Hungarians and Etruscans II.

Influences of the Turkish languages

On their journey to the other side of the Ural mountains, to Bashkirs and the steppe North of the Black Sea in the South of today’s Russia the Magyars, as the Hungarians call themselves came in contact with several other peoples like the Iranish speaking Alanen and the many Turkish speaking tribes like the Khazaren, the Petsjenegen and the Skythen. Because of the connection the Magyars had with those tribes and via them also came in contact with the horse culture, cattle breeding and agriculture, the Hungarian language became more extensive with terms like tehén, tej and szekér (cow, milk, coach) and from the Persian language ló, nyereg, bika, gyapjú from old Turkish (hors, saddle, bull, wool).

Land taking or continuous inhabitation?

The Hungarian tribes lived for several centuries in the Eurasiatic steppe till the ninth century AD. Then they moved and made a short stop in Etelköz in the south of the present Ukraine and from there they were chased away by the Petsjenegen over the Carpathians and came into the Carpathians basin. The Hungarians came with seven tribes under the leadership of Árpád and this ‘landtaking’ (called in the Hungarian; Honfoglalás) should have taken place in the year 896.

Some scientists and archaeologists however came up recently with the thesis that the landtaking is nothing more than a fairy tale or … maybe it has taken place but much earlier than 896. According to them Magyars had lived already in the Carpathian basin far before that time. And perhaps the Avaren were already in the sixth century and the Huns in the fourth century speaking the Hungarian language… anyway they could ride horses and they had bow and arrow.
As far as the language is concerned one can’t believe that in the relatively short time from 896 till the year 1000, when Saint Stephen was crowned as King of Hungary, it has developed as a language everywhere spoken. The more elevated cultural utterance was written down. The first Hungarian pieces of writings date from the twelfth century. The Hungarians must have lived here already for centuries. Also after analysing from what they’ve found by archaeological excavation they couldn’t fit this in the image of the ‘landtaking culture’ but everything point in the direction of habitation into the Carpathian valley which went on in a continuous process. This re-examined theory is known under the name ‘Kettôs honfoglalás’ or ‘Dual landtaking’.

Not Finn-Ugric but Turkish-Altaic ?

People like Gyula Horváth, Péter Sára, Dénes Kiss and others pointed out since 1990-ies, that by studying the roots of the language it’s better to compare the similarities of Hungarian words with Sumerian and Turkish words than to stick to only the Finn-Ugric idea. If the Hungarian language really comes from Turk is a question, which is with this still not answered.
In this frame I’d like to point at a daring and at the same time attractive thought of László Marácz. In the chapter about language in his book Hungarian turn and in several articles he calls the Fin-Ugric roots a dogma and he emphasises that it’s quite arbitrary simply to say about an enormous amount of words in the ‘Hungarian Etymological dictionary’ that their origin is unknown. One can say about these words that they are ‘indigenous Hungarian’ and even one could claim that Hungarian is maybe a source language and not simply a language, which took words over from some others. He also points at the fact that because of the grammar the H. language is totally different from the other Finn-Ugric languages.

Protolanguage (Prehistoric language)

Thus it looks suddenly that the Hungarian language from origin is an alone standing, own language and maybe a protolanguage. I realised by learning and later as a teacher of the H, language that it had quite some very ancient ideas and some of those ideas had their roots obviously straight from the prehistory. To give an example; the words for East, South and West are the same as for sunrise, noon and sunset (kelet, dél and nyugat). And if it is night (thus no sun) then the Hungarian uses exactly the word to indicate, north. And North (észak/éjszaka) is - like the sun is during the night - in the North. Other typical things are that the Hungarian uses the emphasis or stress at the first syllable and they don’t like agglomeration of consonants in one syllable (schola became iskola, scrin became szekrény).

There are those moments

The other day I had again one of those moments about which I wrote at the beginning of this story. At a congress in Budapest last year there was a lecture on the program from the Italian linguist Mario Alinei who was from 1959 till 1987 a teacher at the university of Utrecht (Holland) and is now a retired professor. He opened his talk with: ”I have a bit of stage fever because I don’t give every day a lecture to hundreds of Etruscans…” Hundreds of Etruscans in Budapest? According to him, yes! The tittle of his last book is: Etrusco, una forma arcaica di ungherese. Or: The Etruscan language, an archaic form of Hungarian. The title already had the impact of a bomb. And I felt that strange flow in my head.

The Etruscan secret revealed

How did this unconventional linguist come to this revolutionary but by afterthought considering clear hypotheses? In the year 1987 Professor Alinei found out that the two Etruscan terms zila and camthe which were applied to ‘leading figures in public service’ looked very similar to two older Hungarian-Turkish words dzila/gyula and kende which mean nearly the same. Further he studied for many years not only the available Etruscan scripts and some already translated texts but also of the Middle Ages Hungarian. He has used quite some time to make an inventory of the existing theories to make finally his hypotheses plausible and also in the area of archaeology and prehistory. Because it is not nothing to dare to say that the landtaking is not important at all or even that it has not taken place at all. He claims that already in the Bronze Age Hungarian speaking people in the Eurasiatic steppe and thus also in the Carpathian basin wandered around. And these proto-Hungarians should have gone from the Danube and the Carpathian basin to colonise Italy and left there the language in the Etruscan form.
I can’t go very deep in prove everything professor Alinei wrote in his book of over 500 pages but in this story I will give the most remarkable parts of it. And I will tell also about some problems Alinei had to convince his readers how the Hungarian speaking people could have endured all the migrations and rambles and subsequently put one’s stamp upon the pre-Roman Italy.

