Hungarian, Chinese, and Japanese

Hungarian born Istvan Simon writes: George Sassoon and Professor Hilton are right; there is no gender in Hungarian. There is no gender in Chinese either, which explains why confusing He with She is a common mistake for Chinese speakers.  I learned form my first wife, Karen Kline, who studied linguistics at Stanford, that Hungarian is related to Japanese. When I started learning Chinese I noticed some fascinating similarities between Hungarian and  Chinese. This makes sense since the Hungarians came from Mongolia.

Day in Hungarian is "nap",  and the same word also means Sun. The Moon on the other hand is "hold" and a month is "ho'nap", which comes evidently from "hold nap" , or a lunar day. The same relationships exist in Chinese. One form of day in Chinese is "ri\", which also means Sun, and Moon and month are both "yue\". On the other hand Chinese is a tonal language, but Hungarian is not.

RH: I consulted the massive two-volume Compendium of the World's Languages by George L. Campbell.  The relationship among these languages is very hazy.

Martin Lewis writes: Linguists are no longer certain that the Uralic languages (which include Hungarian and Finnish) are related to the Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolian, Tungusic); the notion that a joint Ural-Altaic family is then related more distantly to Japanese and Korean is very much a fringe idea.  And certainly there is no connection (other than that of borrowing) between any of these languages and the Sinitic languages, such as Chinese.  Chinese, it would appear, is more closely related to Navaho than it is to Japanese.

The Hungarians did not come from Mongolia. The languages most closely related to Magyar are Ostyak and Vogul, both of which are spoken in West Siberia.  Other lines of evidence as well would suggest that the Hungarians originated in the forests of this region, then moved onto the steppes of what is now Ukraine and southern Russia, perhaps in connection with the Khazar Khantate, then (7th-8th C.) the dominate power on the western steppes. The subsequent invasion of the region by the Patzinak Turks put pressure on the Hungarians, who then entered what is now Hungary under the encouragement of the short-sighted German King, who was hoping that they would destroy the Kingdom of Great Moravia. That they did, and then some.

Edgar Knowlton writes: About gender of nouns and pronouns and adjectives, it must be that certain languges--like Japanese, Korean, Malay, Tagalog have no need of such. Hawaiian nouns have no gender, but the pronoun has separate categories for dual and plural exclusive maua, makou (excluding the person(s) addressed) or inclusive kaua, kakou (jncluding the addressee(s)). Mandarin uses t'a for he, she, it, but in written form, there are related characters with separation by gender, but this suggests that the spoken language does not have the obligatory category of gender. In English we have the common gender, as in 'spouse,' but it scarcely seems necessary to invoke the term to use the language. In Hebrew, hi means 'she.' and hu means 'he.' Earlier we spoke of the Polish neuter embracing children.. And I guess there would be other possibilities of classification of some of these phenomena. In Thai men  and women use different words for a politeness particle, khrab and kha respectively, sometimes used for 'yes.' 

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 20, 2004