Let’s purify the language: Orbán’s new institute

I’m not sure that I will be able to come up with a complete list of new institutes the Orbán government has established in four years, but to the best of my recollection there were at least six. The most notorious is the Veritas Historical Institute headed by Sándor Szakály, whose name became known even abroad in the last few months in connection with his opinions on the Holocaust. But the institution that is supposed to study the change of regime of 1989-1990 is just as outrageous because Viktor Orbán named Zoltán Bíró, a right-winger active on Echo TV, as its head. I can well imagine what kinds of publications Bíró’s crew will come out with. Then there is a new institute studying the national strategy of the country. It is headed by Jenő Szász, the favorite Szekler politician of  János Kövér. After Szász became a burden for Orbán and László Tőkés, he was compensated with a research institute of his own in Budapest. What he and his colleagues are doing besides receiving handsome salaries, no one knows. And we mustn’t forget about the Committee on National Remembrance whose job, as far as I can see, will be to mete out punishments for sins committed during the Kádár period.

There are also institutions set up as parallel organizations to already existing ones but designed to represent the political right and to reward pro-government members of the intellectual elite. New organizations represent right-leaning actors, writers, and artists.

On February 28 the government announced the creation of a Hungarian Language Strategical Institute. The new institute will open its doors on April Fool’s Day, a fact that was not missed by the great majority of linguists who are baffled by the whole idea. I might add that the new institute, just like Veritas, will be supervised by Viktor Orbán’s right-hand man János Lázár. Lázár is the government’s jack of all trades: he supervises historical studies and linguistics, and he is rapidly becoming an expert on the Holocaust.

I have always been interested in language. At one point I was even toying with the idea of becoming a linguist–at least until I encountered some members of ELTE’s Department of the Hungarian Language. In any case, I usually pay attention to what’s going on in the field and know that there is a huge divide between those who consider themselves “real” linguists and those who are called “language cultivators” (nyelvművelők). The former consider language a living organ that changes constantly over time and that needs no conscious cultivation. The cultivators are enemies of foreign words and their adoption; they are convinced that the language is under siege by modern technology; they are certain that the Hungarian vocabulary is shrinking; they want to change speaking habits to conform to the “right rules” even if the majority of the population uses a different set of rules.

Language cultivation was a favorite pastime during the Kádár regime. Lajos Lőrincze was the high priest of the series “Édes anyanyelvünk” (Our sweet mother tongue). In the last twenty-five years, however, the cultivator linguists had to take a back seat to those who are convinced that the best thing is to leave language alone.

Naturally Viktor Orbán sympathizes with the language cultivators and bemoans foreign influences on our sweet mother tongue. In fact, already during his first term as prime minister he declared war on foreign words on store fronts. A decree was enacted that would have required store owners to change certain words in their stores’ names. But Orbán left and with him the idea, and the decree, died a quiet death. Now he is reviving an old idea on an even grander scale.

Language

Reactions to the establishment of the Hungarian Language Strategical Institute are almost uniformly negative, with the notable exception of Géza Balázs, a professor of linguistics at ELTE who seems to be an ardent “language cultivator.” Even the usually servile József Pálinkás, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is no fan of the idea. Margit Fehér, a journalist working for The Wall Street Journal who wrote an article about this latest brain child of Viktor Orbán, asked Pálinkás for his opinion on the institute. To my great surprise he sent the following answer back to Fehér: “To me, the government decree means that the 20-strong institute will operate not as a home for scientific research but as a central bureau of the Prime Minister’s Office which coordinates the preparation of materials to be written at the government’s order for its decision on the language policy and language cultivation.” Pálinkás went even further when he stated that “It’s hard to draw a parallel between an institute that functions as a state office and an institute that conducts scientific research.” It seems as if Pálinkás is getting fed up with Orbán’s government taking over more and more functions that were previously under the jurisdiction of the Academy.

