Do you speak English?

This is one of the first phrases you learn in English or any other language you are trying to master. It is widely accepted that learning a foreign language gives you a number of advantages, from getting to know a new culture and making friends abroad, to getting a new professional skill and becoming more in-demand in the ever-changing world. I would call all these instrumental benefits, as each of them is related to a specific area: culture, communication, professional development, job market, etc. However, there is another great yet underestimated plus in speaking a language different from you mother tongue. I would call this a metaphysical advantage, that is the one related to the world outlook and worldview.

The main idea is that any language is not just a communication bridge. It is a door to another people’s mentality and world description. Linguists confirm that every language is a reflection of the world view of those who speak it.  And this is not only about every-day practical (material) things known as language realities. For example, such as kolkhoz, borhch, sarafan in Russian, rancho, cowboy, Yankee in American English, samurai, kimono, harakiri in Japanese, and so on and so forth. Language realities reflect things of the material culture only. More than than, each language entails a unique way of perception and interpretation of the outside world. In other words, we can speak about language world views that derive from national mentalities.

To give a quick example, in Russian goose (a type of bird) is associated with self-important and roguish people, in English it is associated with richness and silliness. Compare “important goose” in Russian and “the goose that lays the golden eggs” or “as sіlly as a goose” in English.

Another difference in the language world views is displayed in the attitude towards home. The English say: “An Englіshman’s home іs hіs castle.” This phrase not only reflects the English attitude towards property, but also the people’s life philosophy and national character. In contrast, Russian dom can both denote English ‘house’ as building, but also ‘home’ as a hearth or domicile. In other words, the concept behind the Russian word ‘dom’ is wider in its meaning and usage than the English house.

The examples above demonstrate a well-known principle of evaluating your foreign language skills: you become a true language-speaker once you start thinking the language.

To make a conclusion, a well-known Ukrainian poet, translator and academician Maksym Rylsky once said: “The more language you know, the more times you are a man.” One does not not need to be a polyglot at all. However, adding another language to our portfolios will definitely broaden our horizons. Also, however paradoxical it may be, it will help us see that there is much more in common between different nations that it may seem.

Hungarian and Russian: strangers or relatives? (Conclusion)

It is now time to make conclusions based on the previous discussion.

Conclusion 1. Since Hungarian had a big influence from the Slavic languages, Hungarian and Russian (as well as other Slavic languages) are much closer than it may seem at first sight. This can be a good motivation for studying Hungarian by the Slavic peoples.

Conclusion 2. Of course, similar parallels can be drawn between Hungarian and other languages. This is normal as languages are open systems, i.e. they interact with the other languages out there.

Conclusion 3. This small research proves again that association is a powerful tool in learning any foreign language. As generally accepted, the other two are impression and repetition.

Conclusion 4. We are more related to one another that it seems. Linguistic relation is just another piece of evidence for that.

Conclusion 5. And finally, learning languages is fun!

Köszönöm szépen!

Большое спасибо!

Hungarian and Russian: strangers or relatives? (Part 3)

As already noted, 20% of the Hungarian words are of Slavic origin (Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Polish, etc.). The previous post gave some examples classified into several “language-based categories”. In addition, a “life-based” approach can be used to highlight similarities between the two languages.  Let’s have a look at just some of these Slavic borrowings. Again, I will take a Hungarian word first, compare it with Russian, and provide English equivalent at the end.

Agriculture and cattle breeding

mák – mak – poppt seed
len – lyon – flax
széna – seno – hay
málna – malina – raspberry
bárány – baran – sheep

Animals and birds

medve – medved – bear
vidra – vydra – otter
kakukk – kukushka – cuckoo
galamb – golub – pigeon
varjú – vorona – crow
veréb – vorobei – sparrow

Household utensils

kazán – kazan – pot
kasza – kosa – meak
borona – borona – harrow
gereblye – grabli – rake
vödör – vedro – bucket
polc – polka – shelf


molnár – melnik – millner
takács – tkach – weaver
kovács – kusnez (kovat) – smith (to forge)
pék – pekar – baker

Days of the week

szerda – sreda – Wednesday
csütörtök – chetverg – Thursday
péntek – pyatnitsa – Friday
szombat – subota – Saturday


sapka – shapka – hat
szarafánok – sarafan – tunic
szoknya – sukno – skirt (HU), cloth (RU)


király – korol – king

Again, the list can go for on an on, but this already gives an illustration.

