Hungarian is one of the few non-Indo-European languages in Europe with a large number of speakers. There is a common belief that it is one of the most difficult languages in the world. In many cases this belief is supported by Hungarians themselves. However, a lot of foreigners trying to master the language think the same. This is mainly explained by uniqueness and remoteness of the Hungarian language from others. Here is one of the recently popular images in this regard.
The picture shows that, being part of the Finno-Ugric language family, Hungarian is quite a remote and rare phenomenon, at least form a lexical standpoint. In fact, as I noticed by the comments on the above picture in Facebook, this is considered as another proof on “why Hungarian is so difficult”. This claim is also generally shared among the Russian-speaking community in Budapest. Since I belong to the group, and am keen on foreign languages, I would like to prove quite the opposite: Hungarian language is much closer to Russian that one may think. In particular, this is visible from Hungarian lexicon, or vocabulary. There are many more words of Slavic origin in Hungarian than it may seem.
Before giving evidence though, I would like to make a short historical note. Such historical background will help understand the connection between Hungarian and Russian, as well as other Slavic languages. As they say, one cannot fully understand the present, nor predict the future, without understanding the past.
Around 900-1000 B.C. Hungarian tribes moved from the regions of Siberia and Ural mountains (present Russia) to the Pannonian plain (flat area along the Danube river), as well to the Carpathian region, namely Transylvania (present Romania). The tribes that moved had to compete for resources with the Slavs (from the north and south), the Germans (from the West) and the Romanians (the Wallachs) from the East. As a result of the contacts with all these peoples the Hungarians, as well as the Romanians, adopted many of the Slavic lexical elements, which now constitute one fifth of the Hungarian language. The map below is a vivid illustration that the Slavic influence onto the Hungarian territories was inevitable.
In the period between 1541 and 1699 the majority of Hungarians lived under the Turkish dominance. The Turkic influence in Hungarian became quite strong. After becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the German influence became predominant. In addition, there were borrowings from the Latin and Greek languages after adoption of Christianity. However, the neighboring Slavic communities had the biggest influence on the Hungarian language, Approximately the same influence came only from the Uralic languages spoken at the “territory of origin” of the Hungarian tribes.
In the next part I propose to look at specific examples of the Hungarian words originated in the Slavic languages, and Russian in particular.