Reforming the language: “Hungarians abroad”

This post is going to be a bit out of the ordinary. It will be about language. But don’t fear. The topic does have something to do with politics, as you will see.

The story begins with an order coming from MTVA. This acronym stands for the name of an organization with a long and complicated name that no one can remember: “Médiaszolgáltatás-támogató és Vagyonkezelő Alap.”  According to the English-language version of MTVA’s website, the organization calls itself in English “Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund.” On its website we can learn that “all the assets and most of the staff of the three public service media organizations (MTV, Duna TV, MR) and of the National News Agency (MTI) were transferred to the Media Support and Asset Management Fund.” According to the agency, “the integration of the public service media providers creates an exciting, interesting and valuable cooperation.” Well, judging from the ever-dropping viewership of the state-run media outlets, the new set-up didn’t exactly create excitement. On the contrary, the programming is deadly dull. The structure of the new organization looks like this:

Structure of media regulation in Hungary

This centralized structure ensures uniformity across a broad range of areas, including word usage. The MTVA manager in charge of programming passed on an order to the employees that as of May 21 when they write about the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries they have to use the until now practically never used adjective “külhoni.” That is, “külhoni magyarok” instead of the usual “határon túli magyarok.” The latter means “Hungarians beyond the borders” while the meaning of “külhoni” is far less clear.

And now a little lesson in Hungarian linguistics. “Kül-” is not a separate word in Hungarian. Etymologically most likely it has something to do with the word “ki ~ kint” meaning “out,” “outside.” “Hon” is a bona fide word but according to the Magyar Értelmező Szótár it is archaic and/or literary. The three-volume etymological dictionary explains that the word “hon” (Vaterland, patrie) most likely developed from “otthon,” meaning “home,” but by the eighteenth century it disappeared from the language, to be replaced by “haza” (homeland). It was revived in the early nineteenth century during the linguistic reform period when writers and linguists tried to “improve” and modernize Hungarian, but its revival didn’t really succeed.

Today “hon” appears only as a part of other nouns, and even most of those are considered to be old-fashioned and barely used. For example, “honfi” (patriot). Perhaps the best known words in Hungarian that are still widely used and contain the old “hon” are “honfoglalás,” the historical term for the occupied part of the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarian tribes in 896, and “honosítás,” meaning naturalization or “hontalan” (someone driven away from his homeland and/or stateless).

Now let’s turn to the other component of the word “külhoni,” the “kül-.” As I mentioned earlier, it has something to do with the word “ki” or “kint.” So, the modern Hungarian word for foreigner is “külföldi,” that is someone from outside the land. But there are many other examples, like “külügy,” meaning foreign affairs, or “külkereskedelem,” foreign trade. One also finds “kül-” in such combinations as “külváros,” which is an outlying area of a city, often pejoratively used as better-off people lived downtown while the poorer folks were in the “külvárosok.”

So, let’s get back to “külhon,” a very strange combination to Hungarian ears. Ágnes Huszár, whose specialty is sociolinguistics, wrote a short piece in Galamus in which she claims that “külhon” is a “contradictio in adiecto,” or as we say it in English a “contradiction in terms.” “Hon” means “here, at home” while “kül-” indicates outside of it. I don’t think that the surface contradiction is the real problem.

The fact is that the word “külhoni” exists, but according to the dictionary its usage is considered to be “pretentious.” In brief, no one in his right mind would use it. It means the same thing as “külföldi”  (foreign/foreigner). Thus a “külhoni lakos” means exactly the same as “külföldi lakos,” someone who lives abroad. And indeed, a quick look at the Magyar Nemzeti Szövegtár, a fantastic resource for Hungarian vocabulary available to anyone interested in such matters, shows 1,096 occurrences of the word “külhoni” while its proper equivalent, “külföldi,” has 37,000 references. The instances of “külhoni” can practically all be found in recent texts–that is, since MTVA decided that in addition to its many media activities it will also involve itself with the “improvement” of the Hungarian language.

But why? My guess is that “the new language reformers” found this old-fashioned word better suited to their political agenda. I mentioned that “honosítás” means “naturalization” and that the person who has been naturalized is “honosított.” In our case, a newly naturalized Hungarian from Romania, Serbia, or Slovakia is now “magyar honos,” a Hungarian citizen. The new language reformers took the two components of an already existing word and gave the word  a different meaning. In their minds it no longer means what until now it meant,  “someone living abroad,” but a citizen living abroad. In this case a Hungarian citizen.

Whether for this distinction it was worth dredging up this old-fashioned and “pretentious” word, I doubt it. Moreover, changing the meanings of words by fiat is a hopeless task. However, this government is certain that it is capable of changing everything to its liking, including the very essence of Hungarian society. So why not its language?

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Member

The word “hon”, synonymous to country, is the standard choice for “patriotic” poems.

One ironic example is below, part of a great Attila Jozsef poem. Good depiction of the today’s FIDESZ cultural values. Chilling how right he was.

