Language can be tricky: A return to László Kövér’s speech

Klára Sándor, a former SZDSZ member of parliament and a linguist by profession, has been writing a series of articles on language. She was most likely inspired by Pál Schmitt's efforts at becoming the guardian of Hungarian. Her latest article was on bilingualism, which she defines with reference to someone who lives in a different linguistic environment from his original language. The professional definition of bilingualism thus differs from our everyday notion of it. According to Sándor, a person in a bilingual environment doesn't even have to know his/her second language well for the second language to make its mark on the first regardless of the level of expertise in either language.

The usual examples, also cited by Sándor, are the speech patterns of early, uneducated Hungarian immigrants in the United States who ended up speaking a mixture of Hungarian and English, Hunglish. But the influence of one language on another doesn't have to be that blatant. Let me recount my own experience with the words uttered by László Kövér concerning those Hungarian politicians in the neighboring countries who collaborate with the majority political elite of the countries in which they live. Let me repeat what I had to say about this a few days ago: 

Hungary's task is to strengthen those connective tissues that have been weakened in the last ninety years or so. "The political elites of the successor states purposely want to break these connections." It is not only the Romanian and the Slovak politicians who want to weaken the Hungarian minority but "also those political forces that collaborate with the majority politicians. These people claim to be Hungarians but in reality they don't represent them in the political decision-making forums. In fact, they serve the interests of the majority political elite."

In brief, Hungarian politicians who take part in the political life of their countries are traitors to the Hungarian cause. Any kind of cooperation with majority parties is sinful in Kövér's eyes. But where would such an attitude lead?  Certainly not to peaceful coexistence! But to brutes this very concept is utterly alien.

It turned out that I really didn't grasp the seriousness of this statement because of a misunderstanding of the Hungarian word "kollaboráns" which Kövér used as an adjective. This construction could be translated only as those people who "collaborate with the majority politicians" In English. But  "to collaborate" can mean one of two things: (1) to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort, or (2) to cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one's country. As it turned out, "kollaboráns," the word Kövér used, unlike the English "collaborator," has only one meaning: "a person who collaborates with the occupying forces" or "a traitor." The English usage overshadowed its Hungarian counterpart in my mind: the same international word is used differently in the two languages.

Thus Kövér looks upon the Slovak and Romanian politicians as representatives of an occupying force and the Hungarian politicians who cooperate with them as traitors.

And here we come to another word he used: "utódállamok," meaning "successor states." My first thought when reading it was that this word is no longer used in Hungary; then I decided that it most likely didn't belong in my linguistic analysis of his speech. After all, in English historical writings the phrase "successor states" in connection with the nation states formed out of the remnants of Hungary is used all the time. However, it seems that my initial gut feeling was correct. This word is avoided in Hungary and therefore Kövér's use of it caught the attention of some of the commentators. Some people came to the conclusion that Kövér's speech was a revisionist outburst given his use of the words "kollaboráns" and "utódállamok." I personally find the former more weighty, but perhaps that's because as a historian I'm very used to the latter.

All in all, I was far too kind to László Kövér, and I wonder how far the Hungarian government can go in this vein before there will be a very serious clash between Hungary and the "successor states." Of course, it is possible that Kövér's talk is simply not being taken seriously. Yesterday, for example, Béla Bugár, the chairman of the Hungarian-Slovak Híd-Most party, just laughed when he was interviewed on the subject by György Bolgár. He said that the whole thing is such nonsense that there is no need to waste time on it. On the other hand, "the occupying forces," that is the Romanian and Slovak governments, might not be so forgiving as the "collaborator" was.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Johnny Boy
Guest

“Thus Kövér looks upon the Slovak and Romanian politicians as representatives of an occupying force and the Hungarian politicians who cooperate with them as traitors.”
This is a clear falsification again.
Collaborating, in the negative sense of the word, does not mean an occupying force, it merely means cooperating with a hostile actor. And, since most Romanian and Slovakian political actors are hostile towards Hungarians, Kövér is perfectly right as always.
Stop falsifying clear and unambiguous text!

