Poetry of the Magyars/On the Magyar Language

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Poetry of the Magyars  (1830) 
by John Bowring
INTRODUCTION.


After a long period of inertness and almost of oblivion, the language and literature of Hungary seem starting into a new and vigorous existence. A band of distinguished writers have appeared with the present generation, whose privilege it has been at once to will and to effect the regeneration of their native idiom, which had been sinking under the indifference of some and the attacks of others. Its history has been marked by many vicissitudes. Originating in an age too remote to be defined or even discovered, and receiving from time to time infusions from the various tribes and tongues who have visited or been visited by the Magyar race, it has yet retained all its essential peculiarities, and offers to the inquirer some of the most curious topics of research. Space, however, will allow nothing here but a slight sketch of some of its more remarkable characteristics.

The roots of the Magyar are for the most part exceedingly simple and monosyllabic, but their ramifications are numerous, consistent, and beautiful. I know of no language which presents such a variety of elementary stamina, and none which lends itself so easily and gracefully to all the modifications growing out of its simple principles. These modifications are almost always postfixed, and invariably they harmonize with the preceding part of the word.

The accent is not necessarily on the root of a word, which in verbs is to be sought in the third person singular of the present tense. The analogy between words and things is very striking and not only extends to objects with which sound is associated, but sometimes is observable even to the eye. Dörög (it thunders) affects the ear; villám (it lightens) has an obvious propriety even in the appearance of the words. Many noises are admirably represented by the words which convey the idea; as, forr (it boils), tör (it breaks), cseng (it rings), peng (it rings, i. e. speaking of coins), hang (sound). No eight monosyllables in any language could convey a more complete image of the horrors of war than does Kisfaludy's verse:
     Mars mord dühe a' mit ér, vág,
     Bont, dört, tör, ront, dul, sujt, öl.[1]

The voices of animals are also represented by characteristic words — the bear morog, the lion ordit, the owl huhong, the cock kukorit, the bull bömböl, the cow bö́g, the goat mekeg, the lamb beget, the pig röfög, the goose gágog.

The most remarkable character of the Magyar, and that which gives and preserves an euphony beyond the reach of any other language, is the separation of the vowels into two classes―a, o, u male, and e, i, ö, and ü, female; while each class possesses a separate set of instruments for creating all conjugates.[2] If the last syllable of a word have, for example, a masculine vowel, the affix must be made to agree with it. A wonderful uniformity of character and harmony of sound are the necessary consequence of this simple and appropriate machinery. Thus, for example, andó and endö́ are the signs of the participle future, and are used the first for the male, as hal, root of halál (death), makes halandó, will die, or dieable; and the second for the female, as ég, root of égni (to burn), égendö́, will burn, or burnable—as and es, as olvasás (reading), from the root olvas, reads—and szenvedés (suffering), from szenved suffers — at and et, as gondolat (thought), from gondol, thinks—épǘlet (a building), from épǘl, builds. So, again, the comparative is formed of abb or ebb, according to the ultimate syllable; as drága dear, drágább dearer —bölcs wise, bölcsebb wiser. Ság and ség make a quality from a personification—barátság, friendship, from barát, friend—emberség, manhood, from ember, man: talan, telen denote absence; as, szobátalan, without a chamber—kéretlen, unasked, i. e. without asking. And so are the Hungarian plurals, according to the vowels of the singular, formed in ak, ok, or ek. The same modification runs through all the declensions and conjugations.

