Hungarian Studies 103
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Unit 1

Pronunciation:

The easy part in Hungarian pronunciation is that the characters always have the same sound value. Thus, once you master the alphabet, you are more or less able to read out any Hungarian text.

Vowels

The Hungarian alphabet mainly has the same characters as English, but there are some extra ones; extra vowels: á, é, í, ó, ö, ő, ú, ü, ű , extra consonants: cs, gy, ly, ny, ty, sz, zs.

As you will see, each Hungarian vowel has a “short” (without accent, like “i”) and a “long” (accented, like “í”) version. In two cases, with “a” and “e” the accent modifies the way you pronounce the letter (the way you actually form the letter with your mouth). That is, the accentless and the accented versions in this case indicate two different letters (and sounds), e.g. “a” and “á.” In all the other cases the accent merely indicates that you pronounce the letter for a little longer duration with the accent (there is a mere time durational difference between the accentless and accented versions), e.g. “i” and “í.”

Consonants

Most Hungarian consonant sounds have an English equivalent. There are some which do not; you will need to practice these.

Consonants like “cs,” “gy,” or “ly” etc. are compound letters, that is, you only pronounce one sound for them (like “ch” in English). A vowel is never doubled (for prolongation we have the accents), but consonants are; this is how you indicate that the consonant is to be pronounced a little longer. That is “bb” is “b” pronounced with a little more lingering on the “b.” When compound letters are doubled, it is only the first letter in the compound which is doubled. Thus, a double “ny” will be “nny,” or a double “cs” will be “ccs.”


It is important that you practice saying Hungarian sounds out loud, because they differ from English sounds. The hardest time English speakers have is with the vowels and some of the consonants. To help you with these specific letters there is a follow up on them after the alphabet below, where you can watch on video how these letters are pronounced (mouthed).

Stress

Stress always falls on the first syllable of the word. That is, when you have a letter with an accent (e.g. “á,” “é” or “ő”) do not be confused. They are not accented because you need to stress the word there; they indicate either of two things (as mentioned above): 1. with “a” and “e” they indicate a new letter (“á” and “é”) 2. with the rest of the vowels they indicate that you pronounce them for a longer duration than the ones without the accent.

The alphabet

Below is the Hungarian alphabet, each letter with a sample word that contains that character. To hear the letter pronounced (as in spelling), click on the letter; to hear the word pronounced, click on the word.

The Hungarian letter (sound) A Hungarian word that contains (usually begins with) that letter (sound) [in the brackets you will find the English translation of the Hungarian word] An American sound that approximates the Hungarian sound (these are not equivalents, just approximations!)
a alma [apple] as the vowel in “law” or “car”
á álmos [sleepy] as the vowel in “hot”
b baba [doll] as “b” in “ball”
c cica [kitty] as the “tz” sound “tzar”
cs család [family] as “ch” in “children”
d dal [song] as “d” in “dawn”
dz edző [trainer] as the consonant in “adze”
dzs dzsungel [jungle] as “j” in “jungle”
e egér [mouse] as the vowel in “pet”
é én [I] as the vowel in “hate” without the soft “y” sound after it
f fa [tree] as “f” in “fellow”
g galamb [dove] as “g” in “gamble”
gy gyerek [child] close to a “d” and “y” (as in “yes”) sounds pronounced fast one after the other (“dy”)
h [snow] as “h” in “hollow”
i itt [here] as the vowel in “eat” but pronounced for shorter duration
í ír [to write] as the vowel in “eat” pronounced for longer duration
j [good] as “y” in “yes”
k kalap [hat] as “k” in “kitten”
l labda [ball] as “l” in “lamb”
ly lyuk [hole] as “y” in “yes”
m mókus [squirrel] as “m” in “miracle”
n néz [to watch, to look] as “n” in “never”
ny nyak [neck] close to an “n” and a “y” (as in “yes”) sounds pronounced fast one after the other (“ny”)
o olvas [to read] as “oh” but shorter duration
ó óra [clock] the Hungarian “o” pronounced for longer duration
ö öv [belt] purse your lips as though to say “oh” but say “eh”*; as the last two vowel sounds in the French expression “pas de deux”
ő őr [guard] the Hungarian “ö” pronounced for longer duration
p pók [spider] as “p” in “punk”
q Aqua [proper name] only in foreign words as “q” in “aquatic”
r répa [carrot] a rolled “r”
s sok [many, a lot] as “sh” in “ship”
sz szoknya [skirt] as “s” in “sand”
t tányér [plate] as “t” in “tip”
ty tyúk [hen, chicken] close to a “t” and a “y” (as in “yes”) pronounced fast one after the other (“ty”)
u utca [street] as the vowel in “mood”
ú út [road] as the vowel in “mood” pronounced for a longer duration
ü ül [to sit] purse your lip as though for the Hungarian “u” but try to say the Hungarian “i” sound**; or as the last sound in the French expression “déjà vu”
ű űrhajó [spaceship] the Hungarian “ü” pronounced for longer duration
v vág [to cut] as “v” in “very”
w watt [watt] only in foreign words sounds exactly as the Hungarian “v”
x xilofon [xilophone] only in foreign words as “x” in “ex”
y Bánffy [proper name] only in foreign words or old Hungarian names sounds exactly as the Hungarian “i” (this letter occurs in old Hungarian names)
z zebra [zebra] as “z” in “zebra”
zs zsák [sack] as “zh” in “Zhivago” or the last sound in “garage”

The alphabet [in one sequence]

To hear the alphabet in one sequence click on it below.

a, á, b, c, cs, d, dz, dzs, e, é, f, g, gy, h, i, í, j, k, l, ly, m, n, ny, o, ó, ö, ő, p, q, r, s, sz, t, ty, u, ú, ü, û, v, w, x, y, z, zs

To hear how some vowels differ from each other

Click on the links below to listen to the string of sounds.

a á
a o
e é
e é i
o ö ü
o u
ö ü
u ü


The most difficult sounds on video clips

a

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

á

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

e

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

é

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

o/ó

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

ö/o

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

u/ú

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

ü/u

Click here to hear and see how it is formed. Click here to see it mouthed (without sound).

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