From Linguifex
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Sino-Magyar language
傌鄉語文 - Мађар ђѵммѵн
Magyar gyümmün
Created byXeniacoutiere
Settingparallel Earth
Native toHungary
Early form

Sino-Magyar is an alt-universe version of the Hungarian language, based on the question, what if the ancient Magyars had, after leaving their original homeland, first travelled east and spent around a hundred years in the 7th/8th centuries in close contact with Tang China, before deciding to head west to settle in the Carpathian Basin in 896 AD. On this page, "Magyar" or "Hungarian" on its own will refer to Sino-Magyar; real-world Hungarian will be referred to simply as "RW" or "RWH".


Without delving too deeply into non-relevant or marginally relevant history, the close contact with China and the Chinese influenced Magyar culture, society and language deeply; amongst many other things, they adapted Chinese writing to write Magyar, eventually adding the use of a brush-written derivative of rovásirás (Old Hungarian runes) to serve the same functions as kana do in Japanese. After the arrival in Europe, with the (slower-than-real-world) expansion of (Orthodox) Christianity through Hungary, the Cyrillic script was introduced (Hungary ended up in the Orthodox world as a result of Koppány's victory over Vajk - Koppány had accepted Byzantine support; no St Stephen means no Catholic Hungary). Initially, it was used only by Christians, whilst adherents of the native Hungarian religion (a fusion of RW Hungarian paganism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism) continued to use the Sino-Magyar writing system(s). After Koppány's victory, Hungary was slowly transformed into a settled country, allied with the Byzantines for some time whilst building itself up into a regional power in its own right. Nomadic peoples like the Pechenegs and Cumans were welcomed into Hungary. Although Christianity was tolerated (there was no official state religion, but there was a requirement - later codified - that the ruler must be of the "ancient faith") it wasn't encouraged, but with time the Cyrillic script became more widespread amongst the commoners, whether they converted to Christianity or not. With time there grew a view that Cyrillic was the script of the commonfolk, Sinitic that of the nobility and the ruling classes.

The letter that Batu Khan gave King Béla's envoy (RW, this was Friar Julianus) was *not* a call for unconditional surrender. Instead, having learned well in advance that the Magyars are still basically an Asian people, the Mongols instead proposed an alliance with the Magyars. King Béla secretly accepted this proposal, and whilst the Mongols made their way west, the Magyars did accept refugees from the Kievan Rus etc, but when the Mongols finally reached Hungary, they were welcomed as friends. As relates to language, the result of this was that during this period was the first time that one script was actively encouraged at the expense of another: the use of Cyrillic was restricted to church contexts; all public documents had to be written in Sinitic. In practice this wasn't overly relevant, since only nobles and freemen had reason to write or read anything outside of a church context. This law on writing continued during the Turkish occupation of much of Hungary.

Under Hapsburg rule, it was reversed, and the Cyrillic script became the official orthography for Hungarian. Despite that, many of the compound words that had been formed using the Chinese-derived readings of Han characters remained in use, though written in Cyrillic, and although to a much-reduced degree, knowledge of the Sinitic script wasn't completely lost - monks of the "ancient faith" and Confucian scholars retained the knowledge (though both of these groups were suppressed to varying degrees throughout Hapsburg rule)

With the birth of the concept of nationalism and the growth of the independence movement at the end the 18th century, the "Language Renewal" (語文新ㆤゝひゆゝㅅ, Gyümmünújítás) began around 1790, in which the Sinitic-derived orthography was revived and codified, transforming the language into what it is today. Further codification happened in 1949, when, based on the Japanese Toyo kanji introduced in 1946, the first 當用漢字表 (Tagjony Hondzúfá, "List of General Use Han Letters") was published by the government, and, like the Japanese system, included a list of 教育漢字 (Gavgyukk Hondzú, "Education Han Letters"; formally 教年當配漢字表 (Gavnen-tagfaj Hondzúfá, "List of Han Letters by School Year) - equivalent to the Japanese Kyoiku kanji. The lists are not identical. This codification, since then modified several times, lists all of the Han characters recognised officially for use in writing Hungarian.

