Hungarian explained – such long words, such an isolated language

Why is Hungarian so isolated in Europe, surrounded by unrelated languages that don’t share its long words? An animated linguistic take on the history and grammar behind Hungarian’s uniqueness.

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~ Spoiler Alert! ~

I couldn’t ignore the many commenters who’ve pleaded with me to give Hungarian a shot. After gathering up some grammars and purchasing Lendvai’s history, The Hungarians, I see why! I just had to share this linguistic tale.

This video tells two stories that intertwine. First, how Hungarian got to be such a lonely language island among Indo-European languages. Second, how Hungarian uses a long-word-building strategy that’s “foreign” in a European context: agglutination with vowel harmony. At the end, the two come together as linguists trace its words back to a common ancestor called Uralic. The Uralic family explains Hungarian’s uniqueness, but also its distant relations to Finnish and Estonian within Europe and its closer shared prehistory with Uralic languages in Russia that suggest a long, long, LONG migration from Siberia!

I cut an observation from the video that I wish to add here. “Agglutination” is abnormal in Europe, but that could have more to do with a quirk of Indo-European than Uralic. “Agglutinative” languages aren’t rare around the world, and even other families like Turkic have vowel harmony. Compare that European-style “fusional” types.

I am not Hungarian – check and correct. That said, I poured into this every last ounce of the time I spent practicing the language.


Art, narration and animation by Josh from NativLang.
Some of the music, too.

Sources for my claims and credits for imgs, sfx, music:

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