Peter Ács – we stand corrected

9/22/2003 – In a recent news story we mentioned the young Hungarian GM and gave the pronunciation of his name as "oks". Not correct, we learnt from Nigel Short. The name rhymes with "larch" as spoken by an Englishman. Andrew Pressburger confirmed this and sent us the following very useful Hungarian pronunciation primer.

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Basic Hungarian for chess fans

Andrew Pressburger of Toronto, Canada wrote:

In your news story on the match between Hungarian GM Peter Acs and the computer program Schredder you wrote: "Acs (pronounced "oks") is 22 years old and at Elo 2606 Hungary's number four player...". This is not correct. The vowel in the name Acs resembles the German a, the consonant the English ch. It has certainly nothing to do with ox.

So the name is correctly written "Ács", should be pronounced like the English "larch" (or "starch"), as spoken by a British native speaker. Americans should start with a long "ahh", leave out any trace of an "r", and end with the "ch". Incidentally the word ács means carpenter. The similarly pronounced Kovács (koh-vahh-ch) is the word for smith.

  • Click here to listen to the correct pronunciation of Ács. Note that it was not spoken by a native speaker, and Hungarian readers might think it is a Trans-Danubian dialect or some other folk diction, specific to the Szatmar or Bihar region. In standard Hungarian the á sound is a little more open and a little more elongated. But it is close enough.

In Hungarian there are some dual letters for special consonants, those which are usually indicated by accents in Slavic orthography. These are the aforementioned cs=ch, as well as sz=s (the letter s itself is pronounced as the English sh), gy as in duty, ny similar to the Italian or French gn, ly (sounds the same as j), the equivalent of English y (as in yoke), zs equivalent of the English transliteration of the hard sybillant zh. This is explained in greater detail below.

In addition, in some family names c (a sound which is pronounced ts) is spelled the archaeic way, with cz. For instance, in the name of Maróczy, where the y is exactly the same as i. So the next time please refer to it as the Ma-rot-see Bind.

Hungarian vowels

The vowels of the Hungarian language are as follows: a, á, e, é, i, í, o, ó, ö, o, u, ú, ü, u.

All of them have short and long forms, except a, á, e and é. These latter constitute different sounds. A is as in English blood or dog. There is no long a. Á is as mentioned above "ahh", but there is no such thing as short á. A is the correct sound in the names of Szabó and Barcza, or Abonyi; while Bánfalvi or Polgár have the long á in the first and second syllables, respectively.

E is similar to the English sound e in test, set, pest. Buda and Pest, originally two separate places on either side of the Danube, were united on Nov. 17, 1873. I am not sure of the origin of the suffix, but I don't think it has anything to do with the disease. É on the other hand is pronounced as in English stay, lake, wake etc. For instance in the name of Péter Lékó or Rihárd Réti. (Though he was Czech, the name Réti is Hungarian. By contrast, the Hungarian Charousek's name is actually Czech.) The i is short as in little or sit. The long í is similar to the vowel in seal, heave, lean.

In the name Abonyi (I am trying to use famous chess players' names, either OTB or correspondence) or Maróczy, you find the short a. In Maróczy's name (as in Szabó's) the o is long, similar to English snow, show etc.

The letters ö and ü, and o and u, correspond to the same sounds as those used in French or German. For example, the French heureux would be written in Hungarian orthography as örö. E.g. Alföldi (short ö); Benkö (long o).

The short ü is like glücklich in German, the long u as in fühlen. The short u is similar to the English sound in words such as good or should; the long ú as in brood, drew, shoot.

Each vowel in Hungarian has to be sounded. There are no diphthongs. For example the name Deák contains two syllables.

The consonants

Now for the consonants. Most of the special ones correspond to the Czech š c, ž. For instance: s for English sh, cs for ch and zs for zh. Chuchill's name in Hungarian orthography would look like this: Csörcsill. The sound zs is as in English treasure or measure. Sas, a fairly common name meaning eagle, is pronounced Shash.

You have to write the English s with sz, as in Szabó or Székely. In the latter, the y softens the l, as it does with g, n, or t as well. The English due would be written gyú in Hungarian. (I think the English [actually Turkish] giaour is an example.) Ny is the same as in Kenya. Ty as in the Russian art gallery's name: Tretyakov (somewhat like the English slang contractions bet'ya, got'ya).

The name Négyessy should be pronounced Naydyeshi. Standing independently, the y is exactly the same as i, and is used in names mostly for decorative purposes (as is the consonant combination cz, for instance in the name Maróczy), perhaps to indicate the ancient origins of the family. Note though that in Polish the letter z has the same function as the letter s in Hungarian, in such combinations as cz (equivalent of Hungarian cs): e.g. Czeslaw; sz (equivalent of Hungarian s): e.g. Szymanowski.

This kind of non-phonetic decorative usage applies to the letter h as well. Réti in some cases is spelled Réthy, and Balog as Balogh. In both cases the h is silent. Then there are the Eszterházys. They spell their name sometimes with sz, sometimes – as in the case of the renowned novelist Péter Esterházy – with only an s (a concession to Latin orthography, I suppose).

By the way, in Hungarian names the surname precedes the given name: Benkö Pál, Maróczy Géza, Szabó László.

Count Széchenyi (who initiated the construction of the famous "Chain Bridge" on the Danube) wrote the second syllable of his name with an e, though it is pronounced é. At the end of the name, the function of the y is to soften the n, therefore you need the extra i for the actual vowel sound. (Which, by the way, siginifies belonging to a place. Szigeti, for example, means Islander.) Cf. the above-named Abonyi István, President of the ISFB (Internationaler Fernschachbund, predecessor of ICCF, from 1935 to 1939).

I am sure there will appear instances of Hungarian spelling not covered in this little essay. This would merely prove that it is entirely possible that memorization of all the variations in the Sicilian Defence is a far simpler task than learning the rules of the Hungarian language.

Cordially
Andrew Pressburger

Links

Hungarian Phonetics – an overview

The Hungarian language belongs to the Ugric subgroup of the Uralic family of languages. Its closest European relative is Finnish. Stress is always on the first syllable (except for some foreign words). There are no dipthongs; each vowel is pronounced separately.

A, a - aw as in law
Á, á, a - a as in father
E, e - e as in set
É, é - e as grey
I, i - as in sit
Í, í - i as in machine
O, o - o as boy
Ó ó - o as in blow
Ö, ö - eu as in feud but no y sound
O, o - eu but longer
U, u - u as in duke
Ú, ú - oo as in cool
Ü, ü - eu as in feud
U, u - eu in feud but longer

C, c - c as in dance (ts)
Cs, cs - ch as in chug
Dz, dz - ds as in feeds
Dzs, dzs - j as in jeans
G, g - g as in go
Gy, gy - dju in adjulation (djy)
J, j - y as in yes
Ly, ly - y as in yes (l is silent)
Ny, ny - ny as in canyon
Q, q - q as cheque (k)
R, r - slightly rolled once (rr)
S, s - s as in sugar (sh)
Sz, sz - s as in skip
T, t - tongue touches back of teeth (dental)
Ty, ty - ty as in met you
W, w - v as in vigor
Y, y - y as in city (ee)
Zs, zs - z as in azure (zh)

Letters not listed are pronounced approximately as in English.


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