The Corner

Re: Hungarian’s Affiliations

Ooooooo-kay, language affiliations. This could be as contentious as

creationism. Here is what I know: the classification of languages into

families is a bit like prime number theory. There are a few

solidly-established facts, surrounded by a vast host of conjectures,

hypotheses and surmises, of various degrees of plausibility, some of them

guarded jealously by proselytizing partisans, but none of them decisively

proved. Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugrian family, which you can read

all about here. The only major

modern languages in this family are Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian. Some

people think that the Finno-Ugrian family may be connected (i.e.

“genetically,” by having originated from a single language in the remote

past, not merely by borrowed words and structures) to the Altaic

family–Turkish, Mongolian, Manchurian. Some people think that either or

both may be similarly connected to the Paleosiberian family–which consists

of tiny unknown languages in Siberia having a few hundred speakers each.

Some other people, including some of the same people, think that either,

both, or all, may be connected to Korean, which may be connected to

Japanese. However, none of this has been proved to the satisfaction of any

large consensus of experts in comparative linguistics. It would make

headlines, in fact–in the world of comparative linguistics, at least–if

someone could decisively prove a “genetic” connection between Japanese and

any other language at all, including Korean. To the best of current

knowledge, so far as I know, Japanese is an “isolate” with no proven

affiliations with any other language, and Korean likewise. The Finno-Ugrian

and Altaic families may be descended from a common “super-family,” but if

anyone has proved this to the satisfaction of linguistics scholars at large,

or even just a large minority of them, I haven’t heard about it.

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