View Full Version : Huns, Magyars and Mongolians - are they related?

03-24-2003, 01:19 AM
I've periodically researched this question on the internet, without definitive results. I guess I'm wondering if the three groups are related linguistically, physically or culturally? They all seemed to have a similar modus operandi (horses and conquering from the east)

It's probably too late to know much about the Huns, but surely there's more history on the Magyars and where they came from.

03-24-2003, 02:04 AM
First of all: Mongols speak a language of the Altaic language family.

Hungarians speak a language of the Uralic family.

Nobody is really sure what language the Huns spoke or its affiliations—many scholars think it was Altaic, but others find evidence for its being related to Yeniseian (a tiny language family spoken in Siberia, now practically extinct). Not enough of Hun or Xiongnu language was recorded for us to identify its family relationship.

As to Ural-Altaic unity: This has been very controversial over the years, and no conclusive yes or no has been arrived at by the linguistic community. In the 19th century, when linguistic relationships were classified by typology, Uralic and Altaic languages were thrown together because they share the "agglutinative" typology. In the 20th century, that was deemed inadequate for classification and the Ural-Altaic hypothesis fell out of favor.

For that matter, the Altaic family itself has been called into question. There is just tantalizingly enough evidence to suggest that the three groups Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungus-Manchu are related, but not enough to establish it firmly.

The Nostratic hypothesis, in which Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, and some other families are joined in one "macrofamily," gives a new angle on Ural-Altaic relationship... but this is even more controversial, and has not found widespread acceptance. (Still, if you get a chance to examine the evidence put forward for Nostratic, you may find it persuasive...) One refinement of this idea posits dialects of Nostratic in which the Eastern Nostratic includes Uralic and Altaic. Joseph Greenberg's Eurasiatic hypothesis is similar to Nostratic but assembles a slightly different set of language families. It still includes both Uralic and Altaic, and includes some more families from Northeast Asia.

One pitfall to be cautioned against in language classification is the binary comparison. I mean, just comparing one language with another and asking "Are the two related?" will probably not bring in much useful data. What works is to compare language families because there the data will be much more complete. That's why I speak of comparing Uralic and Altaic, not just Hungarian and Mongolian.

If anyone is interested, I have a publication that lists about 20 shared features of Uralic and Altaic that I could cite here.

There is no etymological connection between Hun and Hungarian. Just a coincidental resemblance. The former name is represented by the Chinese Xiongnu, and the latter is from Turkic, from the phrase On Ogur 'Ten Arrows', referring to a confederation of steppe tribes in ca. the 9th century. They had been living on the steppes of what is now Ukraine and moved west into the westernmost extension of the steppes, around the river Danube in an area formerly called Pannonia. After they occupied it, it got the name Hungary.

This confederation consisted of seven Magyar tribes and three Turkic tribes. They became all blended over time, so if you go by bloodlines, then you could say the Hungarians have some "Altaic" blood in them. This statement is semi-facetious because language terms like Altaic only refer to language, not race. The two should not be confused. We could say that the Hungarians had some Altaic-speaking ancestors.

There had been Turks inhabiting the area that is now eastern and southern Russia since as far back as the early Christian era, maybe the 4th century. The Volga Bulgar kingdom was thriving in the 8th century in present-day Tatarstan, and the Khazar kingdom appeared in the 9th century. The Volga Bulgars, the Khazars, and the Turkic friends of the Magyars all spoke a highly divergent form of Turkic called r-Turkic which in the present day survives only in Chuvash (in an adjacent part of Russia).

One interesting thing about r-Turkic is that it more closely resembles Mongolian and Tungus-Manchu than regular Turkic. So too does Hungarian. The many Turkic loanwords that the Hungarian language picked up on the steppes are of the r-Turkic variety and thus form a tenuous linguistic connection to Mongolian.

03-24-2003, 02:14 AM
Originally posted by Jomo Mojo
If anyone is interested, I have a publication that lists about 20 shared features of Uralic and Altaic that I could cite here.I'm interested.

