Hungarian Alphabet and Pronunciation
1. Hungarian Alphabet
The people of Hungary have an extended alphabet. The Hungarian alphabet contains 44 letters. No fewer than four versions of the letter “O” are found in the Hungarian alphabet, and there are several combined letters including Dz, Dzs, Gy, Ly, Ny, Sz, Ty, and Zs . The Hungarian alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet. The Hungarian language itself is derived from Latin. You might hear of the smaller and greater Hungarian alphabets, which depend on whether the letters Q, W, X, and Y are listed; these letters are found only in foreign words and in traditional names.
The Hungarian Alphabet
|Upper case||Lower case||Sample word||Sounds like|
|A||a||alma||first o in “obvious”|
|Á||á||ág||a in “father”|
|B||b||bokor||b in “bed”|
|C||c||cica||ts in “hats”|
|CS||cs||csók||ch in “chill”|
|D||d||darál||d in “dance”|
|DZ||dz||edző||ds in “heads”|
|DZS||dzs||dzseki||dg in “hedge”|
|E||e||egy||e in “bed”|
|É||é||négy||e in “hey”|
|F||f||fodor||f in “fish”|
|G||g||gaz||g in “give”|
|GY||gy||gyalog||d in “dew”, when pronounced with British accent|
|H||h||határ||h in “hat”|
|I||i||lift||i in “pit”|
|Í||í||híd||ee in “need”|
|J||j||jég||y in “yogurt”|
|K||k||kastély||c in “come”|
|L||l||leány||l in “lend”|
|LY||ly||hely||y in “yogurt”|
|M||m||mag||m in “more”|
|N||n||nap||n in “neck”|
|NY||ny||nyak||similar to “ny” in canyon|
|O||o||hol||o in “boy”|
|Ó||ó||ló||o in “more”|
|Ö||ö||föl||similar to German ö|
|Ő||ő||kő||similar but longer variant of German ö|
|P||p||pörkölt||p in “pot”|
|Q||q||Aquincum||q in “cheque”|
|S||s||sarok||sh in “ship”|
|SZ||sz||szám||s in “sail”|
|T||t||táska||t in “top”|
|TY||ty||tyúk||similar to the t and the y combined from “hit you”|
|U||u||Hun||oo in “oops”|
|Ú||ú||út||oo in “cool”|
|Ü||ü||süt||similar to German ü|
|Ű||ű||tű||similar but longer variant of German ü|
|V||v||vad||v in “very”|
|W||w||vécé (Hungarian pronunciation of WC)||v in “vacuum”|
|X||x||Alexandra||x in “extra”|
|Y||y||Báthory||y in “synth”|
|Z||z||zongora||z from “zoo”|
|ZS||zs||zsiráf||s in “pleasure”|
Hungarian is an Ugric language which has been spoken since the late 9th century. Before this, people in Hungary spoke Uralic words that dated back to the Neolithic era. Old Hungarian script displaying the beginnings of the Hungarian alphabet came into use around the 10th century, and the oldest surviving coherent text in Hungarian is a funeral sermon and prayer that dates back to 1192.
The Latin language was the official language of Hungary between the 11th and 15th centuries, being primarily used to write religious texts and literary works, but in some cases, letters from the Hungarian alphabet were fitted into Latin documents in order to prevent disputes.
Students who learn Hungarian as a second language are inevitably pleased to find that Hungarian is for the most part a phonetic language. This means that Hungarian words are read and sound just they are spelt. Once you learn how to pronounce and use the additional letters in the alphabet, you’ll find pronunciation and spelling is easier to learn than with some other languages. Those who learn Hungarian by listening find learning Hungarian writing later on surprisingly simple.
Like English, the appearance of two letters at the same time can indicate a change in pronunciation, but you will need to learn to watch for the letters that combine two characters, for example Zs or Sz. In your Hungarian lessons you will learn that there are only a few variants of these occurrences, and thanks to the extra letters, learning speeds up as you go. With only a little bit of practice, you will have few problems picking up on any irregularities.
Hungarian letters use an accent system that looks complicated at first, but which, once you learn it, makes understanding new words a breeze. As you will see, a certain indication on a specific word means that pronunciation should be affected in a different way. Hungarian accents can seem quite complicated when you first begin learning, but once you have a good grip on the subject it really is easy to understand. You’ll pick it up in no time!
2. Hungarian Pronunciation
As with any language, one of the building blocks to learning Hungarian pronunciation is being able to say its alphabet correctly and confidently. It takes repetition and persistence in addition to the proper knowledge. For starters, Hungarian has seven sets of vowel pairs, one long and short. They are as follows:
• i, í
• o, ó
• ö, ő
• u, ú
• ü, ű
• a, á
• e, é
With the last two pairs, they are not technically long and short vowels, but they are generally treated as such in writing and by teachers. Regardless, each vowel has its own distinct pronunciation.
Many Hungarian consonants are familiar, but there are several which are unique such as the clusters ty and gy. These clusters are another aspect of learning Hungarian pronunciation that is sometimes confusing. Also called digraphs, one of the most commonly used clusters is sz. Now, this digraph is pronounced like the English “s,” while the s in Hungarian makes a “sh” sound. Other digraphs include:
• zs (pronounced like the “s” in pleasure)
• cs (pronounced like the “ch” in chock)
• dz (pronounced like the “ds” in fads)
• dzs (pronounced like the “dg” in edge)
• ly (pronounced as the “y” in lay)
One of the fascinating aspects of Hungarian pronunciation is the existence of long and short consonants. Though rare, at times a speaker will have to lengthen the pronunciation of a consonant to distinguish in meaning one word from another. For example, the words kasza and kassza are very similar. You must double the “s” sound in the latter word, which means cash register, or your listeners might believe you’re saying the first word, which means sycthe.
With all these differences, it’s a relief to know that syllable stress is always the same. Without fail, the stress is placed on the first syllable. This is one of the easiest aspects to learn when pronouncing Hungarian.
Finally, vocal harmony is an important facet of proper Hungarian pronunciation. Vocal harmony means that any vowel in the suffix of a word (highly common in this language) is the same category as the vowel in the root word it’s attached to. There are two categories of vowels, determined by how your mouth physically forms and pronounces them. There are front vowels (e-é, i-í, ö-ő, ü-ű) and back vowels (a-á, o-ó, u-ú). Let’s use an example to make this concept easier. Take the word várunk, which means “we wait.” The first person plural suffix -unk is attached to the word vár. Since á is a back vowel, you must choose the back vowel form of the first person plural.