This division of the language into male and female words may be pursued in its influences to some very curious results. It will be found that the letters a and o are usually employed in the words to which the ideas of grandeur, vastness, weight, and pomp, attach, such as , the lake; nap, the sun; hold, the moon; tábor, a camp; had, war—that e and i occur where swiftness or alacrity are denoted; as, vig, gay; vidit, to exhi- lirate—that disagreeable associations are usually connected with u; as, rut, ugly; buta, stupid; bu, grief: ö and ü generally represent vagueness and confusion; as, göz, vapor; füst, smoke; sötét, dark; gödör, ditch; sürü, thick. So the short vowels for the most part express rapidity, and the long ones slowness; as sebes, hasty; röpül, to fly; szalad, to run—lassú, slow; csúsz, creeps; mász, crawls. In the same manner it will be found that the hard and soft consonants are adapted to the different ideas conveyed; as for example, , stone; kard, sabre; durva, rude; while lágy, anya, leány, soft, mother, girl, have a sweetness suited to the objects they represent.[3]
 Whatever changes the language, brought by the Magyars into Europe, has undergone in conse- quence of their intercourse with their neighbours, the construction has been little changed, and re- tains its Asiatic forms. The words which have been introduced have mostly undergone an Hun- garian modification, and of late the language has obtained a decided mastery over the Latin, which, for many centuries, had been the instrument of law and literature. That it presents many diffi- culties to the student, is certain. It has sounds which, though they may be collected from other languages, are combined in none — the French eu, u, and j, the German ö and ü, the Spanish ll, ñ, the Russian Ч and Щ, the Italian gi, and many others. Then again its Eastern peculiari- ties. Its precision, however, facilitates the right understanding of it, as do the simple and efficient rules by which all its conjugates are made. Of any adjective an active verb may be formed by the addition of etni, and a substantive by the addi- tion of ság or ség. The same form of conjugates is used for substantives, pronouns, adjectives, numerals, and verbs. These conjugates are sim- ple additions to, and never alterations of, the root, and are throughout postpositions, which some- times, when gathered up one after another, present a curious aspect; as lát (sees), the root; láthat, he can see; látás (seeing or sight); látó, the seeer (the prophet); látni, to see; látatlan, unseen; látható, seeable; láthatoság, seeable- ness; látatatlan, unseeable; láthattalak, I might have seen thee; láthatatlanság, unseeableness; láthatatlonoknak, to the unseeable (pl. Dat.).



 In the Magyar alphabet the y, after g, l, n, and t, produces that sound which melts into the fol- lowing letter; as, in French, gn, ll, in mon- tagne, medaille: cs, ts, are equivalent to our ch; sz, to s; zs, to the French j; tz or cz to z; and s to the English sh. The effect of an accent is to lengthen the vowel; ö and ü (ö́ and ǘ, or ő and ű long) have nearly the sounds of the French eu and u. The whole number of sounds in the Magyar is thirty-eight, and their ortho- graphy, like that of all the Gothic and Slavo- nic nations, has to struggle with the imper- fections of the Roman alphabet in representing sounds unknown to the Latins. The character- istic of the Latin alphabet is poverty, and its inconvenience and inaptitude to many of the idioms into which it has been introduced, are very striking. It is thus that strangers are so perplexed with our two th 's, as in thing and that; the þ and the ð of the Anglo Saxons, the θ and the δ of the modern Greeks. If the Polish and Bohemian tongues present a strange appear- ance to the eye, it arises from the blending to- gether of many consonants to represent a single sound. The letters c, q, and x, are wanting to the Magyar alphabet. Some of the inconveni- ences of the small number of letters are avoided by accents. In the word értelëm, for example, the e has three distinct sounds.



 The introduction of an accent frequently gives a word a completely different signification.—Sas, eagle; sás, reed; szü, woodworm; szű, heart; por, dust; pór peasant.



 So again many words have two meanings; as, idö́, time and weather; hét, week and seven; nap, sun and day.—These, however, bear the ob- vious names of original identity.



 The native Hungarian cannot combine two consonants in the same syllable. The words in the language which present such a combination are foreign. The presence of many consonants in a word is always a source of difficulty to foreigners, and is one of the main sources of mo- difications. In Spanish, s followed by a conso- nant has almost always an e, making another syllable before it; as, estrada for strada; espada, for spada: so the Magyar iskola for school. In the Finnic branches of language some very extraordinary changes will be found, produced by this circumstance. And in Hungarian scarcely less; as, Görög, Greek; Ferencz, Francis.



 The Magyar is absolutely devoid of genders, and the female sex is always expressed by a dis- tinct word.[4] It has only a definite article, az, ez,[5] which is at the same time a demonstrative pro- noun. It has only one declension, and the pos- sessive pronouns are suffixa to the nouns, as are the personal pronouns to the verbs, modifying both nouns and verbs to a singular uniformity; as for example,

szeretet, love;
szeretni, to love;

szeretetem, my love;
szeretem, I love;
szereteted, thy love;
szereted, thou lovest;
szeretete, his love;
szereti, he loves.

szeretetűnk, our love.
szeretünk, we love.
szeretetek, your love.
szerettek, you love.


