Back to Hungarian linguistics. Today: All a word can say

The Hungarian language is frugal with words. The Hungarian translation of an English text is sure to have a lower word count than the original. That is because Hungarian tends to pack as much into a word as it can.

The classic example is the sentence: “He uttered three words: I love you!”

If you translate this into Hungarian word for word, hilarity ensues.

The Hungarian for “I love you” is “szeretlek”. One word.

“He uttered three words: szeretlek!” Nah, that doesn’t work.

How to pack so much into one word? First of all – this is the less unique part – Hungarian conjugates verbs in a more differentiated manner. In English the verb in “I love” and “you love” is the same, so you need pronouns. Hungarian verbs look different in every person.

In “szeretlek” the -k shows that it is me who is speaking, so I don’t need to say that again. But where’s the part that shows that the object is “you”?

That is much more interesting.

The conjugated forms of Hungarian verbs like to show what the object is. On a basic level they tell you whether the object is definite or indefinite.

“Szeretek” and “szeretem” both mean ‘I love’, but the first comes with an indefinite object and the second with definite.

“Szeretek egy férfit” = ‘I love a man’

“Szeretem azt a férfit” = ‘I love that man”

All verbs have indefinite and definite conjugations. Our linguistic sense is honed to this, so much so that while there is a group of verbs…

… for which first person singular definite and indefinite are identical:

“Eszem a levest” = ‘I’m eating the soup’

“Eszem egy levest” = ‘I’m eating a soup’

these sound so irregular that informal language has created the form:

“Eszek egy levest”

This counts as sloppy language you shouldn’t use in writing, and purists call it incorrect, but rather than a mistake it is a logical development. No one would say “Eszek a levest*” That would just be wrong.

Anyway, back to LOVE ❤️❤️❤️

Besides showing whether the object is definite or indefinite, verbs can also show that the object is YOU. They do so via an -l- stuck between the root and the suffix.

“Eszlek” means ‘I’m eating you’

And “szeretlek” means ‘I love you!!!’ 😍😍😍

Unfortunately (or fortunately for language learners) there are no similar forms for all grammatical persons. “Szeretem,” the definite form, of course contains the third person singular object in itself. But “I love you” with a plural “you” is “szeretlek titeket”…

...and “I love them” is “szeretem őket” – you need pronouns.

But the end of the thread is here, so we come to the most important phrase.

“I love the Hungarian language” is:

“Szeretem a magyar nyelvet!”

I hope you will all have this memorised!

/The end

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More from @NVeszpremi

18 Oct
Part Two of our exploration of the formal and informal you in Hungarian: maga

No, this hasn’t got anything to do with Trump. “Maga” is a Hungarian pronoun. A form of formal you.

The less polite one.

The previous thread – linked here – showed how formal forms of address can still reflect asymmetrical social relations in Hungarian.

One of these is the teacher–student relationship. As we have seen, teachers, in school and at university, ...


…are addressed as “Tanár Úr / Tanárnő” = ‘Mr/Ms Teacher’. This form of address is used in place of the “you” pronoun (followed by a verb in 3rd pers sing), even if you have to repeat it multiple times in a conversation.

The teacher, however, just calls the student “maga”.

Read 12 tweets
17 Oct
This week in the fascinating world of the Hungarian language: informal and formal you.

I know I’ve said that Hungarian is actually simple. And it is.

Except for formal you. Aargh. The most exasperating issue in the Hungarian language.

Be glad you’re not Hungarian teenagers learning to navigate this in real life. *That’s* a distressing situation to be in.

As a Twitter lesson, however, it might be an interesting topic. One that will require multiple threads…

But let’s start.

Using separate pronouns for informal and formal “you” is not unique to Hungarian. If you speak German or French, you will be familiar with the duality of du/Sie or tu/vous.

Duality. Oh, if we just had two. Oh, I wish.

Read 14 tweets

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