Paul
Guest

It’s actually pretty much the same in (UK) English. To ‘collaborate’ can either be neutral and seen as not much different to ‘cooperate’, or, in some contexts (say when discussing Nazi occupied Europe), it can be a very loaded term.
But the word ‘collaborator’ invariably carries the connotations of someone acting treasonably. I might collaborate with another person or group to achieve some perfectly reasonable aim, but if someone then referred to me as a collaborator, I would be at least puzzled, if not offended.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“On the other hand, “the occupying forces,” that is the Romanian and Slovak governments, might not be so forgiving as the “collaborator” was.”
And here you failed again, miserably. No matter how much you root for Slovak politicians against Hungary, they retreated: they just agreed to change the law on language use and delete the resolution that those who assume Hungarian citizenship must lose the Slovakian.
So I guess that’s a victory for Hungarian diplomacy? I have no doubts that you will downplay or outright deny it but despite that it is true.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Paul: and who cares if those Slovaks who are rightfully hit by this word will be offended? Are they right to enter a law in force that deprives those of the Slovakian citizenship who assume the Hungarian one?
Where on Earth do you see an example of anything like that, save for one paranoid child of a country in central Europe?

Member

@Johnny “it merely means cooperating with a hostile actor.”
On what territory? Hungarian or Romanian? If that is Hungarian territory then it sounds like occupation to me (I’m sure all the turul troopers agree). If it is Romanian land, then .. wtf is your problem?

Paul
Guest

“Paul: and who cares if those Slovaks who are rightfully hit by this word will be offended? Are they right to enter a law in force that deprives those of the Slovakian citizenship who assume the Hungarian one?
Where on Earth do you see an example of anything like that, save for one paranoid child of a country in central Europe?”
Eh??

GW
Guest
Johnny, Many European countries do not allow dual citizenship. Germany, for example, requires that anyone naturalized to German citizenship must give up their original passport. (and this is not only true for Europe – Indonesia’ for one, has the same requirement.) While there are cases — i.e. if a child has parents with differing citizenship — where dual citizenship is accepted in practice by such polities, if one believes in the principle of the nation-state, then one cannot accept dual citizenship as it is uncertain to which state such persons will be loyal. For instance, will a dual citizen reliably vote in the best interests of one country in the elections of another? What of taxation, military service, etc..? You cannot, on the one hand, have Kövér basically calling for ethnic Hungarians abroad to be loyal to the Hungarian state while on the other hand insist that they be able retain citizenship in their home country as well as the Hungarian and expect that that other country tolerate the presence of people who Kövér has essentially demanded that they form a third column. The fact that this discussion is taking place 65 years after the end of WWII and more… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

“The fact that this discussion is taking place 65 years after the end of WWII and more than 90 after the end of WWI is ridiculous and a painful, wasteful distraction from dealing with issues of substance in Hungary.”
Absolutely. And yet one of my Hungarian FB friends found it necessary to pose this question just yesterday:
Örülne, ha Szlovákia magyarlakta vidékei visszakerülnének Magyarországhoz?
Would you be happy if the the Hungarian-speaking provinces in Slovakia were returned to Hungary?
Wasted energy, when so much else needs to be done.

GW
Guest

Pete,
It’s almost painful that no Hungarians on FB are asking:
“Would you be happy if Hungary was creating jobs so that ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia (Romania, Serbia, Ukraine) were eager to cross the border to work and live in Hungary?”

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Peter H you wrote ** “”The fact that this discussion is taking place 65 years after the end of WWII and more than 90 after the end of WWI is ridiculous and a painful, wasteful distraction from dealing with issues of substance in Hungary.” **. This whole episode in Hungarian History brings into sharp focus the ‘mea non culpare’ attitude of the Hungarians towards their own doings. They are never to blame for anything. It is always someone else’s fault. I wrote about a local school where I was paying my step grandson’s school fees. Despite all the references etc on the documents being correct, because my name is not the same as step grandsons they cannot find any of the money. It is my fault and I will have to pay the lot again in cash. I smell a rat here! If any Hungarian Government since 1920 put 1/5th of the effort into developing Hungary that it spent moaning, groaning, plotting, etc. to undo the past. It would be a jolly side better off than it is now. The latest trick they are trying to pull is in the New Hungarian Constitution. It denies the legality of all acts… Read more »
NWO
Guest

I suspect that he is very serious about what he meant. I also do not think his views are completely shared by all of FIDESZ. Regardless, the good news is that the words are impotent. He can upset people across the borders, but this Government (even if were inclined) cannot really do anything. Bugar is correct.

