Hungarian Alphabet – Pronunciation, History and Useful Information

hungarian alphabetHungarian, or Magyar as the native speakers say, is a language that approximately 15 million people of Eastern Europe use to communicate. Hungary, Romania-Transylvania, Slovakia, Croatia and Yugoslavia are all countries speaking Hungarian dialects. Hungarian speakers have spread throughout the world, and now this language may be learned in the American and Western European schools and universities. New generations of foreign speakers want to learn this rich and unique ancient language, as it is a boon for international businesspeople.

Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, has three dialects of the language spoken. There are at least five more dialects spread throughout neighboring countries. Hungarian speaking people are involved in many different business ventures and international trade in the mining, metallurgy, machine and steel production sectors, energy, mechanical engineering, chemical engineer, automobile industry and agriculture. If working in these trades, it is wise to learn to speak, read or write in Hungarian.

The Spread of the Hungarian Language

The history of the Hungarian people is interesting and exotic. As most understand, Europe, Asia, Russian and the Middle East are all closely related geographically, and modern day people are descendants of ancient tribes. Circumstances relating to politics, crime, corruption, famine, disease and religion affected these people deeply, spurring mass migrations of tribes throughout European Russia towards western lands.

The Hungarian language is a Finno-Ugric language of the Uralic family. The language originally formed in Central European Russia and is still closely related to the Russian alphabet. Conditions in the region degraded for a multitude of reasons, and the people fled to new areas in about 3000 BC. In 900 AD, groups continued to spread further west into what is today Hungary. Bulgarian Turks and Khazars inhabited this land, and melded with the new arrivals to create the people who occupy the region now.

In ancient times, the Hungarians were part of the kingdom belonging to Attila the Hun. Most people feared the Huns, and viewed them as monsters. However, within a century of invading and defeating these people, they had become civilized members of the Hungarian society.

Other languages spoken in the regions surrounding present-day Hungary have varied origins, including Germanic, Romantic, Slavic and Turkish. The closest related language to Hungarian is Ostyak and Vogel, which are languages spoken in Siberia. These two languages have a combined user ship of about 20,000 people. Siberia is thousands of miles from Hungary, which confirms the history of ancient migrations from Russia.

Facts about the Hungarian Language

The Hungarian alphabet is a modified version of the Latin alphabet. The Latin speaking people ruled over parts of Hungarian speaking countries, and those people were taught to speak their ruler’s language. Privileged children were taught the how to read and write, science, philosophy, music, art and mathematics in the Latin language.

There are two Hungarian alphabets. The greater alphabet includes the letters Q, W, Y and X, which never occur in the native Hungarian language. The smaller alphabet excludes those letters. There are minor differences in accent marks that also differentiate the two alphabets. Most people use the greater Hungarian alphabet today.

Intonation and enunciation are very important to this dramatically inflected language. According to Wikipedia, Hungarian nouns have up to 238 possible forms.

Hungarian was first written in 1196 AD – a funeral oration.

The Letters of St. Paul by Benedek Komjati were translated into Hungarian in 1533, which is the first book published in the language. It was published in Krakow Poland, rather Hungary.

Hungarian literature, including poetry, became famous in the 1700’s and is still widely translated and read internationally. Budapest is reportedly a writer’s haven.

There is no gender in the Hungarian language. This fact can make learning Hungarian especially difficult for native English speakers.
Hungarian speakers who learn English often have difficulties perfecting the clipped consonant sounds vital to the language.

The Hungarian Alphabet

The 44 letters of the greater Hungarian alphabet are:

A Á B C Cs D Dz Dzs E É F G Gy H I Í J K L Ly M N Ny O Ó Ö Ő P (Q) R S Sz T Ty U Ú Ü Ű V (W) (X) (Y) Z Zs

The structure of the Hungarian alphabet and its consonant combinations is very important to understanding words that are most common to the native Hungarians. Without understanding the letter combinations, words are mispronounced even when properly spelled. Pronunciation is key to Hungarian language comprehension. It is important to memorize the accent marks and how they alter the sounds of words.

A a /ɒ/ as in taught
Á á /aː/ as in tack, jack
B bé /b/ as in by, abdomen
C cé /ts/ as in bits, tsunami
Cs csé /tʃ/ as in chisel
D dé /d/ as in dependable
Dz dzé /dz/ as in buds
Dzs dzsé /dʒ/ as in judge, fridge
E e /ɛ/ as in best, fest
É é /eː/ as in air, bear, share
F ef /f/ as in fashion
G gé /g/ as in Goliath
Gy gyé /ɟ/ as in Jewish
H há /h/ as in hand
I I /i/ as in thinker
Í í /iː/ as in Liam, seem
J jé /j/ as in yo-yo, yack
K ká /k/ as in kayak, Klondike
L el /l/ as in love, letter
Ly ely, el ipszilon /ley/ as in lay
M em /m/ as in mother, mighty
N en /n/ as in end, enthusiastic
Ny eny /ɲ/ as in senior, canyon, el Niño
O o /o/ as in octopus, somber
Ó ó /oː/ as in old, hone
Ö ö /ø/ as in layman, bay
Ő ő /øː/ as in the French prefix le, but more drawn out
P pé /p/ as in president, people
R er /r/ as in ravish, radical
S es /ʃ/ as in shaman, shipwreck
Sz esz /s/ as in sesame, supper
T té /t/ as in tantalizing, trip
Ty tyé /c/ as in Tuesday
U u /u/ as in butane, bugle
Ú ú /uː/ as in dubious, doomed
Ü ü /y/ as in tuber, pewter
Ű ű /yː/ sounds like a mixture between a long O sound and saying the word “he” with pursed lips.
V vé /v/ as in vendetta, vivacious
Z zé /z/ as in zed
Zs zsé /ʒ/ as in leisure, measure

Learning to speak Hungarian is difficult due to the foreign alphabet and pronunciation, varied dialects, accent marks and more. But with the right instructor and course, learning Hungarian can actually be a fast process.  Before attempting to learn a new language, take a language learning preparatory course. With the skills learned in these classes, students are better prepared to take on a new foreign language with success.