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Hungarian Writing System

Before the year 1000, Hungarians had a different writing system. When Stephen I of Hungary established the Kingdom of Hungary, the old system was gradually discarded. However, although not used at all in everyday life, it is still known and practiced by some enthusiasts. For more information about this writing system, see Old Hungarian script.

Hungarian is written using an expanded Latin alphabet, and has a phonemic orthography, i.e. pronunciation can generally be predicted from the written language. In addition to the standard letters of the Latin alphabet, Hungarian uses several modified Latin characters to represent the additional wovel sounds of the language. These include letters with acute accents (á,é,í,ó,ú) to represent long vowels, and umlauts (ö and ü) and their long counterparts ő and ű to represent front wovels. Sometimes (usually as a result of a technical glitch on a computer) ô or õ is used for ő and û for ű. This is often due to the limitations of the Latin-1 / ISO-8859-1 code page. These letters are not part of the Hungarian language, and are considered misprints. Hungarian can be properly represented with the Latin-2 / ISO-8859-2 code page, but this code page is not always available. (Hungarian is the only language using both ő and ű.) Of course, Unicode includes them, and so they can be used on the Internet.

For a complete table of the pronunciation of the Hungarian alphabet, see the X-SAMPA description in the Hungarian Wikipedia (in Hungarian, but the table is obvious), which transliterates Hungarian letters into IPA and X-SAMPA characters.

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Additionally, the letter pairs <ny>, <ty>, and <gy> represent the palatal consonants /ɲ/, /c/, and /ɟ/ (a little like the "d+y" sounds in British "duke" or American "would you") - a bit like saying "d" with your tongue pointing to your upper palate. Hungarian uses <s> for /ʃ/ and <sz> for /s/, which is the reverse of Polish usage. The letter <zs> is /ʒ/ and <cs> is /ʧ/. These digraphs are considered single letters in the alphabet. The letter <ly> is also a "single letter digraph", but is pronounced like /j/ (English <y>), and appears mostly in old words. The letters <dz> and <dzs> /ʤ/ are exotic remnants and are hard to find even in longer texts. Some examples still in common use are madzag ("string"), edzeni ("to train (athletically)") and dzsungel ("jungle").

Hungarian distinguishes between long and short vowels, with long vowels written with acutes. It also distinguishes between long and short consonants, with long consonants being doubled. For example, lenni ("to be"), hozzászólás ("comment"). The digraphs, when doubled, become trigraphs: <sz>+<sz>=<ssz>, e.g. művésszel ("with an artist"). But when the digraph occurs at the end of a line, all of the letters are written out. For example ("with a bus"):

... busz-

When a prefix ends in a digraph and the suffix starts with the same digraph, both digraphs are written out: lány + nyak = lánynyak ("girl's neck").

Usually a trigraph is a double digraph, but there are a few exceptions: tizennyolc ("eighteen") is a concatenation of tizen + nyolc. There are doubling minimal pairs: tol ("push") vs. toll ("feather" or "pen").

While to English speakers they may seem unusual at first, once the new orthography and pronunciation are learned, written Hungarian is almost completely phonemic.

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