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The first Hungarian I ever read

Long ago I found a book called "Languages of the World" in our little small town public library. It had small samples of writing in many languages, with an English translation for each one and some little facts about the language like how many people spoke it or some little grammatical feature. I haven't seen the book for many years, but I still remember the Hungarian sample that was included, from Jokai's Fekete Gyémántok:

A pokoli komédia még egyre tartott a börzén.

A halálra ítélt papírok, a bondavári gyártelep s a bondavári vasút részvényei egyik kézből a másikba repültek.

Most már a komikumig vitték a tragédiát, s kezdett humor vegyülni a szerencsétlenségbe.

Ez a szó: „Bondavár”, csak arra való volt, hogy derültséget idézzen elő a börzeemberek között.

Aki az utolsó részvényén túladhatott nagy veszteséggel, nevetett azon, aki megszerezte azt.

Kezdték a részvényeket megfoghatlan becsű tárgyakért cserébe kínálgatni. Ráadásul egy új esernyőre egy ócska esernyőért.

Of all the languages in the book, for whatever reason, this was the one that fascinated me so much that I had to learn more. The words looked so strange to me even though they were written in a familiar alphabet! I had no idea how to read it aloud, but I tried anyway (I remember pronouncing egyre as "egg-eye-er") and it became a quest to find out everything I could.

And now I can't even see those words with the same eyes that once saw them as strange. They communicate their meaning to me as directly as my first language does, without any sense of foreignness at all.

So I think all this is just to say: If you are beginning to learn, keep going. You'll get there (gradually). And it's worth it.


PS - For I long time I believed that the quote above was the first Hungarian that I ever read. But then one day I discovered a book from my childhood - "The Case of the Phantom Frog" - in which the intrepid young detective finds a mysterious handwritten note reading Sose nem fogod megtalálni a békát! (Pretty sure I'm writing that the way it was written in the book.)

October 16, 2016



"Sose nem" reminds me of the following structure, which is pretty non-standard but actually used by some people and is absolutely hilarious when translated back into any other language:

"Ne mondj semmit se nem senkinek se nem!"

(Don't tell anyone anything, literally "Don't say not even not nothing to not even not no one!")


Here is a lingot for the translation. "Ne mondj senkinek semmit" is enough to express "Don't tell anyone anything". It can be used with "se":" Ne mondj senkinek se semmit se" , but with "nem" it took time to understand what you meant


I have the book, Languages of the World. It is truly a treasure. :)


In English or Hungarian? It would be nice to have both languages together.


The book is in English, but it's a survey of languages all over the world with information about them, along with a sample of each one, from literature or spoken tradition from that language.


:-)) én se találtam a békát. Tegnap elött elolvastam A NAP FÁJA, egy gyerek mese. A következö lesz Tulipán királyfi.


Is that book written by Aysa Pereitswaig or by Kenneth Katzner?


It was the Katzner book.

It's sort of hard to remember (or understand at all, depending on your age), what a miraculous window to the world that book was, in a time when you couldn't just see an entire encyclopedia and nearly endless content in nearly any language on the internet.

  • 1074

Fascinating story :)

Thanks for sharing.


With a big respect to Jókai, I need to note that it is XIX. century literature. While it can be completely understood, I would say it is not perfect for learning contemporary Hungarian as some phrases and words sound a bit outdated and are not really used nowadays. Anyway, I like your story :)


Ah yes, the "gy" digraph. When people ask me about Hungarian, I always mention that as the most difficult sound in the language.

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