1904; German; Publisher and eminent Polyglot who mastered around 75 languages, including but not limited to Hungarian, Estonian, Belarusian, Chuvash, Sanskrit, and Scots Gaelic)

Jovan Damjanić (1804-1849; Serb; Fought for the Hungarian side during the Revolution of 1848; executed at Arad where his last words were "Long Live Hungary")

Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (1968-; Romanian; Former Prime Minister of Romania; notably NOT from a Hungarian majority region or even a historically Hungarian area)

Iuliu Maniu (1873-1953; Romanian; Prime Minister of Romania in Interwar period; grew up in Transylvania under Hungarian rule)

Avgustyn Voloshyn (1874-1945; Ukrainian; Leader of the breakaway state of Carpatho-Ukraine; studied in Hungarian religious schools and universities)

Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830–1916; Austrian; Habsburg Monarch; was fluent in at least German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, and Italian)

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837–1898; Bavarian; Learned Hungarian on her own initiative; influential in turning the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy)

Gerald Murnane (1939-; Australian; Taught himself Hungarian after reading Gyula Illyés' People of the Puszta)

Rudolf Schuster (1934-; Slovak; Second President of Slovakia)

Ľudovít Štúr (1815–1856; Slovak; Major figure in Slovak national awakening; member of Hungarian Parliament)

Ernest Niżałowski (1915-2014; Pole; Polish soldier and Polish-Hungarian interpreter; born in Budapest)

Eva Grlić (1920–2008; Croatian Jew; Writer and journalist who was born in Budapest and spoke Ladino natively but learned Hungarian and Bosnian from a young age)

Isidor "Izzy" Einstein (1880–1938; American Jew; Learned Hungarian before emigrating from Austria-Hungary; achieved the most arrests and convictions during the first years of the Alcohol Prohibition era)

John F. Huenergardt (1875–1955; German-American; Seventh-day Adventist Minister; learned Hungarian to become a superintendent of the Hungarian and Balkan States Mission Field)

Simon Ungar (1864–1942; Jew; Spoke Yiddish natively and learned Hungarian in childhood; served as a Rabbi in Osijek)

Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside (1880–1959; British; Senior officer of the British Army, who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff at the start of World War II; learned Hungarian as a junior officer)

Anne Tardos (1943-; French; Lived in Hungary until 1956 Revolution; poet and academic)

Michael Weiß (1569–1612; Transylvanian Saxon; Learned Hungarian in school; became mayor of Brassó)

Robert Seton-Watson (1879–1951; British; Historian and politician who advocated the destruction of Austria-Hungary; originally a Magyarophile but turned against Hungary after learning Hungarian and switched his sympathies towards Slavs in the Kingdom of Hungary)

Mykhaylo Koman (1928–2015; Rusyn; Athlete for FC Dynamo Kyiv who learned Hungarian at a young age)

Uku Masing (1909–1985; Estonian; Prominent poet, Righteous Among the Nations, and expert on Semitic languages who spoke around 40 languages)

Orest Klympush (1941-; Ukrainian; Former Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary; selected for his Hungarian language skills)

Anneli Aarika-Szrok (1924-; Finn; Opera singer and former soloist of the Hungarian State Opera)

Alicja Sakaguchi (1954-; Pole; Esperantist who studied Hungarian and Esperanto at ELTE)

Lytkin Illya Vas (1895-1981; Komi; Linguist who published more than 300 studies and scientific articles in 5 languages, including Komi and Hungarian)

Yevgenij Arnoldovich Helimskij (1950-2007; Russian; Linguist specializing in Samoyedic languages; published a book comparing them to Hungarian)

Han Soo-yeon (1983-; Korean; Actress who grew up in Budapest and studied singing there)

Steven Dick (1982–2020; British; Diplomat working for the British Embassy in Budapest who studied Hungarian at Pécs)

Saimi Hoyer (1974-; Finn; Model who studied Hungarian at the University of Jyväskylä)

Tadashi Iijima (1902–1996; Japanese; Noted film critic and professor at Waseda University who studied Hungarian out of self-interest)

Michael Branch (1940–2019; British; Linguist who specialized in Uralic languages; learned Hungarian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London)

Jörmundur Ingi Hansen (1940-; Icelander; Neopagan leader who studied Hungarian at the University of Iceland presumably to explore Hungarian neo-paganism)

David Samoylov (1920-1990; Russian Jew; War poet and translator who translated literature from Hungarian to Russian)

Anton Durcovici (1888–1951; Romanian; Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church and the Bishop of Iaşi until his death; mastered Hungarian for religious reasons)

Mihai Tänzer (1905–1993; Danube Swabian; Athlete who played for the Hungarian team Ferencváros)

Köten (?-1241; Cuman; Khan of the Cumans who sought refuge in Hungary to escape the Mongol Empire)

İbrahim Peçevi (1572–1650; Bosnian; Ottoman historian born in Pécs most famous for his historical works on the Ottoman Empire and for being one of the first Ottoman historians who made references to European sources, especially Hungarian ones)