Alinei starts with an overview of the already known generally accepted information about the structure of the Etruscan language like:

  • a. It is an agglutinative language that means that they stick prefixes and suffixes to the root of words. This is the same as in Hungarian and other Ural° languages.
  • b. The accent is on the first syllable (also the same as in Hungarian and other Ural languages).
  • c. Sound harmony is an important characteristic (also the same as in Hungarian and other Ural languages).

Then he quotes several archaeologists and scientists who kept themselves busy with the prehistory of Middle Europe. From Hugh Hencken comes the basically accepted thought of the so-called Villanovaculture (where the Etruscian culture comes from) which has its roots in the Carpathian basin. This is proved by excavations and by comparing objects of wrought iron. In the Bronze Age Middle Europe was with its many ore mountains an important industrial centrum. Investigation from urn fields showed that the Etruscan phenomenon of cremation has its origin in the Carpathian basin.

To prove that the Altaïsh°° (old Turkish) people which came in the third millennium BC. to live in the Carpathian basin already spoke Hungarian, took a lot of try out with the whole history. With this he used a theory developed by him self about his view on the Indo-European and Altaïsh people. According to him Europe and the Eurasiatic steppe area were already from the prehistoric times, to be more exact from the last great ice age, continuously inhabited and there were no great migrations like people from east who went westwards and destroyed complete cultures. No, according to Alinei the Indo-European people as well as the Ural people were all the time here in the Carpathian basin. Already in the third milenium BC. the Hungarian speaking people were called ‘Turk” (turkoi, tursci, tusci, that's why the name Toscane) and lived a long time together with old Turkish tribes like the Kurganen but they always kept their language.

Alinei comes in his book with more proof from the prehistory and in particular about the collective vocabulary between the Hungarians and the Etruscans. I quote from his book to illustrate a few word parallels. The words written in capital are the Etruscan words the Hungarian equivalent follows in small letters.
URU – úr, NAC – nagy, HUT – hat, HUS – (ifjú, h_s), ECA – ez, ELSSI – els_, AVIL – év, MEX – meger/megyer/magyar.

I don’t know how well known the theory and discoveries of Mario Alinei was by the Hungarian scientists before the year 2004, the year of the world congress in Hungary called; ‘Hungarians and the East’.
In the year 2003 the Hungarian translation of his book was published under the tittle:
Ôsi kapocs. A magyar – etruszk nyelvrokonság.
(Link with the prehistoric times. The Hungarian - Etruscan language relationship)
I may expect that somebody in academic Hungary will come in action now to have the subject Etruscology introduced as a new subject by comparable linguistics. Because there are still questions to be studied. Alinei gives a few suggestions at the end of his book e.g.:

  • The whole Etruscan corpus of language has to be taken under the (Hungarian) loupe. Especially those words from which no direct Hungarian equivalent can be found. One has to find out where they come from and what eventually the link could be with proto-Hungarian.
  • The Finn-Ugric theory has to be revised totally. After all, the Hungarian language has been according to Alinei much longer a special, independent language than one has thought till now.

Here I want to bring this comparable story to an end.
It is quite interesting that the Hungarian language has practically no dialects. There are here and there some nuances in the pronunciation and the Hungarians living outside the border have of course taken over a lot of words from Slovenia, Slovakia and Rumania. Still it is remarkable that Hungarians living in Burgenland (Austria) can talk with somebody from East Carpathian without any problem although they live about 1000 km from each other.
This says something about the intern force of the Hungarian language which could survive over more than 1000 years surrounded by a lot of Altaic and Slav languages.


° Uralic: the language group which comes from Finn-Ugric languages and for example from Samojeeds, the language from Siberia
°° Altaic: the language group to where the Turk- and the Mongolian language belong.

Edwin van Schie
Translated by Jan ten Hove


More information about the continuous inhabitation of Europe and the Eurasiatic steppe:
and Alinei Mario An alternative Model for the Origins of European Peoples and Languages: The Continuity Theory, 2000. In Quaderna di Semantica.
Alinei Mario Ôsi kapocs, A magyar - etruszk nyelvrokonság, 2005.
Hanák Péter, ed. The Corvina History of Hungary, 1991.
Horváth Gyula. Sumírul – magyarul, Budapest, 1991.
Marácz László. Hongaarse kentering, 1995 and The Untenability of the Finno-Ugric Theory from a Linguistic point of View.
Marácz László. De oorsprong van de Hongaarse taal, 2004. In het Babylonische Europa, Salomé.
Sára Péter. Magyar – Török nyelvi kapcsolatok, 1996. In Magyar Fórum, A történelemtôl a legendákig, 1996. In Magyarok, mitoszok és legendák.