THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE FINNISH AND THE HUNGARIAN LANGUAGES
Gyula Weöres (1935)
When a Finn and a Hungarian meet usually either one asks: Is it true that the Finnish and the Hungarian languages are related? This kind of question is hardly asked when lingustically closer speakers like Finns and Estonians meet, because they understand each other to some extent even though they both speak their own languages. But the relationship between Finnish and Hungarian is completely different. It only means that they belong to the same linguistical family, it is at the closest something like how the English language is related to the German language. To recognize a linguistical relationship of this kind requires linguistical expertise and is beyond the competence of a layman.
This can even lead to really significant misinterpretations. I comment some of them here. A Hungarian journalist visited Finland some months ago and noticed with astonishment how far away Finnish and Hungarian are from each other, even though they are supposed to be related. He was, however, very pleased to discover this word in Finnish: l a a t i k k o (box), with the same meaning as the Hungarian l á d i k ó. But he didn't notice that they both were loanwords, from different languages. A Finnish tourist was very disappointed when he was told that the Finnish word t a r k k a (accurate) has a different meaning from the Hungarian t a r k a (motley).
If they had allotted a little bit more time to acquaint themselves to Finnish-Hungarian vocabulary comparisons resulting from linguistical research, they had noticed, in addition to those astonishingly close similarities, that there are even a bigger number of related words which are not right away recognized as such, e.g., Hung. k é z (hand) = Finn. k ä s i , Hung. v é r (blood) = Finn. v e r i, Hung. m é z (honey) = Finn. m e s i, Hung. s z a r v (horn) = Finn. s a r v i, Hung. v a j (butter) = Finn. v o i, Hung. e l e v e n (alive) = Finn. e l ä v ä, Hung. m e n n i (to go) = Finn. m e n n ä, Hung. r e p e d (to be torn) = Finn. r e p e ä ä etc.. which give a direct hint to a common origin. To notice similarities between Hung. f e j (head) = Finn. p ä ä, Hung. f é s z e k (nest) = Finn. p e s ä, Hung. f é l (to be afraid) = Finn. p e l k ä ä, Hung. f a k a d (to become fulfilled) = Finn. p a k a h t u a and other words is considerably more difficult, if you are not aware that the letter f in the beginning of the word regularly match the Finnish p. Or, the letter n in Finnish is often replaced by ny in Hungarian, as in Finn. n i e l l ä (swallow) = Hung. n y e l n i, Finn. m i n i ä (daughter-in-law) = Hung. m e n y. The long ő, met in the end of a Hungarian word, has previously been a diphtong öü or eü and even more previously ev. The consonant v in this is still often met in words like, e.g. Hung. k ő [the accusative case k ö v e t ] (stone) = Finn. k i v i , Hung. t ő (tree base) = Finn. t y v i and Hung. v ő (son-in-law) = Finn. v ä v y.
What is the cause for these dissimilarities and is it possible to prove a relationship between the Hungarian and the Finnish languages at all? First of all, we have to notice the very large geographical distance between the peoples, one living on the coast of Gulf of Finland and the other one living in the Danube valley. Secondly, the separation of these two peoples took place a very long time ago. The scattering of the Finno-Ugric family of peoples from their ancestral home occurred about c. 4,500 years ago, this can be compared to the divergence of Germanic languages only ab. 2,000* years ago.
And furthermore, one should not forget that there are nine completely independent Finno-Ugric languages (Finnish, Sami, Mordvin, Cheremis/Mari, Zyryan/Komi, Votyak/Udmurt, Ostyak/Hanty, Vogul/Mansi and Hungarian) forming a language chain with seven intermediate links separating Finnish and Hungarian at the opposite ends of this chain. This is not of little importance. If we look for the number of common words, only ab. 200 words with counterparts in Finnish can be found in Hungarian, but between Hungarian and the Vogul/Mansi the number is two times bigger, approximately 400 words, a significant number if you compare it to a vocabulary of 5-600 words used by an uneducated man from countryside.
The two hundred common words for both Finnish and Hungarian belong to the oldest stratum of the basic language representing staple words needed in everyday language and describing simple concepts: parts of the human body, family members, natural phenomena, elementary tools, hunting and fishing etc. The related words in Hungarian are not, of course, precisely similar to the corresponding Finnish words. During the separation of 4,500 years all sorts of modifications took place in both languages, both in phonetics and sometimes also in the meaning of the word. Loanwords from foreign languages also diversified the development of the sister languages, sometimes, however, leading to a common source in Latin, Germanic or Slavic languages even though being borrowed from different languages.
In addition to common words, one of the hardest feature to resist any changes has been the very structure of the language, the similarity of grammar, especially the similar system for inflection of words and deriving new words which gives the most important proof of a linguistical relationship, . Word endings are very typical to Finno-Ugric languages, they are much more common there than in Indo-Germanic languages. Even multiple endings can be attached to words making it possible to create words bearing a resemblance to an anaconda, like in Finnish t u n t e m a t t o m u u d e l l a n i ("ignorance-with-my", with my ignorance/unknowing) = Hung. t u d a t l a n s á g o d d a l **) or Finn. u i s k e n t e l e m a s s a, ("swimming-being-when", when doing the swimming) = Hung. ú s z k á l g a t v á n.