I managed to find an old article by Géza Balázs from 2011 entitled “A sketch of a possible language strategy” which may be the rationale for this institute. He talks at length about “the erosion of the language,” especially in the field of science where access to all material is a fundamental human right. I’m pretty sure that the use of English terms, especially in computer science, irritates Balázs and his fellow language cultivators. In the past, he argues, it was all right to let the language develop organically, but in our fast-moving world with all these rapid changes we cannot be lackadaisical about the state of our language.

Although Margit Fehér quotes only Ádám Nádasdy’s opinions in her English-language article, she notes that “most linguists received news of the government decree with raised eyebrows and disapproval.” Even the official Institute of Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy immediately launched a website where they collected opinions on the new institute and newspaper articles dealing with the subject. They all seem to be negative. Of course, this latest Orbán move reminds everybody of Stalin and his dabbling in linguistics in the 1950s. As Nádasdy said, “the government may decide what it is willing to dish money out for, but that doesn’t make it linguistics. We are not the Soviet Union of the 1930s, where Stalin decided what makes science and what not.”

Finally, let me do a little advertisement for Ádám Nádasdy. A few years ago he delivered a lecture on how language changes at the Mindentudás Egyeteme (university of all knowledge). It is a pleasure to listen to him because he is an excellent lecturer. After his lecture you will understand his strong opinions on “language cultivation.”

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Vándorló
Guest

In English the nomenclature is referred to as the difference between prescriptive (“language cultivators” as you translate ‘nyelvművelők’ though should be translated as “language purists”) and descriptive attitudes to language.

A descrtiptive linguist would wince at you labelling them “real” linguists.

tappanch
Guest

Stalin on linguistics and on poor Marr:

http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1950/jun/20.htm

In my younger years, I actually read the whole debate. Several people were arguing for and against Marr’s theory, which stated (if I recall correctly), that every single language goes back to one root-language. Marr’s supporters started to overwhelm his opponents.

THen Stalin barged in against Marr. Next, poor Marr had to recant and apologize for his errors.

Member

Sorry Tappanch. Marr died in 1934, and the heyday of the instrumentalization of his “new theory of language” was actually after his death, so he wasn’t there any more to recant.

tappanch
Guest

Correction:
At the end, Marr’s followers had to apologize, one after the other.
Marr did not have the honor to do so: he died in 1934.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“to mete out punishments for sins committed during the Kádár period”

Will be very much due.

Member
Actually, speaking of Marr’s theory (which wasn’t about “root language”, although it contained shady ideas of “root elements” appearing everywhere – the main idea was that languages do not descend from proto-languages as historical linguists see it but come into being by way of admixture and combination, and this process is connected to the developmental stages of society, which of course made this theory attractive for vulgar Marxists): Géza Balázs, who is often mentioned as the prospective director of the new institute (although he himself has claimed not to have known anything of the plan in beforehand), belongs to those very few “serious” linguists who have frequented the “root conferences” organized by the Academy of Arts (MMA) (!). One of the central ideas of these conferences is to rehabilitate the dictionary of Czuczor and Fogarasi from 1862-1874, and, more generally, the theory of “roots”, i.e. monosyllabic word elements related to each other in various ways but not necessarily by way of the processes traditionally described in historical linguistics. In Finno-Ugric studies, the root theory was a dead end and it was abandoned well before the end of the 19th century, but in recent decades, some activists, mostly non-linguists, have started… Read more »
Member
LANGUAGE CHANGE VS. REGIME CHANGE Nadasdy’s talk was a good one. Dispelled the fallacy that language change is for better or worse, simplifies or complexifies, enriches or impoverishes: It just happens, as long as the language is alive and used by people to communicate. There are generational differences, and perhaps new pronunciations or grammatical changes will sound like errors to the older generation (as they would have been, in their day), but they have no moral or pragmatic inferiority or superiority — except to those who let conservatism for its own sake (“my way or no way”) get the better of them. It would be nice if Joseph Palinkas, the former Fidesz minister and now President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences were beginning to come to his senses and conscience over the mounting abominations he has been aiding and abetting from his feudal overlords at Fidesz. It would take a huge and public break with his former handlers to compensate for all the damage his appeasement and collaboration has done to scholarly and scientific integrity in Hungary in the Fidesz era. His spineless apologetics in the “philosopher affair” were what first drew me into Hungarian politics, with the “open… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Hungarian ‘pride’ is something: people believe that they achieve better than all Europe; that they are more deserving than anyone in the EU….yet, pride aside, it’s blatantly obvious that
the country is stuck, mentally, in a feudal time-warp. I suppose we could link the rococo structure of the language as a factor in Hungarians delusional mindset..

