Let’s say hello to the stork: A little Hungarian linguistics by S. K.

On this blog not long ago (http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2009/08/saint-stephen-of-hungary.html) Eva wrote a short summary about St. Stephen and his times. Just the day before I was given a lengthy essay about the Indo-European origins of Hungarians, as opposed to the Finno-Ugric one, and to boot, an article in Népszabadság that relates how Jobbik demands that schoolbooks do away with the Finno-Ugric provenance of the nation once and for all. Not only that, there is a petition, signed by a few people already, ten of them even bearers of Dr. designation, and one of whom is a member of the Academy of Sciences. If the Jobbik is campaigning against the Finno-Ugric origins of the Hungarians then we can be sure there is something wrong with the alternative.

But first let us see what the complaint is. The movement to transfer Hungarians from an established, albeit quite small group of peoples to a larger, more mythical group, started some hundred years ago. This was not an auspicious beginning, more like a set of fables. (See for instance Mózes Gaál, Hun és magyar mondák.) These charming, actually irresistible stories for children have ruminated over a mixture of pseudo-historical tidbits from Gesta Hungarorum and actual folk tales. The purpose of these stories was never the refutation of actual scientific assertions about the origins but the introduction of mythology to children, and a national one at that.

At the same time, and even before, there was a concentrated effort on the part of the scientific community to glean some actual data about the origins of the language. Eventually, plentiful linguistic and historical proof was gathered to relate the Hungarian language to the Finno-Ugric group of languages. Present Hungarian vocabulary can be divided etymologically the following way: 21% Finno-Ugric, 20% Slavic, 11% German, 9.5% Turkic, 6% Latin and Greek, 2.5% Romance, and 30% uncertain. Anyone interested in a detailed description of the Hungarian language should consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_language  Thus the largest group of words in the Hungarian vocabulary whose origin is proven is the Finno-Ugric ones. But besides the vocabulary, there is a grammatical system to prove the relationship as well. It was a small, gray, unglamorous, rag-tag group, the Finno-Ugric, with wayward northern tribes consisting of a handful of constituents, but unprepossessing as it was, this was our group for better or for worse. Or was it?

The scholarship dedicated to discover and round out the provenance of the language had its beginnings in the 1230-1240s and culminated in the 1930s with the publication of irrefutable evidence by the linguists and historians of the day. Now, however, we have a new-old political formation, supported by a faceless mass of nameles people, who think otherwise. Their reason for dissent lies in the fact that the established scholarship was never challenged by the "Communists," in fact was even supported by them, and if they agreed then it can only be wrong. Also, this family of insignificant little languages is just not glorious enough, worthy of such an august nation as the Hungarian is. We "deserve" a better family. The supporters of this demand are more or less the same people who think that the world cannot afford to have a simple old Jew for a Messiah, so they are "working on" the establishment of some Parthus origin for a better, more "Aryan" redeemer.

The opponents of the Finno-Ugric "theory," as they refer to it, did not hesitate to call upon the newest and most advanced sciences to gather and boost their evidence. Last week I received an e-mail stuffed with this new kind of "evidence." The core of the claim is that a fairly recent genetic examination from the year 2000 asserts that over 60% of Hungarian males have a definite genetic marker identical to that of some proto-European people and the Ural-Altai people are completely devoid of this marker. (The study is quoted by Dr. Endre Czeizel in his book, The Genetics of Hungarians, from the magazine Science (Semino et al, "The Genetic Legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in Extant Europeans: A Y Chromosome Perspective," 2000.) I looked at this study as it is summarized in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_history_of_Europe) and found not a shred of evidence in it that could possibly support the outlandish claims of "better origins." The essay I received goes through all kinds of mental contortions to claim, based on the genetic indications, that the Hungarians could not possibly be anything but Indo-Europeans, that in fact they were in Europe 35-40,000 years ago already, well before the actual Indo-Europeans had arrived. Following that, of course, a lengthy chastisement  came to put the establishment science to its place: into the ditch.

I cannot stop marvelling that seemingly adult, intelligent people are willing to engage in such flimsy and superficial thinking. In their mad dash to interpret, I mean to misinterpret the already sketchy evidence, they lose sight of the fact that the genetic study never proposed to make any comparison with the Finns. But even if there were a difference between Finns and Hungarians, that would only prove a genetic, but not linguistic difference. The language of both may still belong to the Finno-Ugric group. The genetic data also point to a certain relationship between the Ukrainian and Slovak traces in Hungarians. This serves to the misinterpreters to claim Indo-European origins, no matter how inplausible that may be. It would not occur to them that the intervening thousand years were more than enough to introduce those genetic markers by frequent intermarriages.

