The Hungarian Alphabet – Rovásírás


Not so long ago Hungarian people had their own alphabet just like the Chinese and the Japanese. Nowadays we refer to it as runic alphabet, but given the fact that in our modern days we use the Latin writing system, it is more appropriate to simply call it Hungarian alphabet.

Our ancestors originally carved these letters into wood sticks, then on their houses, buildings and probably books. I say ‘probably books’ because a lot of them were burnt after the Christians had arrived.

The Hungarian writing was exercised by both priests and ordinary people. Among others, we’ve found needle cases and other mundane objects decorated with these letters, which proves that the average people could write and read.

When the farmer carved these letters into the wood sticks, he was holding the stick with his left hand, so he started to write with his right hand. When he turned the stick, he continued to write from left to right, but fundamentally it is an alphabet written from right to left.

There was no need to use compound letters like we do today: sz, ny, ly, cs, etc. We have to do that because we have 40 letters in our alphabet and when our ancestors were forced to use the Latin writing, they had to figure out how to write a sound they had a character for in the Hungarian alphabet. Hence older family names like Weöres, Batthyhányi, Széchenyi…We pronounce them as Vörös, Battyányi, Szécsenyi. And that’s how we would have written any word back in the day because there is a character for every sound without letter combinations.

The rules of writing for the Hungarian alphabet are:

  1. Generally speaking, start writing from right to left.
  2. The omission of vowels was common especially the e-é vowels because originally these vowels were used to say the alphabet: eb, ec, ecs, ed, ef, eg, egy…(today we say bé, cé, csé, dé, ef, gé, gyé…). As the consonants express the meaning of the word, it is no problem omitting the vowels.
  3. You can omit the vowels when it does not hinder you from understanding the word, but always write it when back-vowels and front-vowels change in the same word and you always write it at the end of the word.
  4. The sounds w, x, y, q are transcribed with v, ksz, i, kv. Not part of the alphabet.
  5. The sounds dz, dzs are also not part of it, so they are written as in the Latin writing: d+z, d+zs
  6. The indication of long vowels is a recent development. Our ancestors didn’t make a distinction in writing, only in speech.

Here’s the alphabet from right to left:

m ly l k j í i h gy g f é e d cs c b á a

m L l k j í i h G g f é e d C c b á a

zs z v ű ü ú u ty t sz s r p ő ö ó o ny n

Z z v ű ü ú u T t S s r p ő ö ó o N n

Variations for o-ó, ö-ő and ü-ű can be found as we go back further in time. Check the Internet if you like for sites like that. Let’s see some texts. Keep in mind that the Hungarian alphabet goes from right to left.

Text with each character written out:

aNál moráh kanna sé NoSSa Ge reSGe tlov, tlov men loh, tlov reSGe

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy asszony és annak három lánya.
Once upon a time there was a woman and she had three daughters.

Same text with vowel omission where possible:

aNál moráh knna s NoSSa G rSG tlv, tlv mn lh, tlv rSG

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy asszony és annak három lánya.
Once upon a time there was a woman and she had three daughters.

The interesting thing about this alphabet is that you can use ligatures, that is you can combine these characters. It is your hand writing, if you will. The computer does not write ligatures, so I wrote it myself. Note that there are vowel omissions and ligatures in it.

wp_20170114_001

Note that there are two versions of K = k and K. Linguist believe that it’s due to vowel harmony. The first is believed to be EK or KE like meredek kederem (steap), the second one is AK or KA like akna anK (mine). Some linguists say that the second ”deep-vowel” K was only used for expressing the plural form, but there is no evidence to that. It is simpler to use the first k k. Look at this:

Linguists saying there is Ek and AK would write KAKUKKOK (cuckoos) like this:

kokkukaK

Linguists saying that K is only for plural would write it like this:

Kokkukak

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