tappanch
Guest

The 3-21 gross debt number is out. It is 23,736.7 billion HUF, a new record, all right.

But why isn’t the 3 billion dollars in new debt from March 18 added to the gross number?
(The weekly change was “just” 167.4 billion HUF)

tappanch
Guest

Election.

The final numbers from the registration drive are out.

The Gypsy list added an extra 9.4% [!] in the last 2 or 3 days, approaching the 20 thousand voters that yields an extra seat to Fidesz.

Ethnic lists:

03-20 [final]

Gypsy 18150 [19857]
German 13749 [15389]
Croat 1535 [1630]
Slovak 1214 [1319]

Final numbers for the mail-in votes from mainly Transylvania and Serbia:

registrations: 231,864, accepted: 194,968 as of 03-24

42.97% from Romania,
37.15% from e-Landia,
12.57% from Serbia,
7.31% from all other countries.

Guest

Not totally OT:

Not only Stalin and Kadar, but the Nazis also wanted to keep (our German) language pure – they even tried to find words for motor/engine etc … Those were really funny!

And in the 60s for some time a half hearted attempt was made to use German words in computing, but people gave up quickly, some words they found/tried were just too hilarious …

Member
Linguistic purism has two sides. There are success stories of “highly planned” standard languages as in the Nordic countries (Icelandic is famous for finding native Icelandic counterparts for all possible internationalisms, and Icelanders are proud of that) and Estonia. In these countries, the population is relatively highly educated, reads a lot and gladly accepts the idea that language, like many other aspects of life, should be centrally and nationally regulated. (No wonder that the decree on the founding of the new institute explicitly refers to the example of Iceland, Finland and Estonia.) This serves democracy: the standard language is equally accessible to everybody, anyone can read and understand a newspaper and form an opinion, and language regulation is not left to implicit social hierarchies and networks of prestige (“you have to go to the right kind of school to get the right kind of accent”). The reverse side is what descriptivist linguists, especially in English-speaking countries, sneer at: naïve purists believe that a native word is automatically “better” and more understandable than a loanword, and very often this is not the case. (This is what makes many puristic neologisms “hilarious”, as Wolfi pointed out.) Even neologisms must be learnt and… Read more »
Member

Actually, “parody is impossible, they’re doing it themselves”. It’s enough to go to Balázs’s e-nyelv.hu website and take a look at “Szómagyarító”. Today’s question: instead of “biomágnes” (!), would you prefer “életdelej” or “kuruzsdelejérc”? Or “elemmag” for “atom”?

bigger
Guest

re #16, this is party campaign material. It should be deleted.

Guest

Google-Translate already translates ‘click’ as ‘kettyenés’. My dictionaries don’t offer that, but give either ‘kattanás’ or ‘klikkel’.

Tyrker
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
444 suggested a few funnies

Although these are funny enough, I have to point out that for account and click we do use native Hungarian words; fiók and kattintás, respectively. (By contrast, kontó is not a native Hungarian word as wolfi can tell you.)

Sentrooppa-Santra :
It’s enough to go to Balázs’s e-nyelv.hu website and take a look at “Szómagyarító”. Today’s question: instead of “biomágnes” (!), would you prefer “életdelej” or “kuruzsdelejérc”? Or “elemmag” for “atom”?