Intelme gyorsan, nyersen ért
a „Nincsen apám” versemért,
a hont
kivont

szablyával óvta ellenem.
Ideidézi szellemem
hevét
s nevét:

„Ön, amig szóból értek én,
nem lesz tanár e féltekén” –
gagyog
s ragyog.

Here is an English/Hungarian version of the poem.

http://visegrad.typotex.hu/index.php?page=work&auth_id=127&work_id=509&tran_id=1400

Member

I’m not a native speaker of Hungarian (although I speak and use it almost daily). But to me, “külhoni” seems to suggest that in addition to the real “hon”, the homeland, there is a “külhon”, an “external homeland” to which these people belong, while simultaneously being Hungarians — and because “hon” is not just a homeland in general but a special word associated with the Hungarian homeland and Hungarian patriotism, “külhon” in some sense belongs together with Hungary. In other words, subtly hidden irredentism?

latenight
Guest

These days languages get sodomized at every corner. One more, so what. The meaning was made for me understandable by the sentence uttered by some FIDESZ politician:”At last Hungarians are being born again in Transylvania”. Not at all that aggressive. He meant, in some sense Transylvania is at last again Hungary. We know, probably exactly this longing of the Hungarians, not even the false promises, brought FIDESZ to power. We are simply facing this ground current.

Tyrker
Guest
What an utterly paranoid post. “Külhoni” isn’t a newly created word and it’s simply not true that it’s been “practically never used” until now. In fact I’ve heard it many-many times. Even a quick Google search yields well over half a million hits for this word. To say that I don’t hold MTVA in high regard is an understatement – but this new regulation seems to be a completely innocent style-guide sort of thing. Brevity is usually considered an asset in journalism – unless it leads to over-simplification or other similar problems of course – and “külhoni” is undeniably shorter than the clumsy term, “határon túli”. As regards the word “hon,” it’s true that it is seldom used on its own – but again, it’s false to claim that “most of” the compound words that contain it are old-fashioned. In fact one of the most recent developments in Hungarian language is the genesis and adoption of the word “honlap,” which means “home page,” and as such can’t be more than 20 years old. In addition, there are numerous other words that, while certainly not new, have nothing old-fashioned about them, like “honvágy” (homesickness), “honvéd” ([Hungarian] soldier), “honfitárs” (fellow countryman), “őshonos”… Read more »
enufff
Guest

Explanation from my husband (based on his understanding without referring to dictionary) “külhoni” = Hungarians outside the homeland ; while “határon túli magyarok” = Hungarians around the border.

He thinks that majority of Hungarians wouldn’t know the difference between the two.

Member

Tyrker :
What an utterly paranoid post

I don’t thin so. The sudden spike in use of these words like, “hon” and “külhon” is part of the fake patriotic kulturkampf promoted today in Hungary. Like wearing a “mente”. Brrrr.

An
Guest
enufff : Explanation from my husband (based on his understanding without referring to dictionary) “külhoni” = Hungarians outside the homeland ; while “határon túli magyarok” = Hungarians around the border. He thinks that majority of Hungarians wouldn’t know the difference between the two. This was my understanding, too. They are trying to treat all Hungarians who don’t live in Hungary the same, including the ones living around the borders and Hungarians living anywhere abroad. One main argument Fidesz used when granting the right to vote Hungarians living in the neighboring countries who opted to get Hungarian citizenship was that they shouldn’t be treated differently than any other Hungarian citizen who lives abroad. For example, they argue that those Hungarians, like myself, who moved to a different country, are still citizens and still have the right to vote (at least, in theory, technically it is not that easy to vote if you live abroad). So, the argument goes, Hungarian citizens living outside of Hungary should be treated the same, regardless where they live and how they got the citizenship. I, personally, hate this argument, as it is clearly used to justify giving the vote to Hungarians who recently took up citizenship… Read more »
Guest

Mutt~~ignorance here. What’s a “mente”?

Member

Gretchen :
Mutt~~ignorance here. What’s a “mente”?

It’s the traditional “sunday’s best” jacket for men, but it has many variations. Eva had recently this article about the Order Of Vitezes:

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/05/09/a-fidesz-politician-and-history

These monkeys are wearing “mente” style jackets, with all those wire thingies across. They look like members of a circus orchestra. What’s fashionable “deep-Hungarian” style today, especially with the Jobbik, is a simpler, black version of this jacket. That actually doesn’t look too bad.

petofi
Guest

I would like to pop the question (which I have asked before) about this Hungarian, financial, anomaly: while the Spaniards are up in arms about paying 5% on government paper, the Hungarian government has been paying 8.5-9% for almost a year now….yet, the Hungarian
forint continues to get support.

Can someone explain how this is taking place?
Who is supporting the forint and why?

Kirsten
Guest

Petofi, Spain being part of the euro area and all difficulties currently related to the euro area is one reason. Also Hungary has an inflation rate of I guess around 5 % lately, and the forint is already at 290 and could easily get back to 300 and more. That is already quite weak, or not…?