Hungarian and Russian: strangers or relatives? (Part 2)

To recap, the “Hungarian and Russian” post series is targeted at:

1) Russian (and other Slavic) speakers who find themselves lost among the complexities of Hungarian;
2) language-minded individuals who like to draw parallels between remote, at first sight, languages and language families;
3) anyone who believes that we are all brothers, and the Earth is our common home 🙂

Part 1 introduced the thesis that Hungarian and Russian have much more in common that it may seem, in particular with regards to lexicon. Parts 2 and 3 will give specific lexical examples – via two separate approaches – to demonstrate this. I will name the first approach ‘language-based’, and the second one ‘life-based’. So let’s have a look at the first approach.

Since I started learning Hungarian, I have noticed that in many cases Hungarian words may sound similar to Russian or old Russian ones. I am not talking about the foreign and borrowed words that sound the same or almost the same in all languages. Instead, I mean the native words here. From a language-based perspective, I would classify them as follows.

1) Words that have interchange of letters or additional vowels between consonants. (NB: In the examples below I will first write a Hungarian word, then a Russian transcribed equivalent, and finally the English translation).

asztal – stol – table
kereszt – krest – cross
szilva – sliva – plum
kulcs – klyuch – key
barát – brat – friend (HU), brother (RU)
vihar – vihr strong wind
tiszta – cshistyi – clean
csuka – shchuka – pike
dolog  – dolg – thing (HU), debt (RU)
molnár – melnik – miller
takács – tkach – weaver
ebéd – obed – lunch
csoda – chudo – miracle
csipetnyi – shchepotka – pinch

2) Words with omitted vowels or shortened forms.

drága – dorogoi – expensive
zöld – zelyoniy – green
utca – ulitsa – street
málna – malina – raspberry
medve – medved – bear
cékla – svekla – beet-root
kocsma – korchma (UKR) – pub
szerda – sreda – Wednesday
por – poroshok – powder

3) Words with identical phonetics.

Cukor – tsukor (UKR) – sugar
cél – tsel – goal
sapka – shapka – hat
mák – mak – poppy seed
bárány – baran – sheep

4) Words that have a similar meaning. (NB: here words are given in pairs Hungarian – English)

csunya – ugly (old Russian ‘chunya’ means ‘ugly’)
kutya – dog (old Russian ‘kutyata‘ means “little puppies”)
kívánni – wish (Russian ‘kivat’ means ‘to bow’; so Hungarian “Jó reggelt kívánok” (“Good morning”), for example, can be understood in Russian as “I am greeting you with a bow”)
ablak – window (Russian ‘oblako’ means ‘cloud’)
piszkos – dirty (Russian ‘pesok’ means ‘sand’)
család – family (Russian ‘chelyad’ means ‘group of close people’)
homlok – forehead (Russian ‘homut’ means ‘collar’)
cápa – shark (Russian ‘tsapat’ means ‘to bite’)
bátor – brave (old Russian ‘bogatyr’ means ‘athlete’)
puha – soft (Russian ‘puh’ means “fur hair”)
vacsorázni – have dinner (Russian ‘vecser’ means ‘evening’)
barlang – cave (Russian ‘berloga’ means ‘den’)

This is not an extensive list of course; it can be literally extended forever. The idea is just to give an understanding, via the language-based approach, of the similarities between the two languages.

In the next part I will show more similarities between Hungarian and Russian by means of another classification – the so-called life-based approach.

Hungarian and Russian: strangers or relatives? (Part 1)

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.