 Gibbon says, that "the Hungarian bears a close and clear affinity to the idiom of the Fennic race, i. e. the Finnish, Laplandish, and Estho- nian." He is an indifferent authority in philo- logical matters. The words of identity are really few—far fewer than will be found common to the Magyar and German, or even the Magyar and Latin. There are some curious affinities, but they are not peculiar in the construction of the Finnish and the Hungarian: the copulative con- junctions, prepositions, interrogative adverbs, and possessive pronouns, are all postfixed to the nouns. The adjectival termination es, and the possessive em, are common to the Lappish and the Magyar. The Magyar mene, and the Estho- nian minne, are conjugates of substantives de- noting action, and is a diminutive in both. The Hungarian and Finmark plural nominative ak, ek, are identical; in Finnish the plural is formed by h. Beregassi's work[6] has traced the affinities of the Magyar into twenty eastern and half the number of western languages. Gyar- math[7] has written with extreme minuteness on the resemblance between the Hungarian and the Finnish. He produces a number of words ending, for the most part, in as, es, is, os, and ad, which are common to both. Neither has any gender, and they each form their comparative in b. Every noun may in both be formed into a verb, while the verbs of both have some of those peculiar tenses which are not very easily translatable into English ; as for example,

Laplandish.
Etsab
Etsam
Etschtattam
Etsahtallam
Etsehtam
Etsatzjam
Etseelam

Etseslam
Etsolestam
Etsehtattatlam

Hungarian
szeretek
szerettem
szeretődőm

szerettetem

szeretdegesem

szeretgetem
szeretintem
szerettetgetem

which Gyarmath thus Latinizes.
amo.
amavi.
amor.
maximè amo.
curo ut amet.
frequenter amo.
frequenter quidem sed
 nimus amo.
amo aliquautulum
omnium minime amo.
facio ut alterum saepe et
 diù amet.


 In Finnish, Laplandish, and Hungarian, the ad- jectives precede the nouns, except where a verb interposes. The singular number follows all nu- merals, as kilentz nap, nine day, not nine days. In both a superlative idea is often communicated by a repetition of the positive noun, as kieura, kieura almats, (Lap.,) Erös erös ember, (Hung.,) a strong, strong man. The verb to have is want- ing in the two branches; possession is expressed by, to be to, Le musne kirje, (Lap.,) van nekem könyvem—A book is to me, i. e. I have a book. Both frequently suppress the verb to be, as az, that (is) good, and both employ it in the gerundial form for the present of the infinite, Evö- ben vagyok, (Hung.,) Láen porriem, (Lap.,) I am eating.[8] The Esthonian and Hungarian pro- nouns have a strong resemblance.

Esthonian
Hungarian

mis
mi
what

ke
ki
who

kegi
kiki
whoever

minna
én
I

mere
mi
we

teie
ti
you.

And in their expressions of endearment there is much similarity of phrase, as Kulla Herra, (Est.,) Aranyos Uram, (Hung.,) My golden Sir!



 The affinities with some of the remoter idioms, are very remarkable. The word atya, father, is (as is well known) one found in a variety of dif- ferent tongues, though I suspect its resemblance to the first lispings of a child is the secret of its extension. But blended with a possessive pronoun, the affinities are extraordinary.

Cheremissian
Hungarian
Laplandish

Cheremissian
Hungarian
Laplandish

Atjam
Atyam
Attjain
My father
Atjane
Atyánk
Mo attjeh
our father

atjat
atyad
attjatt
thy father
atjada
atyátok
to atjeh
your father

atjáse
attya
attjes
his father
atjast
attyok
attjehs
their father[9]


 Of the affinities of the Magyar with the lan-

guages which it has been supposed to resemble, the following Numerals will enable the reader to judge:


1
2

3

4
5
6
7
8
9
10

11


12

20

100
1000

Hungarian
Egy
Kettö or
 Két
Horma or
 Három
Négy
Öt
Hat
Hét
Nyoltz
Kilentz
Eleg or
 Tiz
Egy-eleg-
 nel or Tiz-
 egyik
Kettö eleg-
 nel
Két-eleg or
 Husz
Száz
Ezer