03-24-2003, 02:34 AM
All right... On the whole, I guess the list will appear awfully technical to non-linguists... Since it's lengthy and too late to start typing up tonight, please accept an IOU until I can spare the time for it.

03-24-2003, 04:05 AM
Can I hijack just to ask what is Magyar?

03-24-2003, 06:15 AM
Magyar is what the Hungarians call themselves.

03-24-2003, 06:43 AM
Thank you!

Also - I may be remembering this wrongly, but is there a language group "Finno-Ugric" (connection is suggested but not universally accepted by linguists) that connects Hungarian and Finnish?

Is Ugric(sp?) a subgroup of Uralic? Or have I just got the name wrong?

03-24-2003, 07:07 AM
Just an aside (which I hope is relevant), here's an interesting link about ethnic groups in Russia..

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire (http://eki.ee/books/redbook/introduction.shtml)

03-24-2003, 03:27 PM
Originally posted by istara
Thank you!

Also - I may be remembering this wrongly, but is there a language group "Finno-Ugric" (connection is suggested but not universally accepted by linguists) that connects Hungarian and Finnish?

Is Ugric(sp?) a subgroup of Uralic? Or have I just got the name wrong?

Finnish and Hungarian are related, both belonging to the Finno-Ugric family. The two languages have drifted apart to the point of mutual unintelligibility and suffice it to say that a monolingual Hungarian cannot understand a Finn, and vice-versa.

03-24-2003, 04:46 PM
Finno-Ugric is a subgroup of Uralic (the other Uralic subgroup is Samoyedic). Finno-Ugric (or FU for short, I just love being able to say "FU" ;) ) contains Finnic on the one hand and Ugric on the other. Hungarian is in the Ugric sub-branch, which it shares with two languages in northwestern Siberia: Khanty and Mansi.

03-24-2003, 09:37 PM
All right, here goes—fourteen points for attesting the Ural-Altaic relationship. Features common to both of them:

1. Vowel harmony
2. No grammatical gender
3. No article
4. Agglutination
5. Personal possessive suffixes
6. Richness of verbal derivation
7. No prepositions, only postpositions
8. Attribute precedes the head
9. After a numeral the noun is singular
10. Comparative constructed with the ablative case
11. No verb to have
12. Negation is conjugated
13. Interrogative particles are used
14. No conjunctions, verbal noun constructions instead.

Eva Luna
03-24-2003, 11:05 PM
Originally posted by ratatoskK
Just an aside (which I hope is relevant), here's an interesting link about ethnic groups in Russia..

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire (http://eki.ee/books/redbook/introduction.shtml)

Cool beans! I've got a newer, Russian-language version of a similar book on the shelf, but it's rather more pedantic and less historically detailed (and oddly enough, although it's called the Krasnaya kniga yazykov narodov Rossii [Red Book of the Languages of the Peoples of Russia], it's actually yellow.

But the best part is that according to the online version, it's entirely possible my Tabasaran ex-boyfriend was a nice Jewish boy, after all! (If you go back a few hundred years, anyway.) I can't wait to tell my grandmother; she'll be soooo busted!

03-24-2003, 11:11 PM
Are the Finnish and Estonians able to understand each other?

03-25-2003, 12:13 AM
Same difference as between Latvian and Lithuanian. Big help I know. They are not really able to understand one another but can learn the others language very easily. We get Latvian goods here and it is fun figuring out which words are similar. But this takes too long to do when talking and besides a lot of the small words you have to learn. Sometimes a common root survived in only one language and sometimes a foreign word was picked up. And in case your wondering, Lithuanian and Latvian belong to the Baltic language group.

03-25-2003, 12:21 AM
I'm no expert in Finnish or Estonian, though I've studied some Finnish. It looks to me that they are about like Spanish and Italian. Can Spanish speakers and Italianspeakers understand one another? Well, maybe, to a limited extent, but it depends on the sentence. Some sentences will be partly understood, but others, no way José.

