A language known as “bad Hungarian” is severely endangered

PUBLISHED: 18:02 11 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:29 12 July 2017

(David Marcu)

(David Marcu)

Archant

In Romanian Moldavia,the Csángós are oppressed by their Romanian neighbours and misunderstood by their Hungarian ‘relatives’.

Photo: ContributedPhoto: Contributed

Hungarian is a language which is generally considered to have no close linguistic relatives, in any sense of the word “close”. Its nearest linguistic relations seem to be the Mansi and Khanty languages, which are linguistically rather distant from Hungarian, and are certainly geographically very distant: their speakers are located about 3,000 miles from Hungary in the western part of Siberia.

But there is another candidate for the label “linguistic relative of Hungarian”. The fact that there is a very large Hungarian-speaking minority in Romanian Transylvania is rather well known. What is much less widely known, at least in western Europe, is that there is also another Hungarian-speaking minority in the east of the country on the other side of the Carpathians, towards the border with Moldova, in Romanian Moldavia.

These are the Csángós, who are an ignored and oppressed linguistic minority whose language is dying out as younger people shift to Romanian. They are distinguished from their Romanian-speaking neighbours by their poverty, isolation, and Catholicism ­­­(most Romanians are Orthodox). Romanian governments have denied that they form a distinct ethnolinguistic group – in censuses for example – and denied that they have a language of their own.

In more recent times, the Csángós have been faced with a different problem. Since 1989 and the fall of the Iron Curtain, certain official Hungarian bodies have announced that they want to “save the Csángós”. What this means is that they, quite admirably, want to save the language and the culture of this isolated people. They are right to want to do so. The Council of Europe has expressed its concern for the plight of the Csángó minority, and criticised the Romanian government for failing to provide education in anything other than Romanian in the Csángó-speaking areas.

Unfortunately, the Hungarians’ efforts have been linguistically uninformed and misguided, as Hungarian academic linguists have tried pointing out to them. The official bodies have started out from the assumption that a Csángó is just a Hungarian-speaker like any other, and that younger members of the community could benefit from scholarships and education in Hungary.

The problem is that the Csángós have been geographically separated from the main body of Hungarian speakers for very many centuries and their Hungarian is so very different from other varieties as to be initially incomprehensible to Hungarians. When I was fortunate enough to be taken by some Hungarian linguists on a fascinating trip to Csángó villages in Romania, they took the precaution of bringing an interpreter with us, a Hungarian anthropologist who had worked with Csángós for long enough to be able to understand them. So from a linguistic point of view it would probably be more sensible to call their language Csángó, and regard it as a language closely related to Hungarian rather than Hungarian itself. But that would be to play into the hands of those Romanian nationalists who want to claim that Csángó is not a “real language” and not worth preserving.

The education-in-Hungary policy has not been a success because the Csángós had too many linguistic difficulties. It also doesn’t help that Csángó is widely regarded by ordinary Hungarians as “bad Hungarian” and a “corrupt” version of their language – which is no less nonsensical than saying Swedish is a corrupt version of Danish. Hearing Hungarians express such negative attitudes about their native language simply gives the Csángós one additional reason not to speak their own language, and to switch to Romanian instead, as many of them have already done.

The European Union has done a lot of good work with their policies for promoting and maintaining minority languages. But these efforts need to be linguistically well-informed if they are to succeed. We have to look at the languages and dialects involved themselves, rather than take concepts like “Hungarian” as unproblematical givens. Knowledge about the vowels and consonants and grammar and vocabulary of any language we are trying to save is important.

Peter Trudgill is Professor Emeritus of English Linguistics at Fribourg University and Honorary Professor of Sociolinguistics at the UEA.

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest articles

Trump makes Nixon look like the good guy

The US is stumbling towards an autocracy, as it emerges Donald Trump is exploring ways to pardon himself even before any accusations have been made.

What would Doctor Who do?

I find I’m just as uncomfortable with sneering schadenfreude when it’s our “side” doing it as when it comes from the opposition.

Why every philosopher’s death seems to hold meaning

The tragic drowning of French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle while trying to rescue two stricken children has prompted tributes from across the globe.

Robert Miller update: “I don’t hate the EU… I just don’t want us to be in it”

The New European has finally decided to publish one of persistent Brexiteer Robert Miller’s letters. But was it worth the wait?

Football clubs were ethnically cleansed along with the population during the Bosnian War

The story of the Bosnian War is also the story of its football clubs which were ethnically cleansed along with the population

Fox says ‘I’ll take care of the chicken’ amid chlorine-washed meat fears

Trade secretary Liam Fox has played down claims importing foods under a new UK-US trade deal could mean a loosening of food standards post-Brexit.

Rattenkrieg 2017: How the destruction of Mosul was templated in Stalingrad

The haunting image of a ruined city is nothing new. Here we examine the horrors of urban warfare from Stalingrad to Mosul

Sexuality reality: How the first gay rights movement was destroyed

A burgeoning gay rights movement in Europe in the early decades of the 20th century was crushed by rising authoritarianism.

RIP common decency... welcome to the age of hate in belligerent Britain

We used to be a mild-mannered people. Now random spite is the cornerstone of our crumbling culture

British media fail: Why we need a new cultural education

The British media has always failed in its coverage of European affairs.

Cracks show for Labour as party fails to grasp anti-Brexit feeling of members

Labour’s Brexit divisions have become apparent once again with trade spokesman Barry Gardiner saying staying in the customs union would be a “disaster”.

Brexit will be the great environmental disaster

When it comes to Brexit and the environment our ties to the EU are complex.

What the UK means to me: “Britishness oftentimes hits me in the face”

The zealots who allow the Brexit fiasco to happen are diminishing the UK inch by inch, day by day.

Macron: the rule breaker who smashed up the system

Emmanuel Macron has been lucky. But also courageous. Here’s how the combination has led to a remarkable turnaround in previously gloomy nation

How the Dutch are falling out of love with Britain

We Dutch used to make fun of the Germans and admire the Brits, says Vanessa Lamsvelt. Now, we find ourselves laughing at, not with, the UK

Blow for Hard Brexit as Cabinet ‘unites’ behind transition deal

The Cabinet is “united” in backing a transitional Brexit deal which would mean continued access to migrant labour, Michael Gove has said.

What Euratom really stands for

The Euratom row lays bare the innate flaws of Brexit. But it also gives pro-Europeans their biggest chance yet to regain the initiative

How did Brexit Britain lose the spirit of the 2012 Olympics?

How did Brexit Britain lose the spirit of the 2012 Olympics?

Brexit could force UK to set up new healthcare scheme for tourists

Brussels is holding out on the government’s hopes of continuing membership of the European health insurance scheme post-Brexit.

Fox says UK does not need trade deal with Europe after Brexit

Brexiteer cabinet minister Liam Fox has reiterated the government’s widely ridiculed negotiating tactic of “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

Watch us on YouTube

The rollercoaster ride of Theresa May's plummeting approval ratings

Views: 325

A year of failure and fiasco in May’s Number 10

Views: 251

Tory minister Steve Baker demands the EU is to be ‘torn down’

Views: 451

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter