Accents etc. in Hungarian

Hungarian is written using the Latin alphabet, which contains but 26 letters; as against this spoken Hungarian -- like English and most other languages -- makes use of more than twenty-six distinct sounds.

In English this is dealt with by using the same letter to stand for different sounds depending upon meaning (e.g. the i in live when used as a verb or as an adjective) or upon what letter(s) precede and/or follow it (e.g. the a in lake and lack). Whence the notorious accusation that English spelling is an incomprehensible muddle.

In Hungarian, in contrast, you will find (one minor exception apart) consistent one : one mapping between written letters and pronounced sonds. In order to achieve this Hungarian orthography employs

Note, that accents do matter. Different pronouncation, even just short or long, can go hand in hand with [often very] different meaning, as the following small sample demonstrates:

Note also that the seven digraphs apart any pair of consonants is pronounced as two, separate sounds; so, for intance, kocka (cube) is pronounced kots-ka, not kokka. All vowels are, or course, always pronounced separately, even when adjacent, e.g. leér (reaches down) must be spoken le-ér.

Perhaps more to the point for those not planning to speak Hungarian, but who might on occasion be exposed to looking up written material (e.g. Telephone Directory, dictionary):

This can induce acute to chronic despair in ignorant foreigners, who do not think of looking for, say, a new Cs section wherein to find csap (tap) after cukor (sugar), nor for, say, a new Ö section with ökör (ox) in it after ozone.

Remember this when driven to despair by the apparent impossibility of locating a term or name in an alphabetic arrangement. It is perfectly simple and logical, once you know the rules -- which nobody bothers to tell you about, because they are, after all, so obvious ... if you happen to know Hungarian, a language in which the term for explain is simply magyarázni: literally it translates as put into Hungarian.

Last updated: December 1997

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