Phan Bích Thiện (1968-; Vietnamese; Businesswoman and poet; president of the Vietnamese Women's Association in Hungary; translated several Hungarian poems into Vietnamese)

Tatjana Poska-Laaman (1900-1988; Estonian; Jurist who studied Hungarian at ELTE)

Louis-Charles Damais (1911-1966; French; Researcher at the French School of the Far East who learned Hungarian)

Otto von Habsburg (1912–2011; Austrian; Last crown prince of Austria-Hungary; spoke German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, Spanish, French and Latin fluently; wrote forty books in German, Hungarian, French and Spanish)

Count Ivan III Drašković (1603 – 1648; Croat; Warrior and statesman who served as Palatine of Hungary and married a Hungarian countess)

Sir Francis Ralph Hay Murray (1908–1983; British; Journalist, radio broadcaster, and diplomat who spoke French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Hungarian and some Russian)

Adolf von Boog (1866-1929; Austrian; Army officer who served in World War I and spoke fluent German and Italian, along with some Czech, Hungarian, and Bosnian)

Ivan Mažuranić (1814-1890; Croat; Poet and Ban of Croatia-Slavonia; spoke Croatian, Latin, Italian, German, Hungarian, French, English, Czech, and Polish)

István Varró (?-1770; Cuman; Traditionally regarded as the last speaker of the Cuman language; lived in historical Cumania within Hungary)

Emil Baleczky (1919-1981; Rusyn; Fluent in Hungarian from childhood due to growing up near the Hungarian border and was even mobilized into the Royal Hungarian Army; published several works on the Rusyn language in Hungary)

Ramil Safarov (1977- ; Azerbaijani; Officer of the Azerbaijani Army and convicted murderer who translated several Hungarian novels into Azerbaijani while imprisoned in Budapest)

Bohdan Zadura (1945-; Pole; Poet and translator who has translated poetry from English, Ukrainian, and Hungarian)

Aino Pervik (1931-; Estonian; Children's writer and translator who has been a freelance writer/translator in Hungarian since 1967)

Rami Saari (1963-; Israeli; Studied Semitic and Uralic languages at universities in Helsinki, Budapest, and Jerusalem; translated multiple books of prose and poetry into Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, and other languages)

Benedikt Vinković (1581-1642; Croat; Prelate of the Catholic Church who served as Bishop of Pécs and Archbishop of Zagreb and used Croatian, Latin, and Hungarian in correspondence)

Eric Johnson (1937-2004; American; Ballet dancer and poet who traveled to Hungary to find György Faludy and learned Hungarian to do so)

Nikolay Boykov (1968-; Bulgarian; Translator from Hungarian who studied Hungarian philology at the University of Debrecen and taught Hungarian language and literature at Sofia University)

Yrjö Liipola (1881-1971; Finn; Sculptor, diplomat, and professor who served as the General Consul of Finland to Hungary and translated Hungarian literature into Finnish)

Victor Emanuel Öman (1833-1904; Swede; Poetic translator who translated works from Russian, Sanskrit, English, and Hungarian)

Sidonie Grünwald-Zerkowitz (1852-1907; Jew; Essayist, poet, and educator who was well-versed in German, French, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, and English from a young age and taught Hungarian history and language in Budapest and also published pedagogical articles in Hungarian)

Ekaterina Jossifowa (1941-; Bulgarian; Author and poet who translated poems from Hungarian and Albanian)

Albert Lange Fliflet (1908-2001; Norwegian; Philologist and translator best known for translating the Kalevala into Norwegian; also worked as a freelance translator from Latin, German, Finnish, Hungarian, and Dutch into Norwegian)

Joakim Vujić (1772-1847; Serb; Actor, traveler, and dramatist known as the Father of Serbian Theater; spoke Serbian, Italian, German, Latin, Greek, French, English, Hebrew, and Hungarian)

Izidor Cankar (1886-1958; Slovene; Art historian and diplomat who served as Yugoslav ambassador to Argentina and Greece; spoke Croatian, German, and Hungarian from a young age alongside Slovene)

Crìsdean MacIlleBhàin (1952-; Scottish; Critic of Scottish and international literature and Scots Gaelic poet; translated At the End of the Broken Bridge from Hungarian to English)

Peter Brock (1920-2006; Canadian; Historian who learned Hungarian to access primary sources and reportedly downplayed his ability in the language)

Sava Babić (1934-2012; Serb; Writer and professor who studied at a Hungarian school after the Hungarian Invasion of 1941; founded the Department of Hungarian Language and Literature at the University of Belgrade in 1993; attempted to facilitate reconciliation between Serbs and Hungarians)

Alojz Gradnik (1882–1967; Slovene; Poet and translator who translated the works of Sándor Petőfi into Slovene; was fluent in Slovene, Latin, Ancient Greek, Italian, Friulian, German, Serbo-Croatian, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Hungarian; studied Sanskrit, Persian, Bengali, and Mandarin)

Eduard Vodnařík (1837-1917; Moravian; Civil servant and translator from Hungarian to Czech who wrote the first Hungarian grammar in Czech)

