Hungarian is a Very Berserky Language

I mentioned previously that the Czech language is difficult, but in reality, it’s nothing compared to how tricky Hungarian is.

The mother of a friend in Dubrovnik who speaks Croatian, Italian, and English once bemoaned to me about how much she hated Hungarian. She said, “Only the Hungarians have a different word for piano. Every other language in Europe just says, ‘piano’, but no, the Hungarians have to have a different word, ‘zongora’. It’s such a terrible and ridiculous language.” Obviously she has a modicum of logic there, but I wouldn’t go so far to invalidate an entire language just for using different words. I actually have to commend the Hungarians on the fact that they’ve been able to maintain their language despite be surrounded by Slavic and Germanic speakers, while only being a nation of 10 million or so.

Even still, Hungarian is a very tricky language. You can hear it in the longest Hungarian word, which in text is written “megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért” or roughly translated in to “For your (plural) acts of putting something in the state of being impossible to desecrate.” (from utazni) This really isn’t a word that anyone uses though and is a lot like ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ in English.

While I do this to over prove a point, it is true that there are 44 letters in the Hungarian alphabet making it a tad onerous at first. There are a huge number of vowels. There are also some consonant changes as well, like the single ‘s’ that becomes ‘sh’ which make things really tricky or ‘cs’ being a ‘ch’. I won’t even go in to all the details as that Wikipedia article I link to does a far better job than I ever could. Toss on top of this the fact that all modifications to root words appear at the end of the word and you end up with a system and a set of pronunciation rules that drives foreigners crazy. I know as I tried to learn what I could in the week and a half I was there.

It’s easy to sit back and say, “Ugh, this is crap. I’ve never going to learn this. Next please.” But there is one salient point that English speakers need to take away from Hungarian and that is the fact that if we really wrote out our alphabet in the manner in which it is actually pronounced, it would look a good deal like Hungarian. We think that English is simple, when it really isn’t. In Hungarian, once you learn the alphabet, that’s it. In theory, you can properly pronounce anything you read, although maybe with one or five tries. But with English, the only way to know how to say a word for certain is to hear it first. If we used an alphabet like the Hungarian one, we would know when we mean to say, ‘lead’ as is to lead a group as opposed to ‘lead’ as in the heavy metal. There is more than a little to be learned in this.