Laplandish
Agd
Kuăhte

Harma

Nelje
Wit
Kot
Kietja
Kaktse
Aktse
Logie

Akht-loge-nal


Kuăhte loge nal

Kuăhte loge

Tjuote
Tusan

Esthonian
Uks
Kaks

Kolin

Nelli
Viis
Kuuz
Seits
Kapheksa
Ühheksa
Kümme








Sadda
Tuhhat

Votjak
Odik
Kik

Kain

Nil
Vity
Kuaty
Szezim
Kiamiz
Ukmiz
Daz

Dazodik


Dazkik

Kiz

Sziu
Sziurz

Cheremissian
Iktet
Koktot

Kumut

Nilit
Vizit
Kudut
Szimit
Kandase
Indese
Lu

Luatckle


Luatkoktot

Kolo

Sjudo
Tusem


1
2

Volguls
Akw
Kiteg

Pennic
Otek
Kük

Ostiaks
Eiet
Katu

Finnish
Iksi
Kaksi

[9]


3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11

12

20
100
1000

Volguls
Kurom
Nilli
At
Kot
Sat
Nöllon
Ontollon
Lou
Akukniplon

Kitkniplon

Kus
Shät
Shotz

Pennic
Kuum
Njol
Vit
Kuat
Sisim
Kökjammas
Ukmus
Dass

Ostiaks
Chulom
Nilha
Uwat
Chot
Sabat
Nicha
Artjan
Jong
Igut-jong

Katchutjong

Chus
Sot
Turres

Finnish
Kolmi
Neljă
Viisi
Kuusi
Seitsemău
Kahdeksau
Yhdeksăn
Kymmenan
Iksitoistakym-
 mentă
Kaksitoistakym-
 mentă
Kaksikymmentă
Sata
Tuhans.



 The prosody of the Magyar is very remarkable. There is no measure of Latin or Greek rythmus to which it does not lend itself. Pyrrhĭcs and Spōndēes abound. The trĭbrăch and mōlōssūs are not wanting; and all the intermixtures of long and short feet, Iămbïcs, Trōchĕes, Dāctyls, and ănăpēsts. Virág's Magyar Prosodia és Magyar Irás,[10] contains specimens of every classical mea- sure. Other specimens of the adaptation of the Magyar may be found in his Poesia, at the end of his Tragedy of Hunyadi László.[11] The first ex- ample of measured verse is of the date of 1541.



 The dialects of Hungary are not much unlike; and there is no part of the country where the Magyar is so spoken, as not to be intelligible in every other part. The varieties are principally in confounding a and o, and é and i, and in length- ening the syllables and words. Two prize Essays, one by Horvát, and the other by Gáti, on the Dia- lects of the Hungarian, were published in 1821. The two most distinct idioms are those of Raab and Bihar. The Transylvanians, especially the Székely, have a drawling manner of pronouncing words which is very singular. They are of Tatar origin, and have preserved a greater number of their original terms.[12]



 The Hungarians invariably write the baptismal after the family name. Thus, Thaisz András (Andrew Thaisz, the translator of the Scottish Romances); this rule even extends to foreign names, as in the title to these translations, Scott Walter Románjai. Hungarian women do not abandon their family names when they marry.



 As in every other tongue of ancient date, a de- mand for new words, accommodated to an ad- vanced cultivation, has been felt in the Hungarian. reign kings, the Hungarian was employed for laws and ordinances, and was used as the Court lan- guage under Charles and Louis of Anjou. There is a Magyar partition-document, dated 1339. There are, too, Hungarian oaths sometimes at- tached to Latin laws, for the better understanding of the people. The form of the Coronation Ap- peal, used at this epoch by the Primate of the kingdom, the Archbishop of Gran, to the assem- bled orders, is still preserved. Three times he demanded Akarjátok é hogy e' jelenlevö́ N. N. királyságra koronáztássék, "Will you that N. N. here present be crowned for our king?" And the answer thrice repeated was, Akarjuk éljen, éljen, éljen, a' király—" We will,—Live, live, live the king."