There's an anecdote about a Portuguese chap who became irritated by his Spanish friend always saying that Portuguese was just like Spanish. To teach him a lesson, he sat down and wrote him a 4-page letter in Portugese — but carefully chose only the Portuguese words that have no cognates in Spanish. Apparently, there are plenty of them. I think Finnish and Estonian are like that (but probably not quite as close as Spanish and Portuguese). If you choose your words carefully, you can make a sentence that's practically the same in both. Or conversely, you can come up with a sentence in one that has no resemblance to the other.

Here's a sample sentence comparison from the Ural-Altaic publication I was referring to earlier. You can get some idea for yourselves.

"Life was formerly much harder than now."

Enne oli inimeste elu palju raskem kui nüüd.

Ihmisten elämä oli ennen paljon vaikeampi kuin nykyisin.

Ezelött az emberek élete nehezebb volt mint most.

An experienced comparative linguist would find the cognate FU root el- 'life' in all three languages (elu, elämä, élete), and the relationship of the Finnic verb oli 'was' to the Hungarian volt 'was'.

Here's another example:
"People did not have time to learn."

Inimestel polnud aega õppida.

Ihmisillä ei ollut aikaa opiskella.

Az embereknek nem volt idejük tanulni.

03-25-2003, 01:55 AM
Well the Finno-ugric thing is another mystery I've been wondering about. The Finnish people are as far as I know pretty uniform in appearance, suggesting a long physical isolation (unlike the Hungarians). I've always wondered how they came by their language which originated so far away? It seems that the Saami (Lapplanders) have a similar culture to their Siberian linguistic relatives... or not? Yet there seems to be no physical similarity whatsoever. If they are not closely related by blood, I try to imagine how or why an entire people would pick up a language and culture from another - it boggles the imagination - and whose culture *was* it originally?

So you've got the Magyars coming from some unknown place to the East, which at some time in dim history gave birth to the Finnish language as well - and god knows how it got to Finnland. Fascinating to think about! Do the Magyar pagan beliefs resemble the Finnish ones in any way?

Maybe some day scientists will trace the movements of ancient peoples via DNA markers and things will become clearer.

03-25-2003, 02:17 AM
The plot thickens:

I just found out that the Finns are genetically most like other northern europeans (indo-europeans) but the Saami are genetically distinct from other europeans.

03-25-2003, 02:37 AM
Speaking of genes, keep in mind that the language spoken in a geographic area or in a population can change without a major change in genes. Although the proper interpretation of the genetic data is somewhat controversial, Cavalli-Sforza et al. in The History and Geography of Human Genes report that while Magyar (Hungarian) is a Uralic language, speakers of it are much closer genetically to nearby speakers of Indo-European languages (such as Slovaks) than to other Uralic speakers. The simplest explanation seems to be that invaders from the east did not destroy or displace the native population, but merely imposed their language. According to the book, the invaders' genes constitue an estimated one-eighth of the modern gene pool in Magyar-speaking areas.

03-25-2003, 02:57 AM
Yes but... think of what it takes in modern times to change someone's language. Language is identity and is the primary conveyer of culture. Once you lose your language, your culture is not far behind. People are generally very resistant to switching languages.

Usually, it seems that language changes in modern times because:

1. Someone stronger and bigger than you invaded your territory and imposed their government and language on you.

2. You moved and "when in rome, do as the romans". Your sons and daughters speak the language of the place where they were born.

In reference to Finnish origins:

I just can't picture a scenario where someone comes in for a brief time and has the ability to convince you to speak another language without moving into your space permanently, mixing with or dominating your population and leaving a significant genetic record, especially not in prehistoric times when technological differences weren't great enough to confer a big advantage. Any advantage of a "conquering" people would have to come through sheer numbers. This wasn't the Roman empire, with a big government and official language of state.

There was probably a very interesting story behind it all...

