Critical writings on Pál Schmitt’s constitutional ideas (I)

The first person who raised her voice was Klára Sándor, a linguist and former member of parliament (SZDSZ). She has a great sense of humor, which she could amply demonstrate in this case. She makes stupendous fun of Pál Schmitt. If possible, I recommend reading it in the original because of the verbal jokes she makes.

Zsófia Mihancsik didn't dwell on the "linguistic chapter" of Schmitt's theses, most likely because she wanted to have an expert comment on them. Surely she was counting on Klára Sándor, a member of the Galamus Group. Well, it came and it is hilarious. The upshot is that "the cultivation of language" (nyelvművelés) is not really part of the work of a linguist who believes that "the language should be left alone." Don't try to defend it from its enemies who in the eyes of the "cultivators" seem to be its very speakers. Language cultivators are compared to scientists who claim that the world is flat; they go against the natural development of language.

She points out that there were periods in modern Hungarian history when the cultivation of language was included in the activities of linguists, but these times were usually marked by heightened nationalism (the 1870s and after). Or during the communist period, when it was supposed to serve socialist patriotism. According to Sándor in western linguistic circles it is a commonplace that "language cultivation is the last bastion of open discrimination"; it is called "linguicism." She brings up as an example the Slovak language law that included punishment for wrong usage in the Slovak language.

Sándor claims that "language cultivation" is especially prevalent in times of centralization or times when one party has a dominant position. At the time of ethnic discrimination in the 1930s, language cultivation was called "language purification," during the communist era "unification of the language," while in the soft dictatorship "language cultivation with a human face." Therefore, Sándor finds it perfectly logical that, at a time when the country is supposed to think as one, language cultivation is moving center stage. 

What does Schmitt suggest be included in the constitution? (1) The Hungarian language is a basic (national) treasure of the Hungarian Republic. (2) The Hungarian Republic with all the instruments at its disposal supports (must support) all the efforts for the cultivation and protection of the Hungarian language. (3) The cultivation, protection, and development of the Hungarian language is a basic duty of the state.

As for the first suggestion, it is hard to figure out what to do with it unless the state wants to set up a language law, something similar to the Slovak one. As for the second, Sándor sees a renewal of the language cultivation of the 30s and 50s all the way to the end of the Kádár regime, until "those books and articles written in cursed foreign languages" reached the Hungarian public and linguists realized that what some of their colleagues were doing had nothing to do with linguistics. But if Schmitt's suggestions are followed, the mistaken notion of language cultivation will be elevated to the level of the written constitution. Such a move could result in setting up a language police who would bar foreign words from the vocabulary. Instead of e-mail (emil), one would have to use "villanyposta," instead of blog "villanynapló," instead of marketing "piacozás" and so on. (Actually such attempts were made during the first Orbán government when they passed a law that made it compulsory to use Hungarian words in store fronts. The law since died a quiet death.) As for the third point, one really wonders what that could possibly mean in practice. Will cabinet meetings begin by going through all the grievous mistakes made against the purity of the Hungarian language? Will it mean setting up language-cultivating institutes?

Language is a very important instrument: "the controlling, the imprisonment, the extermination of our thoughts can be achieved only through language." For example, take this sentence found in Schmitt's proposal: "Our mother tongue creates a sentimental solder between Hungarian and Hungarian regardless of where they live on the globe."

Let's stop here at the "sentimental solder." In the original: "érzelemrokonító forraszték." What is a forraszték? What especially is érzelemrokonító forraszték? A Hungarian today is baffled because we no longer have such a word as "forraszték." We can guess that is has something to do with soldering, but in today's Hungarian it is called "forrasztás." No wonder that Klára Sándor became suspicious and looked around on the "net, not the világháló," as she pointedly made clear! And behold, she found three references to "forraszték." In a manifesto published in Debrecen on May 1849 against the Russian army that had just invaded Hungary at the request of Franz Joseph I. In a German-Hungarian mining glossary from 1872 as the translation of Endlötung which means solder.

But Sándor found the strange combination of "érzelemrokonító forraszték" in one of Lajos Kossuth's speeches addressed to the members of the Diet on March 3, 1848. Kossuth used the expression to describe his belief that the "future of our dynasty depends on the unification of the empire's various nationalities which can be achieved only through the creation of a constitutional state which in turn will create a soldering effect among ethnic groups." A rough translation, but this is what Kossuth most likely had in mind. Quite a difference between Kossuth's message of unity of purpose of different nationalities and the exclusive "soldering" of sentiments between Hungarian and Hungarian. No wonder that Klára Sándor finished her article saying "Poor, poor Lajos Kossuth, poor, poor bourgeois state and liberal democracy."

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Like many on the left, I have a conservative soul, and I actually agreed with Fidesz’s worries about the language. Minority languages DO need help to survive. For instance, Welsh (which is as unique and ‘difficult’ as Hungarian to most Europeans) was on the verge of dying out, as it was mainly spoken only by older people in country areas. But this danger was recognised just in time and steps were taken to promote the language. At first this was on a pressure group basis, but eventually official measures were taken as well (encouragement for children to learn Welsh, teaching in Welsh, Welsh TV and radio stations, etc). And, now Wales effectively has its own government, support and promotion of the languages is now built into state and ‘constitution’. And the result of all this is very impressive. This has all happened in my lifetime, and I can clearly remember as a child not knowing we had passed into Wales when on holiday – both sides of the border looked and felt entirely English. But now, 40 years later, you know as soon as you cross the border that you are in a different (and in some ways quite ‘foreign’)… Read more »

Mark, thanks for the lengthy an thoughtful comments and I am sure you will forgive if I take a closer look at the red herring aspect of the subject.
If a language is in danger of extinction it may merit the protection of law, but there is hardly any law imaginable that could save the language, unless the people who use it keep on using it.
Your assertion that the Welsh don’t care as much for theirs as the Hungarians do is a bit of a lark, considering that there is a Welsh revival for many decades now in Wales, the language was returned to the schools and it is protected by law now, only because the Welsh nationalists insisted on that. So, the language is revived by concensus.
However, the Hungarian language is in no danger of extinction. Nor is the Hungarian people. Given the age old reluctance of Hungarians against learning languages, wouldn’t you wonder what language will Hungarians speak if their language falls into obscurity, while they failed to learn an other?
This whole thing is a red herring, an additional outlet for gratuitous nationalism without one iota of benefit for anyone, except for those conjuring it up.


Sandor, much as I appreciate the honour of being mistaken for Mark, I am in fact just me.
As for my “assertion that the Welsh don’t care as much for their language…”, I made no such assertion. I simply reported the fact that Welsh remains very much a minority language in Wales, despite all that has been done to revive and protect it.
The Welsh (or many of them, at least) certainly care a lot for their language. Unfortunately most of them never bother to try to learn it beyond what they are taught at school.
I also didn’t say that the Hungarian language was in any dager of extinction. That wasn’t the point of my post at all.