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Hungarian is spoken by approximately 14.000.000 people. About 13.000.000 speakers live in Hungary and adjacent countries (mainly in Slovakia, in Romania and in Serbia and Montenegro) and around one million lives farther abroad.

Hungarian belongs to the Ugric subbranch of the Finno-Ugric languages, which form a top level constituent of the Uralic language family. The two Ob-Ugric languages Khanty and Mansi are the closest cognates of Hungarian.

The speakers call their language magyar.

The Hungarian people emerged from Turkish and Ugric tribes living in western Siberia. In the 5th century AD they began their migration towards the west. In the late 9th century the Hungarians had reached their present location in central Europe. From there they raided a reasonable part of Europe until the middle of the 10th century. In 955 they were defeated by joint German and Czech forces. Afterwords they became sedentary and were christianised.

The first attestation of the Hungarian language was a funeral oration, which was written in the first half of the thirteenth century AD. In the 14th and 15th century some chronicles were written in Hugarian. Several bible translations were produced during the time of the reformation.The development of a Hungarian national literature started in the 19th century.

Hungarian is the official language of the Republic of Hungary.

The Hungarian sound system consists of 14 vowel phonemes and 25 consonant phonemes. Vowel length and consonant length are distinctive.

Lexical accent is positioned on the first syllable of a word.

Hungarian features vowel harmony, viz suffix vowel agree with the last stem vowel in backness and frontness.

Hungarian morphology is basically agglutinative, i.e. morphemes have clear-cut boundaries, grammatical morphemes bear mostly one single meaning, the word stem is not modified by internal inflection like 'umlaut' or 'ablaut'. Nevertheless there is a considerable amount of allomorphic alternation at morpheme boundaries and also stem alternation is found. Thus Hungarian is not a purely aglutinative language.

There is no grammatical gender in Hungarian.

Hungarian nouns are composed of a stem, which may be augmented by several suffixes, which indicate number, possessor and case.

Nouns and verbs have two numbers: singular and plural.

Possession is indicated by suffixed pronouns, which convey person and number of the possessor.

The Hungarian noun has 16 to 24 distinct case forms, a part of which covers primary grammatical functions and the rest bears local-spatial meanings. Cf. the following listing of 17 cases: nominative, dative, accusative, instrumental, translative, causal/final, inessive, elative, illative, superessive, delative, sublative, adessive, ablative, allative, locative and separative/locative.

Nominal composition is very frequent in Hungarian.

Hungarian has a definite article and an indefinite article, which both precede the head noun.

Adjectives does not agree with the head noun, when they acts as attributes, on the other hand adjectives in predicative position agree with the head noun in number. However, adjectives, which are used as nouns are fully inflected.

Numerals are not inflected, when they act as an adjunct of a head noun. Numerals without a head noun are inflected for case.

The system of verbal endings is split up into two conjugations: the 'indefinite conjugation' and the 'definite conjugation'. The indefinite conjugation is used with intransitive verbs and with transitive verbs, which have an indefinite direct object or a first or second person pronoun as object. The definite conjugation occurs with transitive verbs, which have a definite nominal direct object or a third person pronoun as direct object. Thus in Hungarian the verb agrees also with the direct object in respect of definiteness.

The Hungarian language has an elaborate system of verbal particles. These particles modify the meaning of the verb in various ways: they can indicate directional and aspectual meaning or make the verb transitive. The particle is prefixed to the verb in declarative sentences or tag questions. The particle follows the verb in wh-questions, in negatives and when parts of the clause are emphasised.

In Hungarian the copula is used to indicate that something exists. In other cases the copula is omitted.

Hungarian has various infinite verb forms: an infinitive, several participles and verbal adverbs (also called converbs or gerunds). Infinitives can be inflected for person and number by suffixed pronouns. Participles are mostly used as adjectives. Verbal adverbs are employed as predicates in combination with the copula.

Hungarian is a pro-drop language, i.e. subject pronouns usually are omitted, because subject values are sufficiently encoded in the personal endings of the verb.

The order of constituents is relatively free at the clause level, more exactly it is pragmatically oriented. The order in pragmatical terms is the following: topic + focus + finite verb + any other item.

On the phrase level the order of constituents is more strict: articles, demonstratives precede the head noun. Attributive adjectives and attributive participles also precede the head noun, but follow articles and demonstratives.

There are four historical layers of loanwords in Hungarian. They may be roughly classified in the following chronological order: 1) Iranian loans, 2) Turkic loans, 3) Slavonic loans and 4) Germanic loans.

Bernhard Scheucher

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