This article describes only modern Sino-Magyar.


The phonology of modern Sino-Magyar is essentially identical to that of modern RWH, with the exception that /v/ is pronounced [w] after stops, and - in casual and semi-formal speech - syllable-finally.


Modern Sino-Magyar officially makes use of four scripts: hondzú (漢字 = hon+dzu'; Han+betű): Han characters; kenygyű (輕字 = keny+dzü'; könnyű+betű, literally, "easy letter"): called "Roundscript" in English; káddzú (縞字, ká'+dzu'; csík+betű, literally "stripe letter"): called "Squarescript" in English; and Cyrillic, officially called ráddzú in Hungarian (蠃字 = Rác+dzu, Rác+betű; 蠃 is used to refer to Serbia (Rác), thus Cyrillic is literally called "Serb letter").


In the above image, the rows are as follows:

  • Row 1: rovásírás
  • Row 2: Roundscript
  • Row 3: Squarescript
  • Row 4: Pre-1957 Cyrillic
  • Row 5: Post-1957 Cyrillic
Unicode variants of Roundscript and Squarescript for web use
a b c cs d e f g gy h i/j eK aK l ly m n ny o ö p r s sz t ty u ü v z zs length marker
Roundscript 𛄞 𛂯
Squarescript 𛂫

The "length marker" is used to mark both long vowels and geminate consonants.

Kenygyű (Roundscript)

Roundscript was derived from rovásírás, which in turn was derived from the Old Turkic script ("runes"), which the Magyars adapted during their journey west in the early 9th century; it became a convenient method of recording things that anyone could learn far more quickly than could the Han characters. This "runic" script eventually led to the development of a brush-written derivative, which eventually became what is called Roundscript today, and by the 10th century it was being used together with Han characters to more accurately write the spoken language.

Káddzú (Squarescript)

Surprisingly enough, given their closer resemblance to the original rovásírás, Squarescript originated later than Roundscript, and not the other way around. Until the 18th century, foreign words were written using Cyrillic script in texts otherwise using Han characters and Roundscript - though a semi-cursive form of Cyrillic easily written by brush was used in these mixed texts. During the Language Renewal period, this was discontinued in favour of using Roundscript for writing foreign words. After close contact with Japan began after independence, the Japanese codification of hiragana and katakana inspired a similar development in Hungary, and Squarescript was devised in 1917; schools began teaching it alongside Roundscript and Han characters in 1919. The present rules on the usage of Roundscript and Squarescript were introduced in 1949, at the same time as the first list of Tagjony hondzú was introduced.


As mentioned previously, the first list of Tagjony Hondzú - Han Characters for General Use - was introduced in 1949, and has been modified several times since.

Each hondzú has readings in two "categories", the "hon" reading, which is derived from the Middle Chinese pronunciation, and the "ma" reading, which is the native Magyar form of the given word. In 1949, based on the Japanese Tōyō kanji introduced in 1946, the first 當用漢字表 (Tagjony hondzúfá, "List of General Use Han Letters") was published by the government, and, like the Japanese system, included a list of 教育漢字 (Gavgyukk hondzú, "Education Han Letters"; formally 教年當配漢字表 (Gavnentagfaj hondzúfá, "List of Han Letters by School Year) - equivalent to the Japanese Kyōiku kanji. The lists are not identical.

The "short form" hondzú-only names can also be written out in "long form", which includes 'proper' grammar. For example, the short form

  • 當用漢字表 = tag-jony-hon-dzú-fá = List of General-Use Han Characters

can be expanded to a long form

  • 當ゆゝㄅㄡㅅ用ㄮゝ漢字し表ㆤゆ = által{ános} haszn{ú} hondzú{k} lap{ja}

Note that the RWH word "lista" exists, but as a loanword is always written in Squarescript (as ㆬイㄥㄐㄔ); most often it is used when speaking of lists in general, or a single 'unnamed' list, but where the list has a specific name, like here, 表, Ma reading "lap", is used.

