Monthly Archives: March 2007

Ob-Ugric 6: Mansi, Munkácsi, Nagy and sleep

I mentioned that Munkácsi’s collections of Mansi song and verse (Bernát Munkácsi, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, 4 vols., Budapest, MTA, 1892-1963) had inspired a number of twentieth-century poets, and referred to the imagery of a particular kind of deep sleep, the sort so deep that the sleeper would not wake up, even if their head/torso were cut off.

This motif of the deep sleep might, for instance, refer to the shaman’s loss of consciousness after performing his rites.

Here’s an example of the Mansi neck-/head-/trunk-cut, firm/rooted sleep image:

slot 1 slot 2 slot 3 slot 4
puŋkä jäktim tāriŋ ūləm
its head cuts/chops rooted sleep

Slot 4 is always occupied by the same word for ‘sleep’, ūləm, which will be familiar to Hungarian speakers as álom, dream. The preceding slots may be filled as follows:

1. puŋk-ä (head-3rd person possessive), sip-ä (neck-3rd person possessive), or porx-ä (shoulder/trunk-3rd person possessive);

2. Slot 2 might contain jäktim (cuts/chops) or ńawlənə (pursues/chases);

3. Slot 3 might contain tār-iŋ (root-ed), vaɣ-in (strong, lit: strength-ed), porx-iŋ (shoulder-ed/ trunk-ed), sari (true/genuine), ńaŋrä (powerful/firm/hard), xosä (long, C.f. HU hosszú), or usi (powerful/strong)

Such forms were explicated by Munkácsi (nyaklevágott álom, neck-cut-off dream), and read by, amongst others, the poets László Nagy (1925-78, below left) and Ferenc Juhász (b. 1928).

Nagy transforms the nyaklevágott álom in his poem ‘Medvezsoltár’ (Bear-psalm) into a fejlevágható, szív-kiszakítható álom, in which the dream becomes rather ‘head-cut-off-able’, and the new attribute is ‘heart-tear-out-able’ (szív-kiszakítható). Note that the -ható is not there in the original. Translated into English as ‘Bear Psalm’ in Tony Connor and Kenneth McRobbie (trans.), Love of the Scorching Wind: Selected Poems 1953-1971, Budapest, Corvina, 1973, pp. 61-3, this line is translated as ‘the dream can be beheaded, my sleeping heart torn out’.

See László Nagy, ‘Medvezsoltár’ in Versek és versfordítások, Vol. I, Budapest, Magvető, 1975, pp. 444-6, or at the Digitális Irodalmi Akadémia.

Further reading: Robert Austerlitz, Ob-Ugric Metrics: the metrical structure of Ostyak and Vogul folk poetry, Helsinki, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1958; and Peter Sherwood, ‘Ob-Ugrian Sleep’, in L. Jakab, L. Keresztes, A. Kiss and S. Maticsák (eds), Congressus Septimus Internationalis Fenno-Ugristarum. Sessiones Sectionum. Dissertationes Linguistica, Debrecen, Debrecen University Press, 1990, pp. 308-13.

History of Hungarian studies in the UK

On Friday 3 March, Peter Sherwood gave a talk on the history of Hungarian studies in London and the UK, based on an article he published in Hungarian, ‘Magyar stúdiumok Londonban’ (Hungarian Studies in London), in Hungarológia I. Budapest, 1993, pp. 111–21.

The history of Hungarian studies in the UK stretches back over a century-and-a-half.

The first Anglo-Hungarian grammar, A Grammar of the Hungarian Language, was published no less than 155 years ago (1852), and written by Zsigmond (Sigismund) Wékey, who arrived in the British capital as aide-de-camp to Lajos Kossuth, the figurehead of the 1848-49 revolution. The introduction to the grammar opens with a phrase that has remained well-known to all Hungarian schoolchildren to this day: Nyelvében él a nemzet, which Wékey glossed in English as ‘A nation may be said to live in its language’.

This work was followed by a second, more comprehensive grammar by János Csink, A Complete Practical Grammar of the Hungarian Language, only a year later. Like  Wékey, Csink belonged to the circle of mid-nineteenth-century political émigrés, and reached England via Hamburg, which appears to have been the standard route for Hungarian emigrants of the time.

This post-revolution wave of emigration certainly helped to stimulate interest in Hungarian language and culture in the 1850s. Not only did two further articles appear during this particularly productive decade (Thomas Watts, ‘On the recent history of the Hungarian language’, 1855, pp. 285 – 310; Francis Pulsky (Pulszky Ferenc), ‘On the nature, peculiarities and some affinities of the Hungarian language I’, 1859, pp. 97 – 116, both in: Transactions of the Philological Society) but a Hungarian Cadet School was also funded in 1851.

