Language: Hungarian origins and language

Regarding the Hungarian origins and language, Martin Lewis replies:Thank you, Istvan Simon, for your thoughtful response.  I based my arguments largely on linguistic relationships (although I am not a linguist).  Magyar is an Ugric language, which fits into a larger Finno-Ugric family, which (with the addition of Samoyed) fits into the yet-larger Uralic family.  All members of this family are associated with Western Siberia and NE Europe -- and the Ugric languages in particular are linked to Western Siberia.  Mongolia, on the other hand, is squarely within the Altaic language zone.  While there may be linkages between Uralic and Altaic languages, they are distant.  Certainly the Hungarians were steppe pastoralists when they first entered written history, but they may have had an earlier non-pastoral history in western Siberia.  But this is quite conjectural.

In addition, all the historical atlases that I use show the Magyars as having been a pastoral people of the western rather than eastern steppes. Evidently, they were closely associated with the Khazars, a Turkic people of the steppe zone whose aristocracy converted to Judaism (as Arthur Koestler recounted in The 13th Tribe).  I do find a slightly different views.  To quote from The Encyclopedia of Trade, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages: "Magyar Tribes:  A nomadic herding and warring people of Ugric origin who had migrated south from the middle Volga region between the Iron Age and the 6th C. CE. They lived north of the Black Sea under Khazar rule during the mid-9th C., benefiting from Khazar trading contacts with the Near East. From their new place of settlement northwest of the Black Sea, where they had developed military and trading relationships with Byzantium, they were led across the Carpathian Mountains into present-day Hungary in 896 by Arpad ..."  On genetic relationships, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, in Genes, Peoples, and Languages, states that "Today, barely 10 percent of the genes in Hungary can be attributed to its Uralic conquerors." (p. 151). There is, however, a small Altaic element in the Hungarian population, which derived from the Turkic Cumans.  Fleeing from Mongol domination, large numbers of Cumans found refuge in Hungary as well as Bulgaria in the 12th and 13th centuries.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 20, 2004