My secondary-school geography teacher told us in class that one of his professors had called palaeomagnetism hajdandelejesség and referred to an eraser as a törlőrugany (which is actually called Radiergummi, just as in German, although spelled differently).

Vándorló
Guest

You would all save yourselves some time if you just bought a copy of the ‘Hungarianising Dictionary’ (“Magyarító szótár”) from Tinta Könyvkiadó.

With such Jobbik would no longer be referred to as ‘radikális’, but rather ‘gyökeres’ – as the party is full of “gyökér.” (The joke only works in Hungarian).

Interestingly enough, Morvai (of Jobbik), Fidesz and KDNP politicians seem to spend most of their time writing speeches using the companion dictionary ‘The first Hungarian snob dictionary’ (“Első magyar sznobszótár” from the same press). The vast majority of which is English and Latin words ending in “-ikus.”

tappanch
Guest

EU agricultural support in 2013:

Ten per cent of the companies received 74% of the money.

Biggest beneficiaries:

1. Nyerges+Simicska : 6.79 billion HUF
2. Csanyi: 6.43 billion
3. Leisztinger: 4.78 billion

Orban’s immediate friends received a paltry 0.26 billion HUF.

http://k.blog.hu/2014/03/24/simicskaek_csanyi_es_leisztinger_ujra_a_dobogon

petofi
Guest

“Orban’s immediate friends received a paltry 0.26 billion HUF.”

I’d bet against that.
Would anyone be surprised if the great O received 25% of # 1,2,3…?

tappanch
Guest

Election.

There are 10387 precincts. By Fidesz’s election law, a party needs two vote counters in a precinct to be allowed to count, i.e. 20,774 people altogether.

Therefore

Fidesz party delegates will be present at the counting in
68.30% of the precincts [14190 delegates],

United Opposition
47.68% of the precincts [9906]

Jobbik
25.48% of the precincts [5295]

http://www.sztarklikk.hu/egyeb/sztarklikk-kozelet/70518/

meteo
Guest

tappanch :
EU agricultural support in 2013:
Ten per cent of the companies received 74% of the money.
Biggest beneficiaries:
1. Nyerges+Simicska : 6.79 billion HUF
2. Csanyi: 6.43 billion
3. Leisztinger: 4.78 billion
Orban’s immediate friends received a paltry 0.26 billion HUF.
http://k.blog.hu/2014/03/24/simicskaek_csanyi_es_leisztinger_ujra_a_dobogon

It seems the 20-80 rule holds in this sector too.

Well, the 10-74 is a bit worse, but it just shows that any sector gets pretty concentrated soon. You only have to ensure that you participate in the winning 20 percent. Orban did.

(For the avoidance of doubt the formerly MSZP-supporting Leisztinger has been supporting Fidesz for years, that was the price, along with some of his assets he had to part with, for not getting prosecuted after 2010. It is actually pretty useful to own the prosecution, it seems.)

tappanch
Guest

petofi :
“Orban’s immediate friends received a paltry 0.26 billion HUF.”
I’d bet against that.
Would anyone be surprised if the great O received 25% of # 1,2,3…?

My guess is that the bulk of the money at #1 is considered Fidesz party money, courtesy of the European Union.

tappanch
Guest

tappanch :
Election.
There are 10387 precincts. By Fidesz’s election law, a party needs two vote counters in a precinct to be allowed to count, i.e. 20,774 people altogether.
Therefore
Fidesz party delegates will be present at the counting in
68.30% of the precincts [14190 delegates],
United Opposition
47.68% of the precincts [9906]
Jobbik
25.48% of the precincts [5295]
http://www.sztarklikk.hu/egyeb/sztarklikk-kozelet/70518/