Johnny Boy
Guest

GW: you “forgot” to mention that none of what you write applies to the European Union, that is, if someone in Germany takes up another EU member country’s citizenship, (s)he naturally DOES NOT LOSE the German.
Mutt Damon: are you really asking me WTF my problem is with Slovaks and Romanians being hostile to Hungarians on the Hungarians’ own fatherland?
Are you serious?
Blind Odin: “I would trust our good professor who has had some 55 years to the exposure to the English language to make a good, true and understandable translation.”
Lesson one: never trust a counter-interested party or person to translate something (s)he is violently hostile to.

Paul
Guest

Lesson two – learn your own lessons.

Johnny Boy
Guest

No Paul, I’m a lot more objective than the extremely biased and belligerent Eva.

Member

@Johnny “Romanians being hostile to Hungarians on the Hungarians’ own fatherland”
In this case it IS occupation in your terms, right? Foreign rule on our soil. Ergo those pesky “collaborators” are doing their collaborating things “with an enemy occupation force”, n’est-ce pas? Sorry if you find this splitting hair, but you accused Eva of “falsification”.

GW
Guest

Johnny Boy,
you’re absolutely wrong. If someone acquires German citizenship through naturalization, they must turn in their passport and if Germany determines that you have subsequently received a new passport from your initial country, then the German citizenship is revoked.

Guest

Johnny Boy, as usual you are wrong!
If a German living in Greece for example wants Greek citizenship – then it’s ok.
The German Constitutional Court made a similar decision:
If a Greek citizen living in Germany for x years (that’s necessary condition and there are others!) wants German citizenship then he can get it and keep his Greek citizenship – since the Greek state treats Germans living in Greece in the same way …
But there is no chance for someone with a Greek passport living in Greece to just say: Hey I want German citizenship now …
Even if his grandparents were German!
PS: In the EU of the 21st century the whole issue is stupid anyway – the strange point is that Hungary (or rather Fidesz) decided on this law unilaterally without any consultations – though it concerns citizens of another country …

Wondercat
Guest

@German-citizenship discussion: A colleague whose parents and grandparents fled Germany – they were Jews, it was the 1930s – was born in South Africa, lived as a young adult in Israel, now lives in the United States, and has shown me his German passport. What other passports does he hold? Quite the array of choice… I shall enquire of him and report.
@Paul: I refer without shame in submitting my expenses to evenings at the theatre with collaborators. In bioscience, persons who work together are collaborators, full stop. A small corner of the language in which no sanction adheres to the term, perhaps.

blondé
Guest

A bilingual is a person able to express himself/herself in two languages. There are lots of sub-definitions and criteria do vary, but the most commonly used is the one of a bilingual “proper” – a person who was raised in a bilingual environment from birth onwards. Out of its 99.8% of the population active L1 speakers of Hungarian in Hungary only 6.2 % have acquired it as a second or foreign language. Comparing this with the percentage of the minority groups whose mother tongue is not Hungarian gives you an idea just how hypocritical this latest stance on the bilingualism in neighboring countries is.
Linguistically speaking, the evidence on stronger than previously assumed influence of second language on the acquisition of the mother tongue is there, but it was misinterpreted- there are no studies that link bilingualism to either supposed delay of speech development or the impared linguistic competence in L1 in adulthood. Quite to the contrary, bilingual speakers are proven to be inherently more sensitive to the patterns of speech and capable of learning even more languages later on in life with much less effort.

GW
Guest

Wondercat:
Your colleague was entitled to Germany citizenship from birth as the parents were citizens; your colleague was not a naturalized German citizen. Dual citizenship from birth is not unusual in Israel (Israel, unlike Germany, does not require giving up ones passport when naturalizing). The US citizenship was likely acquired under the US naturalization program which also does no require giving up the other citizenship.
There are many new German citizens in the last decade (since the reform of the immigration law) who have thought that they could simply reapply for their passports from their original countries only to discover later that they have forfeit their German citizenship in doing so. After spending 15 of the last 20 years in Germany, I could have German citizenship immediately if I wanted, but doing so would mean formally giving up my US, so I haven’t done that.