 There have been from time to time royal de- clarations in favour of the Hungarian language. In 1527 Ferdinand the First publicly declared that "he would preserve the Magyar tongue and people with all his power and means;" and, in 1569, there is in the statutes of Maximilian the following words: "Et casu quo suam majestatem a regno longius abesse contingeret unum ex filiis loco sui et si usque possibile sit, in Ungaria ut linguam quoque gentis addiscant, relinquere."



 The Princes of the Habsburgh House have given all possible encouragement to the predomi- nance of the German tongue in Hungary. As there has been for centuries no kingly court at Buda, the language has suffered something from the want of that protection which fashion com- municates. The Emperor Joseph issued a Hun- garian decree during the tumults which disturbed his reign; and, in 1790, the Diet encouraged the language by a specific law; but the Diet has not ventured to make the Magyar the recognized lan- guage for official communication. Something like this was anticipated from their last assembly in 1825-27, but the public expectation was disap- pointed.



 There are many Hungarian grammars, of which the oldest is that of John Erdősi, printed at Vissigath, in 1539. Another was published by Albert Molnár in 1610, of which an improved edition appeared at Vienna in 1788. Meliboi's Ungarischer Sprachmeister, (Presburg, 1787, 6th ed.,) and Jos. Farkas' Grundliche und Neu Ver- besserte Ungarische Sprachlehre, originally printed in 1771, have been reprinted from time to time, the latter with additions and amendments by P. de Kis Szonto, and Jos. von Márton. Sam. Gyar- math's Kritische Grammatik, in 2 vols., is a more elaborate production; and Paul Bersgszászi's Versuch einer Magyarischen Sprachlehre has a particular view to the affinities between the Hun- garian and the Oriental tongues. This is also the object of Verseghi's A' tiszta Magyarsag, or "the pure Hungarian tongue," which has led to a philological controversy, in which he has been attacked by Joh. Miklosi, in a volume enti- tled Verseghi Ferentz nek Tisztátalan Magyarsá- ga, or Fr. Verseghi's impure Hungarian Tongue.[13]



 Jos. von Márton's Hungarian and German Dic- tionary is the best. The last edition of Fr. Paris Papais' Dictionarum Latine-Hungaricum con- tains a history of all the vocabularies of the Ma- gyar tongue.

  1. The murderous rage of Mars, which, whatever it reaches,
         cuts,
    Wastes, shakes, breaks, destroys, uprends, scatters, and
         slays.
  2. Verseghi divides the vowels into four classes, which he calls,
     1, Base-vowels—a, o, and u.
     2, Tenor-vowels—ö and ü.
     3, Alt-vowel—e.
     4, Discant-vowel—i. The first, he says, must have a base-vowel for its suffix. The second and third cau never take a suffix from the first. The fourth is neutral, and sometimes takes a suffix from all the others.
  3. A very curious example of two distinct meanings to the same syllables, when differently arranged, is given in the Szép Literatúrai Ajándek, for 1820, p. 65.
         Boris te! nem amor ostoba
          Nyila zörömböl. Tsö́je
         Meg tompult a' lángon.
          Domboru tán Bora kedvellö́je.

         Bor Istene! mámoros tóba
          Nyil az öröm böltsö́je
         Megtompul talán gondom
          Por utan. Bor a' kedv Ellö́je.
  4. It is a curious fact that him is one of the words which re- present the male gender in Magyar.
  5. Egy (one) is a numeral and not an article.
  6. Ueber die Aehnlichkeit der Hungarischen Sprache mit den morgenlaeudischen nebst einer Entwickelung der Natur und man- cher bisher unbekannten Eigenschafften desselben vou P. Bere- gassi. 4to. Leipzig. 1796.
  7. Affinitas Linguae Hungaricae cum Linguis Feunicae originis Grammatice demonstrata. Gottingen. 1799.
  8. But Gyarmath is full of extravagant fancies. Many of his affinities are as far removed as possible. Who but he would
    have seen a resemblance between Jubmel and Isten, Adde Stal- pai and Addfarkesnak?
  9. 9.0 9.1 Those who would pursue these researches into Tartary,
  10. Buda. 8vo. 1820.
  11. Buda. 8vo. 1817.
  12. Consult, for some curious particulars concerning them, En- gel's Geschichte des Ungarischen Reichs and seiner Nebeländer, Halle, 1797.
  13. Mithridates, Vol. II. 781-3.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.