There is also no surprise in the absence of any suggestion as to what would be the actual alternative origin of the Hungarian language, because a genetic test could not possibly suggest what the language was in proto-Europe 35,000 years ago. (Unless, of course, if it was the Hungarian language itself! Don't be surprised if that is what you hear next.)

We can easily recognize the usual method inasmuch as the madcap right is happily engaging in the most bizarre theories that are much less satisfactory to interpret the evidence than the established state of the art is, in order to serve their "mystical" purpose. The interpretation they propose is far less plausible than what we know already. Apparenly, the greasy, fish- and reindeer-smelling Finno-Ugric family is just not elegant enough for the tastes of this illiterate crowd. But the most obvious conclusion one can derive from these hairbrained attempts at fabrications is that Jobbik and its coterie are hellbent on intruding into every department of identity to undermine whatever they can find and turn it into the ideologically suitable mythology that would advance their cause. (How it would really advance anything is another mystery altogether, but to speculate about that is beyond my task today.) Their method is: attack often and attack early. If they could succeed in persuading the publishers of educational books to replace the Finno-Ugric "theory" of provenance with this mythological nonsense in their publications, then there is not too far to go before they suggest the next alteration, and the next again. And since they are also very busy in the arena of sex and morality, it won't take long before they might suggest replacing sex in the biology books with the Stork Theory of child birth.

The impending sea change in the Hungarian political scene keeps all guessing and quite scared. Nobody wants to stick their necks out. So it is not inconceivable that the book publishers may buckle under and if not as an exclusive explanation, but at least as an "alternative theory" may accommodate the proto-European origin theory at first, then go on to the Mesopotamian "visit theory," and then introduce the "Stork Theory" in their upcoming schoolbooks. I think it is time to get ready to say hello to the Stork.

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ovidiu
Guest

Hunagry is having an identity crisis, it may be a side effect of globalization.
Jobbik, in their noble but misguided effort to undo and then rebuild nation’s identity on more glorious and aristocratic foundations may actually succeed in only the first stage :the undoing.

L.T.
Guest
I am somewhat puzzled as I do not know what material S.K. refers to which allegedly tries to engross the Hungarians with the Indo-European language or racial group. On the contrary, the papers and theses I am familiar with emphatically state that Magyars got nothing to do with the Indo-Europeans, and particularly criticise the use of language tools that were developed by Indo-European linguists but do not apply to the agglutinating languages. This is one of the reasons that Hunsdorfer and his cabal ended up making the mess they did with the Hungarian language after 1867. The other point I make is that the style that S.K uses reminds me of the well-worn style used by the former Szabad Nep and its successor papers, where the thesis that that was being criticised was broadbrushed in general diatribes. Where intentional misinterpretations were spiked into the argument which then could be triumphantly debunked. I would have preferred to see point by point discussion of the statements being reviewed in this “review”. I do not beleive that the Hungarians are striving to acquire for themselves a nobler and more aristocratic lineage, that they do not deserve. The Hungarians are interested in scientific facts… Read more »
Sandor
Guest
Well, dear L.T., the “well-researched alternatives,” which I must acknowledge I received thanks to you, inspired me to the somewhat ironic tone I could not resist using. It is such a cock and bull story that the Academy is suppressing legitimate research. Paper and press, not to mention the internet, is widely available, there is no obstacle other then the author’s own clumsiness in the way of publishing whatever research and discovery. (The Academy is pretty well restricted to use the same means for propagating its own publications as well.) The fact however, is that there is such low credibility accorded to this kind of woodoo linguistics and history that it cannot garner the attention it craves. On my shelf proudly nested is Albert Fejér’s book: Arvisurák, since 1980. (Published by the author, a member of the Hungarology Institute, Toronto). This book has devoted 456 pages of impenetrable text to the “truth” and the world had twenty nine years to consider it. Results are zero. It is not reasonable to call the established school of thought “unfounded theory,” because that is supported by at least hundred and fifty years of research and its results. You could say though that al… Read more »
ovidiu
Guest

@It is such a cock and bull story that the Academy is suppressing legitimate research.
Do they also supress the American, British, French etc. research and publications ?
If so they must be powerful indeed since the foreign academics agree with the Hungarian ones on this issue
(and yet they disagree with the Hungarians on some others which they regard politically biased).

leila
Guest

Hi
i need a hungarian etymological dictionary
is it possible to find in pdf form? or at all!

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