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The independent history of the Hungarian language began approximately 3000 years ago, when the Hungarian people left their linguistic community (pre-Hungarian age) and continued its life independently. The history of the Hungarian language consists of different phases: the early Hungarian period: from around 1000 BC till 896 AD, the old Hungarian period: 896 - 1526, the middle Hungarian period: 1526 - 1772, and the modern Hungarian period: from 1772 to the present. These periods are linked to historical events, turning points showing the connections between social and linguistic changes. (The subject-matter here is related to the period from the linguistically independent pre-Hungarian age to the beginning of the old Hungarian age.)

200 years of research in the field of language history paired with the methods of comparative linguistics have shown that the Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family. This shows even earlier relations with the Samoyed family of languages. The Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages both derive form the so-called Uralian language. In 4000 BC this linguistic community split into two branches. The most distant relatives of the Hungarians live in the region of the river Jenisey; and the modern languages of the original Samoyed language family are the Nyenyets, Nganasan, Enyets, and Selcup.

The unity of the Finno-Ugric languages came to an end around 2000 BC, when the two large groups separated as a result of their migrations. The Finno-Permian branch travelled west, while the community speaking the Ugrian original language stayed on the east side of the Ural mountains. The unity of the Finno-Permian original language ended around the middle of the second millennium BC. This in turn became the Permian original language (which includes the Zuryen [Komi] and the Votyak [Udmurt] languages) and the Finno- Volgan original language. Modern languages derived from it are Finnish, Estonian, Lappian, Mordvinian, Cheremis [Mari], Karyalan, Inker, Vepse, Votian, and Livian.

The Ugrian original language splintered after 1000 BC. The Hungarians' closest relatives, who stayed in West Siberia, are the Voguls [Manshi] and the Ostyaks [Hanti], who live alongside the Ob river nowadays. The Hungarians began their long journey to the west, which is quite difficult to trace.

The home of the Uralian language family (those who spoke a common language) can perhaps be located with the help of linguistic palaeontology. According to this linguistic approach, the Uralian original home is situated between the Middle and South of the Urals and the lower reach of the river Ob. The Finno-Ugric original home could have lain west of this region, between the Urals and the Kama river, but there is no real evidence for it at this time. The loose community at the Urals broke up at around 4000 BC and from that time on we can talk about a Finno-Ugric community.

The period before the history of the independent Hungarian language is called pre-Hungarian period. The linguistic affinity which ties the Hungarians to the Ugric language family does not mean ethnic relationship or common origin.


The language of a nation inevitably shows its culture, education and thinking. The words of the basic word-stock, which are related to every-day life, have a very important role in our language today. Hungarian has about 700 words of Finno-Ugric origin. These ancient words suggest the way of life of the past community.

The Hungarian words for: hunter, bow, arrow, quiver, knife, wild, stalking, hare, fox, weasel, grouse, goose, fish, boat, net, bleak, daughter-in-law, lake and water are of Finno-Ugric origin and demonstrate the importance of hunting and fishing at that time.

Also of Finno-Ugric origin are certain Hungarian words related to women's work: root, bulb, skin/shell, bud, leaf, grass, strawberry, millet, stone, bread, fire, (cooking-)pot, to cook, spit and to bake. The words for horse, halter, saddle and dog are also from the pre-Hungarian period. The words for house, threshold, to put and bough perhaps relate to a simple kind of tent, or a hut dug in the ground. The ancient words connected with dressing are those for leather, to sew, sleeve, breast, belt and ribbon.

Words referring to trades include: awl, wood, to carve, to drill, drill, axe, to sharpen, twig and to weave. Defining relationships between family members could have been very important: father, mother, daughter-in-law, son, daughter, husband and woman. The words for numbers give an indication of Hungarian education; from 1 to 6 they are of Finno-Ugric origin, but these people might have had words for the decimal or even the centesimal numerical system. That they had knowledge of ordinal numbers is shown in the words for first and second.

The verb "read" meant "count". The Hungarian words for left and right refer to orientation in space, while the words for year, month, and autumn, winter and spring refer to orientation in time.

The phenomena of nature were named too: sky, heaven, star, night, dawn, ice, freeze, lake, foam, mountain, peak, road, to glow, dark, fire and hill. Some words referring to the parts of body are also from the original language: head, hair, forehead, eye, ear, throat, mouth, tongue, tooth, chin, shoulder, finger, breast, bile, liver, hand, elbow, skin, vein and blood.

Hungarian has verbs from this period which define basic actions: stand, come, go, sleep, swim, eat, drink, live, die, exist, wish, push, cut, slice, chase, play and laugh. Hungarian pronouns of Finno-Ugric origin include I, you, he/she/it, we, you, what, this and that. Let us finish our discussion of vocabulary with the word the Hungarians used for naming themselves, the word "magyar". The name of the Hungarian people is an obscure compound noun. Its first part is of Finno-Ugric or Ugric origin, which might have meant "man". The origin of its second part is debated. If it originates from one of the Turkic languages, it means man (-eri), if it is Finno-Ugric, it might be identical with the second part of the word man (Finnish yrkö - man, Cheremis erghe - boy).

The grammatical system may have been very simple. The possessive personal suffixes, which were formed from the personal pronouns, are of Finno-Ugric origin. Parts of the conjugation of verbs came from the original language. The formation of modality (of verbs) also started in this period. In all probability there was no suffix for the accusative ending, and adverbs without suffix might have been used frequently. Circumscriptions and adverbs could have been used for specifying places. The role of Hungarian formative syllables was even more obscure. They may have several different roles, and their usage was occasional. The adjective stood before the qualified word without agreement. Singular verbs were used after cardinal numbers. Subject and predicate did not yet agree in number. The inflection of nouns may have had singular forms. The predicate of a sentence could be a noun, a verb or a participle.