03-25-2003, 05:24 AM
Originally posted by Jomo Mojo
All right, here goes—fourteen points for attesting the Ural-Altaic relationship. Features common to both of them:I realize this list may be a simplification and that the points may not apply to every language in the families, but I can't help but wonder about the "no article" and "no conjunctions" points. I know for a fact that Hungarian has both definite and indefinite articles, though the indefinite article isn't used as often as it is in, say, English. It also has conjunctions corresponding to English "and", "or", and "but", which can link noun phrases or whole sentences. Does your source provide any further details for these claims, or is Hungarian just an exception in these regards?

03-25-2003, 06:15 AM
Originally posted by Markxxx
Are the Finnish and Estonians able to understand each other?
It depends. You can generally say that Estonians are better at Finnish than vice versa, but this is because they can watch Finnish television to a much larger extent than Finns can watch Estonian television. On the other hand, meän kieli, the Finnish dialect in Northern Sweden, is linguistically closer to Estonian than mainstream Finnish as both languages have preserved features that have disappeared in Finland and they have also adopted many Germanic loan words.

03-25-2003, 06:18 AM
Good point, psychonaut. I was hoping somebody would catch that. If you go back early enough in the history of the Hungarian language, at one time long ago it did not have articles or conjunctions. It developed them later, a secondary development, maybe because the Indo-European languages surrounding it used them. The definite article a/az was originally the demonstrative pronoun meaning 'that' (which is how the article developed in other languages too, like English, Romance languages, Arabic and Hebrew).

The place where the Hungarians originated is thought to be in the central Ural mountain range, where the republic of Bashkortostan (or Bashkiria) is in the present day. From there the Khanty and Mansi moved northeast to their present location by the Ob river. The proto-Finnic peoples seem to have originated in a nearby area of eastern or central Russia; the people of Finland got there by migrating west maybe 2,000 years ago. The Magyars first moved south and east to the steppes between the Don and the Dnieper where they hung out with the Turks, before moving west to their present location in 896.

03-25-2003, 11:30 AM
I seem to recall from some reading I've done that there is a connection between the Magyars and the Khazars, some suggesting that the Magyars were Khazars who migrated west after Khazaria was conquered.

03-25-2003, 11:30 AM
Thank you yomo mojo.
This are nice insights in some strange languages, from the Indo-European point of view.

Rusalka, one of your original questions has not been touched yet: Similar modus operandi for Huns, Magyars and Mongolians.
It looks like this just comes with the steppe.
Before the Altaic/Uralic people won the supremacy over the south Russian plains, starting about 100-150 post Christ, there had been several Indo-European people with just the same modus operandi coming down from the plains to harass the Mediterranean civilisations:
The Kimmerians (900-700 BC), the Skytes (700-200 BC) and the Sarmates (200 BC – 200 post Christ.) (Times roughly, as far as I remember.)

And there were probably two or three people before that, again Indo-European, but because than even their “civilised” neighbours did not yet have written history, their existence is clouded by the mists of time.

At earlier times however, the horses had not yet been strong enough to ride.
1800-1200 BC is the age of the chariot – remember the battle of Troy movies?

And one of this early charioteers, the Hyksos, had even been aggressive enough to conquer Egypt, the superpower of that days and very probably the most people in this region.

So, even in that early times, there had been technological inventions that could overcome the power of sheer numbers.
But, as indicated already, very often it was sheer aggressiveness, that made the difference.


03-25-2003, 03:38 PM
Mummycave, I think you're confusing the development of the horse with the development of the stirrup. The stirrup made it possible to fight from horseback.

03-25-2003, 04:22 PM
qts: lot's of people fought on horseback loooong before stirrups came along. Hannibal had a very effective cavalry for example. But the earliest major use of horses in warfare were with chariots. The earliest domesticated horses were quite small, like Viking ponies. Could be ridden but usually dismounted to fight. Over the centuries horses got bigger, fighting on horseback became practical, etc.

03-25-2003, 08:27 PM
I heard that the Latvians are CULTURALLY closer to the Estonians, than the Lituhuanians, even though their language is related to Lithuanian.

Similar to the Czechs being more culturally closer to the Germans, then they are to the Slovaks, even though Czech and Slovak are similar.

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