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...