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Lesson Transcript

Simone: All about lesson 3. Learning Hungarian Grammar. First off, I’d like to congratulate you for having the guts to click play on a grammar lesson.
Csaba: Yeah the word grammar seems so foreboding.
Simone: Yeah a lot of us have grammar anxiety, posttraumatic grammar disorder.
Csaba: Yes I know I do from learning English.
Simone: Fortunately we’ve developed a therapy for this.
Csaba: Yes a painless therapy.
Simone: Yes we know the current practice is to use grammar book shock therapy which involves something to the effect of ordering 10 pounds worth of grammar textbooks you will never open from Amazon.
Csaba: Yeah I have been there.
Simone: Sometimes I get nightmares and cold sweats. The grammar books sitting on the shelves laughing at me.
Csaba: Well what we do is take all that grammar and try to make it interesting for you by showing some of the most common phenomena that the Hungarian language is organized by.
Simone: Yep. We are going to prove it to you today with a grammar head start.
Csaba: And we have a good news.
Simone: What’s that?
Csaba: Well you might have listened to the lesson about the Hungarian alphabet in this series.
Simone: Yes that’s the lesson right before this one, isn’t it?
Csaba: Well not to bring your spirits down, but learning the Hungarian alphabet is a lot easier than learning the grammar.
Simone: I know that very well but you did choose to study one of the most complicated languages in the world right?
Csaba: Yes that’s true.
Simone: So if you hate conjugating verbs, can’t accept the words that have 50 different endings or can’t really be bothered with the correct pronunciation, maybe Hungarian isn’t for you.
Csaba: However we can promise you one thing. A simplified grammar class that will be easy for everyone to understand.
Simone: We are about to tell you what you need to know right off the bat to give you a head start on Hungarian.
Csaba: Yes and you will get the last laugh at the grammar books.

Lesson focus

Simone: Okay so first of all, we need to let you know the good news which is that Hungarian is often like English. That is, it is an SVO language, Subject, verb, object. So if you know this basic structure, you should be okay.
Csaba: Yeah nothing ever is that easy. The problem with Hungarian is that this order is infinitely less rigid. So let’s see a so called neutral sentence first to illustrate our point.
Simone: Okay Peter gave an apple to Mary.
Csaba: Which is Péter adott egy almát Marinak.
Simone: The word order is the same here. Peter Péter gave adott an apple egy almát to Mary Marinak.
Csaba: Péter adott egy almát Marinak.
Simone: It seems okay so far.
Csaba: Yes. So the catch is that what we learn to emphasize will have to be moved up to before the verb. So for example, you have Péter Marinak adott egy almát. Péter Marinak adott egy almát.
Simone: Mary might her way up to before the verb. What she wants to achieve is to get emphasis. This sentence could be translated as, it was Mary to whom Peter gave an Apple.
Csaba: Exactly. Depending on what we want to emphasize, the word order changes.
Simone: All right. That’s an interesting feature.
Csaba: There is more. Could you explain to the listeners what cases are?
Simone: Yes. Well you could say that the nominative case is what the subject of the sentence is and the accusative case is what the object is.
Csaba: Yes so for example, the third person singular pronoun is he in the nominative like he killed a dog but him in the accusative like the dog killed him. Two different cases, two different forms.
Simone: What’s with you and the dog killings?
Csaba: Just an example. Anyway, Hungarian has a lot more cases and not only with pronouns.
Simone: Oh oh! So let me try some.
Csaba: Okay.
Simone: How do you say house?
Csaba: Ház. That’s the nominative.
Simone: So if I make it accusative, an object like I sold the house.
Csaba: Then Hungarians would say, házat.
Simone: And into the house.
Csaba: Házba
Simone: On the house
Csaba: Házon
Simone: In the house
Csaba: Házban
Simone: From the house
Csaba: Háztól
Simone: To the house
Csaba: Házhoz
Simone: Are you sure we are not just making these up?
Csaba: Well, worry not because once you learn the endings with a bit of practice, the one you need will come effortlessly.
Simone: So just to recap, the major features so far were word order and cases.
Csaba: I would add one more peculiar feature that is not very common place in Europe.
Simone: Is that the vowel harmony?
Csaba: Exactly. Have them out a bit.
Simone: Okay so there are two main groups of Hungarian vowels, ones that are called back vowels and others that are called front vowels.
Csaba: Yes and the point is words with one type or the other takes suffixes with similar vowels.
Simone: Which means that the suffix that you have to attach to words will have more than one form, one of the words with front vowels and one for the words with back vowels.
Csaba: Exactly. I will give you an example. We have just said házból meaning from the house. It has two parts, ház house and the suffix ból which means from the. The vowel in ház is back. Therefore the vowel in the suffix is also back.
Simone: Whereas if you use another word like kéz hand, that has a front vowel.
Csaba: Then you have to change the suffix accordingly and say, kézből from the hand. Even though the suffix has the same meaning, we have to change it a bit for the sake of harmony.
Simone: Well that sounds hard.
Csaba: In the beginning, people don’t like it but learning which vowel is which takes about 5 minutes and after a while, you get used to this system and we will find it easy. The brain kind of sees the pattern.
Simone: Ah I am feeling less tense already.
Csaba: Speaking of senses…
Simone: That was cheap.
Csaba: Sorry but let the good news begin. There are only two of those.
Simone: How can there be just two?
Csaba: Because we live in the moment Simone. No need for future tense.
Simone: Aa-ha I see!
Csaba: Well it does not mean we can’t express future but for that, you don’t have to learn the whole new table of conjugations.
Simone: Finally some good news.
Csaba: There is more in the polite speech.
Simone: I wanted to ask about that any way.
Csaba: Well here is the deal. You just learned which greetings to use and all this simple stuff which by the way you can easily pick up from our lessons.
Simone: A nice plug.
Csaba: Once you are done with that, you just have to remember that when using the polite speech, you treat people in the third person. That is you don’t say to him, you went to Budapest, but you say, he went to Budapest but addressing him. This is all.
Simone: So once you learned how to conjugate the verbs, you are good to go. Just try to remember to use the third person instead of the second when not talking to a friend.
Csaba: Yes that’s pretty much it although it should be noted that people in Hungary very often use the informal version now-a-days. Even waiters and store clerks and others you don’t really know.
Simone: Right. So using the informal language is not a huge problem.
Csaba: Not really unless the person you address is a senior citizen. Then it sounds strange.


Simone: All right. So basically we mentioned three or four things that you have to start getting your head around. That is cases, vowel harmony and politeness before you start memorizing conjugation tables.
Csaba: Yes knowing a bit of background can help immensely and these are not always explained at the beginning.
Simone: I think it might be because people find grammar both scary and boring.
Csaba: Well I hope that our charming personalities help them stay with us until the end of this lesson.
Simone: Let’s hope so.