Ovidiu
Guest

“külhoni” = Hungarians outside the homeland

would it be this the same as “hazátlan” ?

gdfxx
Guest

My favorite is honlea’ny. It brings up images of young women dressed in all kind of folksy dresses, offering flowers to Horthy as he arrives on his white horse…

Ron
Guest

Tyrker :
What an utterly paranoid post. “Külhoni” isn’t a newly created word and it’s simply not true that it’s been “practically never used” until now. In fact I’ve heard it many-many times. Even a quick Google search yields well over half a million hits for this word.

Tyrker did you manage to look at these hits in google. First they are relating to posts and websites made in 2012 (I could not find one relating earlier).

Further, I notice that 2012 is the Year of the Foreign Nurseries program (külhoni magyar óvodák éve). Which, according to me and what I could find, is a Government pay-off Alapitvany. You can check out the budgets on this website as well. http://www.bgazrt.hu/data/files/215491772.pdf

Actually, the aforementioned is based upon a law prepared in 2010. http://www.bgazrt.hu/kateg-82-1-2010_evi_clxxxii_torveny_bethlen.html

What makes me angry is that apparently schools and libraries are closed down due to no funding and a lot of money goes abroad.

petofi
Guest

Kirsten :
Petofi, Spain being part of the euro area and all difficulties currently related to the euro area is one reason. Also Hungary has an inflation rate of I guess around 5 % lately, and the forint is already at 290 and could easily get back to 300 and more. That is already quite weak, or not…?

Most prognosticators had suggested that the euro would be at 330 by now…yet it is at 287.
Some difference! Who’s backing this worthless paper? And, why?

enufff
Guest
OT : Fidesz + Jobbik = One big happy family… Extract from The Contratrian Hungarian’s facebook feed ” Hungary at the UN Rio+20 summit: the Hungarian government blocked opposition members of the Hungarian parliament’s Committee on Sustainable Development to participate in the 2012 recast of the 1992 Rio Earth summit. Though Hungary is sending no fewer than 26 delegates to the sustainable development conference, the Speaker of the Hungarian parliament cited budgetary reasons for refusing to support the travel of the committee’s nominees. The parliamentary committee is under the leadership of the opposition green party (its chair is currently the leader of the Green caucus). But the ban on opposition politicians in the Hungarian delegation does not apply to extreme right party Jobbik. Along with ministry officials and President Áder, a lone extreme right MP was given a seat in the delegation. He does not really believe that “today’s development is sustainable,” but he is committed to defending Hungary’s possession of agricultural land and fresh water, which he thinks will position his nation as one of the “winners of the crisis of the next few decades.” All in all, he would be ideal delegation member at any international conference; at… Read more »
GW
Guest

I’m struck by the parallels here to the German terms: Ausländ(er), Aussiedler, etc.. Given the mutual history with a German-speaking state, perhaps it would be useful to examine the equivalent legal terms in Hungarian, German, and Latin. In the context of recent Hungarian citizenship law, it may also be useful to contrast Hungarian law and practice with the FRG’s concept of Statusdeutscher.

Guest
@GW: That is a very complicated situation in Germany based on what happened after WW2 and I don’t claim to understand it. There were millions of “Germans” from the USSR who were sent to Germany or just wanted to escape Stalin in the hope that FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) was “the land of milk and honey” .This moving of the “Aussiedler” or even “Spätaussiedler” to Germany went on for decades even after the fall of the USSR – actually the situation worsened so much that many more wanted to escape to the West … The conditions were rather loose and there is a bad joke about the guy who wants to come to Germany and is asked about his connection with Germany. So he says. Well my grandfather once owned a German shepard dog … Actually many people returned to the East because they didn’t feel “heimisch” (at home) here, not speaking the language, most however adjusted very well, still having those “Schwab characteristics” of being used to working hard and honestly … We have quite a few neighbours like this in our Schwab village here in Germany. PS and OT: We also have friends from Romania – she… Read more »
Thomas
Guest

külhoni to me suggests that Hungarians living outside of Hungary are actually living in a land that belongs to Hungary. It is part of the homeland but for misterious reasons it is outside the homeland. That is how I hear it. “áthallás”

Judith
Guest

The chart is excellent – as it shows that the entire Hungarian media is controlled, or rather micromanaged by the Prime Minister. I was really surprised when I first saw this chart on the website of mtva, the torso established under the new media legislations in 2010.

Judith
Guest

By the way, the letter Professor Balogh quotes above, instructing employees to use “külhoni” instead of “Határon túli” to describe ethnic Hungarians beyond the borders of Hungary was first published on the facebook page of mediajogfigyelo.hu, a Hungarian watchdog site monitoring the legal environment created under the media legislations of the Orban government.

Member

külhon ≡ expat ?

Guest

It’s really strange (or not so ?) that my online dictionary “SZTAKI Szótár” doesn’t know any of these “new” or resurrected words like “külhon” – but it gives a lot of translations for “különös” and “különc” which seems to characterise the whole affair …

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