Dialogue

Vocabulary

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Lesson Transcript

Michael: Is the Hungarian alphabet the same as the English alphabet?
Boglárka: And what are the differences?
Michael: At HungarianPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Kitti Kocsis , a kindergarten student, is studying the alphabet with her mum, Karola Kocsis. She sees an unfamiliar letter and asks
"What letter is this?"
Kocsis Kitti: Milyen betű ez?
Dialogue
Kocsis Kitti: Milyen betű ez?
Kocsis Karola: Ez az ű.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Kocsis Kitti: Milyen betű ez?
Michael: "What letter is this?"
Kocsis Karola: Ez az ű.
Michael: "It's ű." [yː]

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll talk more about elements of the Hungarian alphabet as well as the similarities and differences between the Hungarian and English alphabet.
Michael: The modern-day Hungarian alphabet is largely similar to the English one. Both use the Latin alphabet, which means letters are easily recognizable between languages. Hungarian also utilizes a wide range of diacritics
Boglárka: ékezetek
Michael: and digraphs
Boglárka: kétjegyű mássalhangzók
Michael: as well as one trigraph.
Michael: Diacritics are various types of accent marks that sit above a letter and indicate a variation of the typical letter sound. Digraphs are pairs of characters, and a trigraph is a group of three characters used to represent a single sound. For this reason, Hungarian has a total of 44 letters compared to the 26 found in English. The diacritics that appear in Hungarian include letters such as
Boglárka: á, é, í, ó, ő, ú, ű
Michael: and the digraphs are
Boglárka: cs, dz, gy, ly, ny, ty, sz, zs
Michael: and the only trigraph
Boglárka: háromjegyű mássalhangzó
Michael: is the sound
Boglárka: dzs.
Michael: However, unlike in English, Hungarian characters in almost all cases uniquely determine the pronunciation. Therefore, if you master the Hungarian alphabet, you will immediately be able to read practically anything in Hungarian.
Michael: One thing that might look scary for some students at first is the wide use of diacritics, or accents, on Hungarian vowels. There are both singular diacritic marks and double ones. Singular diacritic marks are just one accent on top of the vowel. Let’s listen to the difference between them:
Boglárka: a
Michael: and
Boglárka: á
Michael: the first sound,
Boglárka: a
Michael: as in
Boglárka: alma
Michael: meaning "apple" in Hungarian, can be found in the beginning of the English words "obvious" or "honest." The second sound,
Boglárka: á
Michael: as in
Boglárka: áldás,
Michael: meaning "blessing" in Hungarian, is an elongated version of the previous sound and, as such, it is denoted by a letter "a" with an accent on top. It is similar to the first vowel in the English word "father."
Michael: The second set of vowels are the
Boglárka: e
Michael: and
Boglárka: é.
Michael: The first sound,
Boglárka: e
Michael: as in
Boglárka: ezer
Michael: meaning "thousand" in Hungarian, can be found in the English word "bed." The second one which has an accent mark on top of the letter "e" is pronounced as
Boglárka: é
Michael: as in
Boglárka: édes,
Michael: meaning "sweet" in Hungarian. This one can be found in the English word "hey."
Michael: Then comes the
Boglárka: i
Michael: and
Boglárka: í.
Michael: The first sound,
Boglárka: i
Michael: as in
Boglárka: idilli
Michael: means "idyllic." In this English word, we actually have the same [ɪ] sound in the second and third vowels: "idyllic." We can also find this sound, for example, in the English word "bit." The second sound, which is an "i" with an accent mark on top,
Boglárka: í
Michael: as in
Boglárka: ír
Michael: meaning "write." You can find it, for example, in the word "need" or "read."
Michael: The next vowel pairs are the
Boglárka: o
Michael: and
Boglárka: ó
Michael: The letter
Boglárka: o
Michael: is pronounced the same as the letter "o" in the word "boy" while the second one, which has an accent on top of the "o,"
Boglárka: ó
Michael: is like in the English word "more."
Michael: As we mentioned earlier, Hungarian also has some double diacritic marks. The letter "o" with two dots on top, pronounced as
Boglárka: ö,
Michael: is a great example of this. It is roughly identical to the sound in "burn," "first," or "work." The longer version of it, which has a double accent on top of the "o," is pronounced as
Boglárka: ő
Michael: This one is a bit trickier as it doesn’t exist in standard English. You might know the German word for "nice", or "schön" [ ʃøːn ], which is probably the most well-known international word to demonstrate how the letter
Boglárka: ő
Michael: is pronounced.
Michael: Similarly to the letter "o," the letter "u" also has single and double accents in Hungarian. The letter "u" by itself, is pronounced as
