Localisation challenges of Central European languages: Hungarian

Over the next three months, we’ll be presenting our insight into the Central European languages in a special blog series. Our aim is to provide a useful linguistic and cultural guide for companies and organisations seeking to localise into these challenging languages.   

In the first post of our series, we present Hungarian, the mysterious language of a captivating land. In this small country of just under 10 million people, the localisation challenges are unique and highly culturally-specific.

In contrast to other countries in Central Europe, English has only relatively recently found a place in the Hungarian school system and at home. In fact, the 2015 Eurobarometer survey reported that just 12 % of the population can understand English-language TV programmes or magazine articles. Consequently, foreign companies cannot simply rely on English to communicate with their Hungarian customers.

Localisation is thus a necessity, and what’s more, it absolutely must meet the demands of Hungarian culture. Countering potential translation issues thus requires an in-depth understanding of the history, structure, and influence of the Hungarian language.  

History

The Hungarians (or Magyars, in Hungarian) were a nomadic people who originally settled between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains. In the 1st millennium B.C., their language began to borrow vocabulary from Iranian and Turkish nomads. Centuries later, the Magyars moved into the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe. It was in this melting pot of cultures where Hungarian adopted words from the surrounding Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages.

It is important to understand the linguistic and cultural influence of Hungary’s neighbours. The surrounding languages have left their mark on Hungarian vocabulary, and in a greater sense, on how Hungarians view themselves and the world.

 

16371_895712200456144_7584663982589050260_nSaint Stephen I, the first King of Hungary, led his people to convert to Christianity and adopt the Latin alphabet 

Structure

As one of the few non-Indo-European languages in Europe, Hungarian can sound quite alien on first hearing. The individual words are sometimes long, the vowels deep, and consonants are clustered and may seem harsh compared to the more familiar European languages. This is partly due to its agglutinative form, in which prepositions and articles are attached to a word as affixes, prefixes, and suffixes. Each additional suffix can change the entire meaning and grammatical function of word or sentence. Thus, “in school” (school is “iskola”) becomes “iskolában” in Hungarian.

Hungarian also uses a unique alphabet. Expanding upon the Latin alphabet, it has 14 different vowels and 9 consonant clusters that are not found in English. For example, the gy cluster in “Magyar” sounds like the dg in “judge”.

Lastly, Hungarian is a topic-prominent language. This means that its word order (e.g. subject, verb, object) can change depending on the focus of the sentence. If Darth Vader had been Hungarian, he might have said, “Én vagyok az apád,” or, “Luke, it is I who is your father”, thereby placing the focus on the identity of Luke’s father. :)

Hungarian alphabet

The Hungarian alphabet

Influence

With 13 million speakers, companies and organisations may not initially see a need to significantly localise their service or product for Hungarian customers. However, it is important to recognise that the language has a far reach across the globe. During the tumultuous period of the two world wars and the fall of Communism, Hungarians moved abroad, and took their language with them. Hungarian is spoken in most Central European countries, including Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, but also in Romania and the Ukraine. Hungarians travelled across the big pond, too; over 100,000 Hungarian-Americans continue to speak their native language, half a world away from their homeland.

No matter where they call home, Hungarians consider themselves to be Hungarian first and foremost. Providing content in their native language is sure to produce loyal Hungarian customers in Central Europe, and beyond!

Want to learn more? Be sure to read our next post, Top Five Tips for Translating English into Hungarian. Our Hungarian translators will offer new clients advice on resolving common problems that may arise during the localisation process.

 

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Parliament along the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary

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