Thursday, January 11, 2007


...which is Hungarian for 'the language of love'. Which can only mean French, right?
Well, no.

Earlier today, I was rereading "A cigánybáró" ("The Gypsy Baron"), my favorite novel by the Hungarian novelist Mór Jókai. Set in 18th century Banát, it is a charming story of a young nobleman returning home from exile in Turkey to reclaim his title and his inheritance. The multilingual world of medieval and early modern Hungary meeting the multilingual world of the Ottoman Empire described in Jókai's playful prose is a linguistic feast. I'm still trying to find out what "kurugja" is and who is meant by "Ali Kurd". And does anyone have any idea what kind of tobacco "boktsatütün" ("bokçatütün"?) is?

In chapter 5 ("The Sevenfold Trials of Baronhood"), our protagonist is spending some time at the estate of baron Feuerstein where he is subjected not only to the trials, but - as a poor expatriate - also to the general ridicule of the assembled nobility. Describing how, as a part of the trials, the protagonist has just learned French in one afternoon (How indeed, you ask? Read the novel, I answer.), the narrator offers this insight into the linguistic milieu of 18th century Austro-Hungarian empire:

Most már aztán nem lehetett vele mókázni a háta mögött, mert megértette, amit franciául beszéltek; németül konversálni pedig úri társaságban nem volt szokás: ez csak a szerelem nyelve, négyszemközötti társalgásra való.

From now on, they could no longer mock him behind his back speaking French. And German was not commonly spoken in the high society: it is solely a language of love, more suitable for an intimate conversation.

How things change...


David Marjanović said...

Wow. You speak Hungarian?!? Let me express my respect!

ts in Hungarian is a strange sight. I've only encountered it in Burgenland-Croatian surnames, for the sound I end in.

Johanka said...

This is the thing for which I sometimes envy Slovak people, especially those living in the south - the intimate contact with Hungarian culture and language.

David: How do you pronounce the sound you end in? :-) I recall the letter doesn't display correctly on Languagehat.

bulbul said...


thank you, but I'm afraid you're giving me too much credit. All I had to do to learn Hungarian was to be born in the right place. Now as for Finnish, that's a different story :o)
That "ts" thing is really weird. I would normally expect "cs" in Serbian/Croatian names ending in "-ć", as well as in boktsatütün should "ts" really stand for "č".


welcome :o)
Actually, I'm originally from the East, somewhere around here. But what you said about Hungarian language and culture applies here as well.

David Marjanović said...

That "ts" thing is really weird. I would normally expect "cs" in Serbian/Croatian names ending in "-ć", as well as in boktsatütün should "ts" really stand for "č"

I think it was specially invented to distinguish "ć" from "č" (there was no Croatian orthography yet).

Is the Hungarian cs retroflex? I think the Turkish ç is not... perhaps that's why ts suddenly turns up in a Turkish word...

Pronunciation? Right in the middle between "c" and "č". The voiceless alveolopalatal affricate. :-)

(Incidentally, ignore what that Wikipedia page says about Mandarin. What they give is an approximate description of a southern accent.)

Language said...

I'm guessing it's bohça rather than bokça; bohçalamak is 'to wrap up in a bundle' and bohça is 'wrapping cloth, bundle.' Does 'wrapped/bundled tobacco' make any sense in context?

Anonymous said...

Another meaning for Turkish "bohça" is "small bale of fine tobacco", according to the Redhouse dictionary.

Language said...

Aha -- proof! Nice to see my Sprachgefühl works even for languages I don't actually speak.

bulbul said...

Steve and Anonymous,

thank you very much, gentlemen!

And Steve, my (metaphorical) hat is off to you :o)

Lameen Souag said...

Hi Bulbul, a quick question with nothing to do with this post:

You speak Maltese - do you happen to know any defective verbs in it which only have imperative forms?

Anonymous said...

There seem to be many variants: kurugla kurugja duruglya kurigja kuriglya kurogla kurukla (kurukla could be Turkish),
which you can find on the web in phrases like:
a seprőt kihúzó kurugla /
Ha a konyhában körül nem tekintettem volna, a kurugla és a pemet mind összeégett volna. /
az egyik sarokban egy kurogla (szénvonó) szomorkodott / (etc.)

See also

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