The phonetic structure of the language may have been very primitive, too. Due to the lack of data we can only make deductions concerning its elements. It seems certain that vowels could alternate with one another. The original language made use of vowel-harmony, so that one word had either front or back vowels only. The stress probably fell onto the first syllable. Words, formative syllables, and suffixes ended with a vowel.


It starts with the separation from the Ugric language community, which happened around 1000 BC upto the conquest of the Carpathian Basin. Unfortunately we have no linguistic records from this age.

During their migrations, the Hungarian people may have enriched the word-stock and grammatical system they inherited from the time of the Finno-Ugric period. This development was encouraged by the changing environment and the influence of the neighbouring peoples. These cultural influences can be followed in the enrichment of the word-stock, which changed in the most flexible way. The numerous loan-words show the intensive connection with the neighbours.

The number of old Turkish loan-words is about 300, but primarily their nature, rather than their quantity, shows what a large cultural impact they had on the Hungarians' education. Compared with former ages, these were words suggesting a radically new way of life.

Words from old Turkic languages were added to the word-stock of animal husbandry, such as: bull, ox, calf, goat, ram, cheese, cottage cheese, wool, hobble, rein, sheepfold, pigsty, pig, hen, camel. The Hungarians received some expressions connected to agriculture from old Turkish languages: barley, wheat, sickle, plough, stubble, to grind, fruit, apple, pear, nut, hop, grapes, wine, pea. Hungarian words referring to trades are: carpenter, furrier, grocer; words in connection with dressing are: gown, velvet, buckle, bead, ring, to suit, mirror. Loan-words in the field of social and religious life are: law, interpreter, witness, peace, wages, loan, mourning, witch, dragon, to enchant and to charm.

Among the Hungarian words for body parts arm, knee, ankle, beard, freckle are of old Turkish origin together with some words indicating qualities: small, tiny, weak, old, blue, yellow, brave and coward.

These words refer to the natural environment, fauna and flora: lion, badger, hawk, vulture, turul, falcon, dogberry, blackthorn, hornbeam, ash, weed, matgrass, stinging-nettle and hemp.

The Hungarians' ancestors were not neighbours with the Persians, but they had business contacts, which is proved by the Hungarian words for customs and fair. They also traded with the Alans of Iran, which is shown by the Hungarian words for bridge and glass. Other Iranian Alan loan-words are the Hungarian equivalents for harness, sword, woman, (reigning princess), rich, cow, milk, butter (grease), felt and ten.

Loan-words in Hungarian give evidence that the Hungarian people had contact with Slavic nations, Slavic languages before the Conquest. Loan-words from those days are: Duna (Danube), Greek, Polish, farm and vaivode.

The Hungarian word-stock was increased by means of derivation and compound words. The former was helped by the newly arising system of formative syllables. At this time the Hungarian words for god, principal, source and power were created by derivation.

The Hungarian phonetic structure has undergone a large change: it became richer, and it seems closer to the present-day consonant system of the Hungarian language. The mixed vowel sound system came into being.

The grammatical system starts to show the bases of our present-day grammar, its characteristic features take shape, based on the Finno-Ugric heritage.


The old Hungarian period of the history of the Hungarian language begins with the conquest of the Carpathian Basin and ends in 1526. Since linguistic processes take a long time, - and our present research finishes with the beginning of this period -, we can only touch upon the trends of this development. But we must not forget that even if we take the most flexibly changing word-stock, we cannot narrow down the date of the changes to within a few decades, so in many cases it is inevitable not to refer to the linguistic phenomena characteristic of the period after the foundation of the state.

After the conquest the Hungarian people led a semi-nomadic, that is, a rigorous pastoral and agricultural lifestyle parallel to the spread of a new culture. The impact of Byzantine and western Christianity, the animal husbandry and agriculture of the local inhabitants set off a significant intellectual and material development in education in the history of the Hungarian people beginning in the 11th century. Linguistically it appeared first in the word-stock of the Hungarian language.

Many new words were created with the help of word-building methods, mainly by means of word-formation and compound words.

The vocabulary of the settled Hungarians was influenced mostly by the Slavic, the German and the Latin language. Later on Italian and French influence can be perceived. Expressions linked to agriculture and animal husbandry were borrowed mainly from Slavic languages: grain, rye, straw, harrow, scythe, bean, peach, carrot, sheep, ewe, rooster, pigeon, yoke, oxbow, hay and shepherd. Nouns in Hungarian that are attached to trades like cooper, smith, weaver, miller and dammer are of Slavic origin. Words referring to the house were adopted from the local Slavic: kitchen, cellar, window, key, bench, table and lunch. There are many Slav loan-words in the word-stock of the church and of the state: cross, Christian, friar, nun, saint, miracle, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Christmas, emperor, king, to order and work.

From the German language the Hungarians borrowed expressions referring to court and army life: prince, count, fur, armour, visor, lance, siege, fireplace, lute.

The Latin language played an important role in the development of Hungarian literacy, concerning both the style and the representation of writing. They adopted words and expressions referring to religion, the church, and of the state from the Latin: school, cloister, pope, angel, satan, parson, apostle, crown, register.

On the basis of phonetic comparison we know that at the end of the early Hungarian period the number of consonants increased, developing from Finno-Ugric phonemes and phoneme linkages. The phonemes of loan-words were adjusted to the Hungarian phonetic structure. Consonants at the beginning of the old Hungarian period are closer to the present-day consonants in the language.

The old Hungarian period is a period with literary remains in the history of the language, though there was no real Hungarian literacy at that time - however the Hungarians' ancestors may have recorded shorter or longer texts with the help of runic writing. Hungarian literary remains are sporadically preserved in Greek or Latin texts, and original texts have survived from the end of the 12th century.

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