Umberto Albini (1923-2011; Italian; Hellenist, classical philologist, and Professor Emeritus of the University of Genoa; translated multiple Hungarian works into Italian and received an honorary degree from Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem as well as a gold medal from the Hungarian government)

Watson Kirkconnell (1895-1977; Canadian; Scholar who translated national poetry from Hungarian, Ukrainian, Russian, and Serbo-Croatian; noteworthy for translating János Arany's A walesi bárdok)

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010; Scottish; Poet associated with the Scottish Renaissance who became the first Scottish national poet; translated from Russian, French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Old English, and Hungarian)

Ivan Ivanji (1929-; Serbian Jew; Holocaust Survivor who grew up in Serbian Banat and learned Hungarian and German in childhood; translated Hungarian works into Serbian)

Barbara Frischmuth (1941-; Austrian; Writer and translator who passed a specialist examination for Hungarian translation in 1964 and translated the novel Saulus by Miklós Mészöly)

Aurélien Sauvageot (1897–1988; French; Linguist who specialized in Finno-Ugric languages, taught French in Budapest, completed a doctoral thesis on the lexicon of Ural-Altaic languages, and co-published the first Hungarian-French and French-Hungarian dictionary)

Leonid Pervomayskiy (1908-1973; Ukrainian Jew; Poet and translator and winner of the Stalin Prize for literature in 1946; translated works of Sándor Petőfi into Ukrainian)

Charles de Bigault de Casanove (1847-1910; French; Scholar and translator who specialized in Hungarian literature)

Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906; American; Ethnographer and folklorist employed by the Bureau of American Ethnology who studied Russian, Czech, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Turkish, and Hungarian)

Mary Alice Fonda (1837-1897; American; Musician, author, and critic who was one of the original staff of writers for the magazine Musical Courie; alongside English was fluent in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Hungarian)

Eghia Hovhannesian (1885-1948; Armenian; Lawyer and writer who was active in Gödöllő writing for an Armenian diaspora newspaper and promoted Armenian culture in articles he wrote in both Armenian and Hungarian)

Marcelo Cake-Baly (1976-; Bissau-Guinean; Economist and tram driver; lead actor of the 2016 film Az állampolgár and possibly the first black star of a Hungarian movie)

Sebestyén Shakirov (1893-1966; Tatar; Born in Kazan and arrived in Hungary as a POW during World War I; converted to Unitarianism and settled in Nagybánya as a painter)

János Can Togay (1955-; Turk; Film director, screenwriter, actor, poet, and cultural diplomat born in Budapest to Turkish parents but raised in Germany; has written poems and screenplays in Hungarian and acted in Hungarian films)

Zita of Bourbon-Parma (1892-1989; Italian; Last Queen of Hungary, wife of Karl I, last Habsburg Monarch; delivered part of her coronation oath in Hungarian)

Dimitrios Hatzis (1913-1981; Greek; Communist who supported the Democratic Army of Greece in the Greek Civil War and fled to Hungary after the Left's defeat; established Greek Studies in Hungary and translated several Greek texts into Hungarian)

Abdulhamid Dakakni (1942-; Palestinian; Poet, translator, and interpreter who arrived in Hungary in 1963; married to a Hungarian)

Anastasia Razvalyaeva (1986-; Russian; Harpist who moved to Hungary in 1993)

Bahget Iskander (1943-; Syrian; Cinematographer who has been a Hungarian citizen since 1979; has held exhibitions in Hungarian, Arabic, and English)

Mikola Chviedarovič (1904-1981; Belarusian; Poet, essayist, and translator; winner of a prize from the Hungarian Agency for Literature and Art in 1981 for promoting Hungarian poetry in Belarusian)

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Comments

Szerintem a többség számára úgy van értelme egy nyelvet megtanulni, hogyha ahhoz valamilyen cél is kapcsolódik. Például a magyar nyelv esetében ez lehet mondjuk olyasmi, hogy valaki magyar programozókkal, vagy elektromérnökökkel akar együtt dolgozni, vagy az ő tudásanyagukat megtanulni, ami bizonyos tekintetben jelentősen nagyobb és jobb, mint mondjuk a szakirodalom egy tipikusan nyugati nyelven. Persze más szempontokból pedig rosszabb. Tehát az ember, hogyha komolyan dolgozni akar valamilyen tudományos pályán, akkor kénytelen megtanulni több, különféle nyelvet.

$ 0.00
6 months ago

De a legtöbb tarsadalom kényszeríti az úgynevezett főbb nyugat-európai nyelveket az iskolaban vagy egyetemen, megerősítve azt az elképzelést, hogy a magyar nyelv nem fontos. Az eredmény, hogy milyen gyakran mellőzik őt a „nagyobb” újlatin és germán nyelvek miatt.

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6 months ago

Szerintem a legtöbb társadalom az olyan nyelveket kényszeríti, amiknek százmillió főnyi, vagy több beszélője van. Ha valaki ezektől jelentéktelenebb nyelveket akar megtanulni, akkor az mindenhogy mélytorok lesz, nem számít, hogy az a nyelv indoeurópai, vagy sem.

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6 months ago