Waldemar Langlet, a Swedish author, who has lived in Hungary a long time just recently wrote an excellent travel book "Through Hungary in a Horse Carriage" in which he calls these words nice long railway carriages - with the ability to be multiply combined and finally joined into an endless train of words. He also makes a comment on the extreme difficulty to translate these derived words accurately into foreign languages, especially when they furthermore contain all sorts of word endings and possessive suffixes. These suffixes are appended to the end of a word both in Hungarian and in Finnish, although in another order, in Hungarian first the possessive suffix and then an inflective ending, e.g. v é r e m m e l ("blood-my-with") = Finn. v e r e l l ä n i ("blood-with-my", with my blood); Hung. m e n t e m b e n = suom. m e n n e s s ä n i ("go-during-my", when I go) or m e n t y ä n i ("went-after-my", after I went).
In addition to inflective endings most adverbial suffixes, called postpositions, come after the words, contrary to the prefixes, preceding the words, in Indo-Germanic languages. Examples of these words are, Finn. alla, päällä, keskellä (below, over, between) etc. = Hung. alatt, felett, között etc. There are usually three types of these postpositions corresponding to questions: where, where from, where to? They can even be appended with possessive suffixes e.g. Finn. allani, allasi, alleni (below-in-me, below-in-you, beneath-to-me) = Hung. alattam, alólam, alám.
Neither Hungarian nor Finnish make any difference with the genus, although some pronouns do recognize a difference between persons and non-humans, like Finn. ketä (whom) = Hung. kit, Finn. mitä (what) = Hung. mit. Personal pronouns are similar, Finn. me (we) = Hung. mi, Finn. te (you) = Hung. ti etc. - Differences in numerals are more common, even though they are similar in all Finno-Ugric languages. Especially, in Hungarian and in Vogul the numerals resemble each other. One of the typicalities to all Finno-Ugric languages is that they use nouns in singular after a numeral.
The stress is similar in both Finnish and Hungarian, i.e. the main stress is always on the first syllable, no exception is done even when there is a long second or third syllable, e.g. magyar (read: 'mudyar, not mud'yar), huszár, Aladár ('hoosar, 'Ahludahr, not hoo'sar, Ahlu'dahr). The accent sign in Hungarian (accent aigu) is not a sign for the stress, but only for signifying the length of the vowel, - making it not uncommon for a foreigner to mispronounce Hungarian words or names by setting a stress on a syllable which simply signals the wovel length.
One of the phonetical similarities between Hungarian and Finnish is vowel harmony, met both in Finno-Ugric and Ural-Altaic languages. Words consist of either back or front vowels. Later development in Finno-Ugric languages has slightly violated this harmony because of loan words, but in suffixes it still prevails, words with back vowels append endings or affixes with back vowels and those with front vowels correspondingly with front vowel suffixes, e.g. Finn. elä-köön (long live!) = Hung. é l - j e n, Finn. anta-koon (let him give) = Hung. a d - j o n, Finn. verellä (with blood) = Hung. v é r - r e l, Finn. kala-lla (the fish [has] ..) = Hung. h a l - l a l.
A Finnish speaker, even though he does not understand Hungarian, or vice versa, a Hungarian speaker with no knowledge about Finnish, is charmed by the fact that both in Hungarian and in Finnish the vowels and consonants are evenly distributed, in contrast with Slavic or Germanic languages in which heavily packed groups of consonants could be met. Three successive consonants could be considered as a rarity and in everyday speech one of them is usually removed, "swallowed". Two consonants in the beginning of a word exist only in loanwords, and often their effect is somehow smoothed, like s c o l a in Hungarian i s k o l a, and in Finnish k o u l u. The Slavic k r a l developed in Hungarian to k i r a l y (meaning king).
Finally I put out a few simple sentences in Finnish and in Hungarian for comparison:
Jég alatt télen eleven halak uszkálnak.
Jään alla talvella elävät kalat uiskentelevat.
(Ice under in-winter living fish swim = In wintertime living fish swim under the ice)
Kivistä verinen oli vävyn käsi.
Kövektől véres volt veje keze.
(By-stone bloody was brother-in-law's hand = Stones had made the brother-in-law's hand bloody.)
Árva szeme könnyel tele.
Orvon silmä kyyneliä täynnä.
(Orphan's eye tears full = The orphan's eye, full of tears).
Ken meni meidän edessämme?
Ki ment mi elöttünk?
(Who went us before? = Who went before us?)
Miniäni antoi voita.
Menyem adott vajat.
(Daughter-in-law-my gave butter = My daughter-in-law gave butter)
Although the number of common Finno-Ugric words is rather small in Hungarian, they are used in everyday language relatively more often, because the way to derive new words was and is based on the same ancient principle in Hungarian as well as in Finnish. This is not influenced by the large number of words loaned from other languages. In an ordinary Hungarian text the number of words with Finno-Ugric backgrounds reaches to appr. 80 percent. This percentage is maintained this high partly by neologisms formed this way, an enthusiastically tilled practise, which strengthens the unique nature of the language but, which, simultaneously, resists any attempts to widen its use in international context.
Published in "Finland-Hungary Album" (Suomi-Unkari Albumi), Ylioppilaitten Työ- ja Julkaisutoimisto, Helsinki 1935.
Dr. Gyula Weöres [dyoola vurash], b. 1899, was a lecturer in Hungarian at the University of Helsinki.
Translation (from Finnish) by Pauli Kruhse.
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