Boglárka: u
Michael: This sound can be found in the English word "oops" for example. The elongated version of it, which is a "u" with a single accent on top, is pronounced as
Boglárka: ú
Michael: and is identical with the English word "cool."
Michael: And the last pair of vowels in Hungarian are the
Boglárka: ü
Michael: and
Boglárka: ű
Michael: The sound
Boglárka: ü
Michael: as in
Boglárka: ül
Michael: meaning "sit," is a letter "u" with a double dot on top. This sound is a bit tricky because it doesn’t exist in standard English. It can be found in many languages such as in French or German. You can hear this sound, for example, in the French word "tu," meaning "you" or in the name of the famous Swiss dish fondue [fɔ̃dy], when read in French. The elongated version of it, which is a letter "u" with a double accent mark on top, is the same sound pronounced longer
Boglárka: ű,
Michael: which can be found in the Hungarian word for "space"
Boglárka: űr.
Michael: Now that we have covered all the Hungarian vowels, we hope you don’t feel frightened at all. You can see that almost all the vowels that exist in Hungarian have an identical or nearly identical equivalent in either English, or in some other large language. Now, moving on to the consonants, we will mention some of those which are traditionally more difficult for foreigners. One of these is the digraph
Boglárka: ty
Michael: as in the word for "hen,"
Boglárka: tyúk.
Michael: This sound is composed by merging a "t" and a "j" [j] sound. The closest English equivalent is the sound you pronounce when you say the words "hit you" without a space between the two words. The sound in the middle of "hit you" is almost identical to the Hungarian:
Boglárka: ty
Michael: Another tougher digraph is the letter
Boglárka: gy
Michael: as in the word for "child,"
Boglárka: gyerek
Michael: This sound is composed of a letter "g" and a letter "y" and its closest English equivalent can be found in the British English accent, in words such as "due" or "during." Try to remember these words to help you whenever you encounter the digraph
Boglárka: gy
Michael: during your language learning.
Expansion/Contrast
Michael: There are two Hungarian letters that foreigners most often confuse. These are the "c" and "s," which, in Hungarian, are pronounced as
Boglárka: c
Michael: and
Boglárka: s.
Michael: You can clearly hear how the letter "c" is pronounced in the Hungarian word for "shoe,"
Boglárka: cipő,
Michael: and also how the letter "s" is pronounced in Hungarian in the word for "ham,"
Boglárka: sonka.
Michael: One of the very few instances when a Hungarian letter doesn’t correspond to a separate sound is the digraph
Boglárka: ly,
Michael: which is composed of the letter "l" and the letter "y." Historically, this letter was pronounced a bit differently, but, over time, its pronunciation became identical to that of the
Boglárka: j
Michael: sound. Therefore, Hungarian has two letters for the sound [j]. This might seem confusing at first, but, don’t worry, there are not that many words that use the digraph. Maybe the most common word using the digraph-j is the word for "hole," or
Boglárka: lyuk
Michael: in Hungarian. The first sound is [j], but you shouldn’t use a "j" letter when writing this word, only the digraph composed of "l" and "y."
Michael: In case you are wondering how you will know when to read the "l" and "y" together as a [j] and when to read it separately, we have good news: the letter "y,"
Boglárka: ipszilon,
Michael: while it exists, is used extremely rarely as a separate letter in current Hungarian. It only appears in traditional family names in which case you will just pronounce them as a normal [ɪ] just like in the English word ‘hit.’ Apart from that, you might encounter this letter in words of obvious foreign origin.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: An interesting addition is that Hungarians did not always use the alphabet we see today. The Old Hungarian script, also called Hungarian runes, or
Boglárka: Székely-magyar rovás,
Michael: was closely related to the Turkic writing system. Soon after the Christian Hungarian kingdom was established, the old writing system became largely obsolete in favor of the Latin alphabet used today. However, in certain isolated Hungarian-speaking areas, such as in Transylvania, the old Hungarian alphabet survived until the 18th century. And even though by most recent centuries the ancient Hungarian alphabet has faded away, there is now a revival of it and you may see it on street signs, town and village names, etc. It’s an important aspect of the culture, apart from learning the modern form of the language used today.

Outro

Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Boglárka: Viszontlátásra!
Michael: See you soon!

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