For another example, the short form

  • 教年當配漢字表 = gav-nen-tag-faj-hon-dzú-fá = List of Han Letters by School Year

can be expanded to the long form

  • 教年ゆゝめひゆめ上配ㄡひゝ漢字し表ㆤゆ = gav-nen/tan-év által fel-oszt{ott} hondzú{k} lap{ja}

In the 1949 standardisation of hondzú usage, it was specified that postpositions are to be spelt out in Roundscript, instead of using the hondzú that had previously been used. Prior to 1949, the above long form may have been seen written as 教年當上配ㄡひゝ漢字し表ㆤゆ - as a postposition, 當 was read as "által".

The first major overhaul of the standard lists of hondzú came in 1970, when a number of characters had new, "simplified" forms introduced. This was inspired both by the Japanese and PRC simplifications, but the Hungarian simplifications are not identical to either. Some simplified characters use the Japanese Shinjitai form; some others, use the PRC Simplified form; some characters which were simplified in Japanese and/or the PRC, were not simplified in Hungary. The names of the simplified and the 'traditional' forms were borrowed from Japanese; the traditional forms are called 古字形 = gódzúhen = "old character form", and the simplified forms are called 新字形 = síndzúhen = "new character form".

Ráddzú (Cyrillic)

The Cyrillic is used more or less the same way as romaji is used in Japanese, though perhaps a bit more frequently; in the past, entire works were written in Cyrillic, something that continues to this day in (Christian) religious writings. The Hungarian Cyrillic script was first devised in the 11th century, but it wasn't standardised until the 16th century, in the portion of Hungary that came under Hapsburg rule during the period of division; however, this standardisation was not used in either the part of Hungary under Ottoman rule, nor in the Eastern Kingdom; it was reformed in the 17th century, and under Hapsburg rule after the Ottoman departure, including after the Compromise of 1867, this second standardisation was used throughout the territory of Hungary as the official orthography of the language. The second standardisation also remained in use after independence from Austria in 1915, until the present script was introduced in 1957; this was based on elements of the Serbian and Macedonian Cyrillic alphabets, whilst retaining Ѫ and Ѵ for Ö and Ü respectively. The Cyrillic orthography does not mark for vowel length (and has never done so).

Although officially called ráddzú, the term "个イリイㆬ字", "цирил бєтѵк" (= "ciril betűk") is known, but generally this refers to Cyrillic script in general, or as applied to languages other than Hungarian.


As in Japanese, Sino-Magyar compounds can be rather complex. Some have only one correct reading, for example 教育, "education", could be read with the Ma reading as "tan-ok", but only the Hon reading, "gavgyukk", is correct. Some others can be read with either hon or ma reading, with both correct, for example 鐵道 (new form: 鉄道), "railway", for which both the Hon reading, "teddó", and the ma reading, "vasút", are both correct; in these cases, there exists a distinction between the two. Generally, the Hon reading is used in the general sense of the word, whilst the Ma reading is used in a specific sense. To elaborate, 傌鄉鉄道, "Hungarian railway" if read using the Hon reading - "magyar teddó" - refers to the railways of Hungary in a general sense; read with the Ma reading - "magyar vasút" - it refers specifically to the national railway company. Incidentally, the national railway company is formally called 傌鄉国有鉄道, "Magyar Gökjú Vasút" (official translated form: "Hungarian State Railway"). In common parlance it is written 國鐵 (new form: 国鉄), which given the general rule on the use of Hon vs Ma readings, one would expect, referring as it does to a specific entity, would be read with the Ma reading as "orszvas"; however, in actuality, it is the Hon reading that is correct: "göktett". This word is one of a number of compounds which, purely on aesthetic grounds, are defined by the Academy of the Hungarian Language as using the Hon reading. These are all specified explicitly in the epicly large 大漢字字典 ("Nagy Hondzú Dzúten", "Large Hondzú Dictionary"); the 小漢字字典 ("Kis Hondzú Dzúten", "Small Hondzú Dictionary") includes the most common ones.

Example texts

  • Halotti beszéd - oldest extant Sino-Magyar text written in Cyrillic, and oldest Sino-Magyar Christian text.