Hungarian is the language of around 13 million people in the Central-European country Hungary. The language is quite interesting because it’s so different from the languages of all of its neighbors. In fact, almost all European languages have something fundamental in common: They (almost) all belong to the Indo-European language family, meaning that they’re (almost) all related, even if it’s a distant relationship.
Hungarian, however, isn’t an Indo-European language at all. The Hungarian language belongs to what is called the “Finno-Ugric” family of languages, and it’s closest cousins (of any significant size) are Finnish and Estonian. But even these are only very remotely related to Hungarian, perhaps like Hindi is to English.
So how come a small country like Hungary speaks a completely unrelated language to all of its neighbors?
What’s the origin of the Hungarian language?
Most researchers agree that the Ugric people that went and settled in modern-day Hungary originally came from Western Siberia, south of the Ural mountains. However, around 2500-3000 years ago, many of these people began leaving this region.
In around the same time, the Indo-European languages were already starting to become dominant in not only Central Europe, but in great expanses in the western Eurasian continent. The northern part, however, where the Ugric people resided, remained untouched.
It is theorized that the reason the people originally left their home-region was because they had come into contact with the Iranian and Turkic people’s who were nomads. Inspired by this nomadic lifestyle, the Ugric people left their home south of the Ural mountains and started wandering, living a nomadic lifestyle.
Between the year 35 BC and the 4th century AD, the territory of modern day Hungary was part of the Roman Empire. After the collapse of the Western-Roman empire, most of Europe was in turmoil, and the territory of Hungary saw many invasions from various populations. The Hungarian region became part of Bulgaria until the 9th century, when it was finally invaded by the Magyar people, which was the descendants of the Ugric tribes that had left the region south of the Ural mountains one or two millennia earlier.
The Magyar people established a strong hold on the region, and has kept it since then. They’re the modern Hungarian people we know today.
Hungarian – A foreign intruder who settled down
This is very roughly the reason that Hungarians today speak a non-Indo European language. The people who brought the language lived Isolated from the Indo-European peoples of Europe for a long time until they firmly invaded the territory of modern-day Hungary and settled down. They became a very strong entity in the region and didn’t succumb to the influences of the other languages in the region.
The Hungarian language obviously didn’t remain untouched by the other peoples that it encountered throughout the millennia, and in many ways, the modern Hungarian language has more in common with its Slavic, Turkic, Germanic and even Latin influences than the language’s original ancestors south of the Urals. But it remains distinctly Hungarian.
If you want to learn Hungarian, go read my article called “How to learn the Hungarian language by yourself”.