Updated at noon on March 25, 2014

Fidesz 15367 [74%]
United Opposition 11500 [55%]
Jobbik 5990 [29%]
Gypsy party 1043 [5%]

http://www.nvi.hu/hu/ogyv2014/854/854_0.html

(The percentage of the coverage might be smaller, because some of delegates might cover the precincts abroad at the embassies and consulates)

http://www.nvi.hu/hu/ogyv2014/770/770_0_index.html

List and addresses of the precincts:

http://www.nvi.hu/dyn/pv14/kepek/szavk_letolt.xls

This list also marks the precincts where the ballots of the cross voters are mixed with the regular votes!

tappanch
Guest

THere are 10386 precincts in Hungary and 97 abroad.
(The link in the previous note above lists 10387 precincts in Hungary instead of 10386)

# of people eligible to vote inside Hungary: 8 028 310.

40,994 voters can cast their ballots for their district from another district in Hungary.

22,804 voters can vote abroad in person (out of an estimated 500-600,000 workers abroad)

194,968-231,864 ethnic Hungarians with no address in Hungary can vote by mail
82,000+ new citizens with Hungarian addresses can vote.
That delivers 300,000 votes [presumably for Fidesz] out of 600,000 new citizens.

http://www.nvi.hu/hu/ogyv2014/770/770_0_index.html

HiBoM
Guest

tappanch, who are the 82 000 citizens with a Hungarian address? Are these people who have authentically settled, or just ethnic Hungarians with some sort of accommodation address? I’m not challenging the statistic, just don’t understand it.

While I’m not convinced that there are quite as many as 500 000 workers abroad, it is shocking if only 22804 are going to vote. And why aren’t people angry that 200 000 people with no stake in Hungarian society (i.e. they don’t pay tax and are not governed by its rules) are being allowed the vote? Crazy

Member

tappanch :
THere are 10386 precincts in Hungary and 97 abroad.
(The link in the previous note above lists 10387 precincts in Hungary instead of 10386)
# of people eligible to vote inside Hungary: 8 028 310.
40,994 voters can cast their ballots for their district from another district in Hungary.
22,804 voters can vote abroad in person (out of an estimated 500-600,000 workers abroad)
194,968-231,864 ethnic Hungarians with no address in Hungary can vote by mail
82,000+ new citizens with Hungarian addresses can vote.
That delivers 300,000 votes [presumably for Fidesz] out of 600,000 new citizens.
http://www.nvi.hu/hu/ogyv2014/770/770_0_index.html

I sent in twice my request to vote from outside Hungary, as I do have a registered home address in Hungary. I filed online twice, once with correct Hungarian spelling, once in general, I never received an answer.

Pensioner, wo had no job
Guest
Pensioner, wo had no job

HiBoM :
tappanch, who are the 82 000 citizens with a Hungarian address? Are these people who have authentically settled, or just ethnic Hungarians with some sort of accommodation address? I’m not challenging the statistic, just don’t understand it.
While I’m not convinced that there are quite as many as 500 000 workers abroad, it is shocking if only 22804 are going to vote. And why aren’t people angry that 200 000 people with no stake in Hungarian society (i.e. they don’t pay tax and are not governed by its rules) are being allowed the vote? Crazy

Many traditional Hungarian unemployed can vote. Many Hungarian pensioner can vote. They don’t pay tax, Do you want to refuse the voting right of 50% of the population of Hungary?

Guest

We also know several people who work abroad, either permanently (or at least for several years) or seasonal – and those will come back only after the skiing season in Austria ie after Easter, so no chance for them to vote from abroad?

Presumably they all kept their Hungarian address – though I don’t know if that makes a difference. Tappanch, could you maybe explain (again …) the un-logic of all this?

I find all this really strange – I’ve participated in several elections where at election day I was outside Germany and never had a problem getting the necessary papers and “voting by letter” (Briefwahl in German) whether it was for parliament or for mayor or EU parliament …
I just went to the mayor’s office after I got my voting papers or sent a letter …

But we know of course that Fidesz wants to make voting easy for those who presumably will vote for them – and difficult for everybody else …

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