Kirsten
Guest

blonde, I am bilingual with fairly good knowledge of both languages and I would suspect that interference cannot be fully eliminated. I know that people are very critical, and I know this specific interest of monolingual people who only wait for a slip of the tongue to prove that bilingualism leads to “confusion” (while people who can stammer only in one language are never considered to be “confused” by this language). But I think it is fair to accept that interference is possible. (It also happens that people start to use e.g. Anglicisms even without being bilingual; German is full of it.) The problem is that if you have only one strong language (and only one passport), you fit better into the idea of clearly separated nations and nation states. Criticism of bilingualism is then criticism of “an uncertain national loyalty”, which is quite “confusing”, not only in Hungary with regard to the Hungarians in the neighbouring states.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Let me say a few words about the Treaty of Trianon and the considerations behind the details. Originally the Wilsonian self-determination principle wasn’t supposed to be a punishment for the countries that lost the war. It was a somewhat naive theory that imagined that Europe, especially its eastern part, can be neatly divided along ethnic lines. Of course, as we know from the many ethnic maps of the region this was not the case. So, even if the original Wilsonian principles had been applied there couldn’t have been a “fair” division of the area. But it was clear that after four years of very costly, both financially and in human terms, war the winners wanted to be rewarded. Moreover, there had been prior arrangements made. For example, the Entente made commitments to Romania in order to entice her to enter the war on their side. Similar commitments were made to the Czech politicians who had left Austria-Hungary shortly after the outbreak of the war in the hope of influencing the Great Powers in the favor of a creation of an entirely new state out of the Czech lands and the Slovak-inhabited areas of Hungary. It was clear from the beginning… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Eva, would you mind posting the same text also in the other thread on Laszlo Köver’s speech? I think that the debate on Trianon was more extensive there and perhaps somebody gets back to that thread.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Mutt.
What is so difficult in interpreting so basic text? I can’t get more basic than that.
“Romanians being hostile to Hungarians on the Hungarians’ own fatherland” means:
1. Hungarians living on their fatherland (where they and their ancestors were born);
2. Romanians on these territories are hostile to native Hungarians.
What kind of further explanation do you need to grasp these two basic facts?

Johnny Boy
Guest

GW, wolfi: you both are totally wrong!
“German citizenship is automatically lost when a German citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country. To this there are two exceptions:
1. When the German citizen acquires a nationality from within the European Union, Switzerland, or another country with which Germany has a corresponding treaty.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_citizenship#Dual_citizenship

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “would you mind posting the same text also in the other thread on Laszlo Köver’s speech?”
I did follow your advice.

GW
Guest

Johnny,
Read the article in German. Even with EU countries, in some cases, without reciprocal treaties “Für Bürger einiger EU-Staaten erlischt sie jedoch aufgrund ihres Heimatrechtes mit der Einbürgerung nach Deutschland.”

Hungarian citizen
Guest

I feel sorry for the author of this blog that he feels so much hatred against Hungarians.
I couldn’t get through all of the post because as a Hungarian I felt extremly attacked. The point of this effort displayed above to me was clearly to incite hatred against ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary by falsifying what Kover said. If he wanted to say what the hate inciter Hungarian hater alleges he would have used those words.
The whole hatemongering is even more transparent because “a few days ago he didn’t think of that meaning” and now suddenly a new meaning is discovered…
This is pure incitement of hatred against ethnic Hungarians the author of the blogpost should be jailed over this for hate speech.

Hungarian citizen
Guest

correction “he didn’t think of the meaning” is correctly “she didn’t think of the meaning” meaning the blog poster, who a few days ago didn’t think of the meaning at all but suddenly…
hate speech such as this should not be tolerated in a a free thinking society. I wonder if some Slovaks will read this hate incitement against Hungarians and will actually attack Hungarians because they believe what this “person” writes on this blog. Then the blog poster would no doubt ridicule the victim as she would do with Hedvig Malina who was beaten for speaking Hungarian on the street.

Wondercat
Guest

@GW, Johnny Boy, and anyone else who may conceivably care —
the “rules” under which double citizenship is available to German nationals, as indeed it is, are set out here.
http://www.bva.bund.de/cln_047/nn_761398/DE/Aufgaben/Abt__III/Staatsangehoerigkeit/Einbuergerung/Beibehaltung/beibehaltung-node.html__nnn=true
My collaborator, oops! colleague, abandoned South African citizenship to acquire USA citizenship years ago, when the USA required that step for naturalization. (His narrative; whether or not the USA actually DID require that step at that time I can’t say.) When conditions shifted in the USA, he applied for German citizenship, granted on the basis of his descent. He didn’t stay in Israel long enough for naturalization there to become an option.

wpDiscuz