Thereafter, publications appeared more sporadically until the early twentieth century. No more than four publications on Hungarian language and philology appeared: Arthur J. Patterson, ‘Hungarian’, 1874, pp. 216 – 219, and ‘Report on recent Hungarian philology’, 1885, pp. 539 – 543, both in: Transactions of the Philological Society; Ignatius Singer, A Simplified Grammar of the Hungarian Language, 1882; and C. Arthur and Ilona Ginever, Hungarian Grammar, 1909. Patterson later became the forefather of English studies in Hungary.

The School of Slavonic studies in King’s College was founded in 1915; the qualifier ‘East European’ was added to the title in the 1930s. Romanian was taught from 1919, together with Russian (which had been taught from 1889 at King’s) and other Slavonic languages. The first mention of Hungarian in the School’s history is from the 1920s, when N. B. Jopson dealt with Hungarian historical linguistic studies.

1937 was a turning point in the history of Hungarian studies in the UK: the Hungarian government donated 350 books, and subsidised the foundation of a language and literature post for Hungarian, the first occupant of which was Miklós Szenczi, who remained in the post until 1947. One of Szenczi’s students, Arthur H. Whitney, wrote the first Colloquial Hungarian, first published in 1944 and reprinted until the 1970s. Szenczi was followed by Béla Iványi-Grünwald, who taught at SSEES from 1948 into the early 1950s. Iványi-Grünwald enriched the School’s library with his collection of Hungarica, which he bequeathed to the School on condition that the collection be kept together.

The first doctoral thesis in Hungarian literature at SSEES was completed by George F. Cushing in 1952, on the subject of ‘National Classicism in Hungary’. Cushing was the first professor of Hungarian studies in the UK, 1978–1986 (Emeritus thereafter). Lóránt Czigány, author of the most comprehensive history of Hungarian literature in English, completed his PhD under Professor Cushing on ‘The Perception of Hungarian Literature in the Victorian Period’. Czigány, and László Péter, Professor of Hungarian History, appointed in 1963, now Emeritus, both belonged to the wave of post-1956 Uprising wave of emigration.

Subsequent teachers of Hungarian studies (including history, politics and language) include Martyn Rady, George Schöpflin; Michael Branch,; Peter Sherwood, and Daniel Abondolo, currently Senior Lecturer in Hungarian Studies (appointed in 1987).

Following Czigány’s doctoral thesis, there have been two doctorates awarded in Hungarian literature at SSEES: Richard Aczel’s on the re-evaluation of 19th century Hungarian literature, and Gwen Jones’s, in 2006, on the prose fiction of Budapest, 1873–1939. There are currently two research students at SSEES who are dealing with Hungarian studies: Robert Gray, 19th century history, and Eszter Tarsoly, Hungarian linguistics.

Between 1963 and the early 1990s a position of Hungarian Lektorship existed at SSEES. External examiners for BA and MA examinations have included: Stephen Ullmann, D. Mervyn Jones, Robert J.W. Evans and Robin Baker, who was formerly a student of Hungarian at SSEES. The SSEES library holds some 18-20,000 Hungarian-related items, with British Library’s holdings making London home to Europe’s largest collection of Hungarian books outside Hungary itself.

Ob-Ugric 5: Mansi (Sygva) grammar

Last session we looked at a table summarising the main features of Sygva Mansi verbs, including the order of various inflectional suffixes.

In Sygva, the order of these suffixes is not as fixed as in Hungarian, where mood and tense markers always precede personal suffixes. While Hungarian has an entirely different paradigm of personal suffixes to indicate that the verb has a definite direct object, in Sygva we find a set of inflectional morphemes, inserted between the mood/tense/passive voice markers and the personal suffixes, to indicate the definite direct object.

The order of passive voice and mood/tense markers also varies. Sygva Vogul is more elaborate in marking number: it has a separate set of verb endings for singular, double, and for three or more subjects and objects. This is even more interesting if we take into account the fact that the Vogul noun system lacks an accusative case marker. As a result, definite direct objects are indicated only by means of a set of inflectional morphemes. As is often the case with languages lacking an accusative case marker, Vogul has a passive voice marker which can precede or follow the tense/mood markers.

In the second part of the session we discussed methods of internal reconstruction and systematic correspondences, the ‘sound laws’ of the Ugric languages. Peter drew our attention to the misunderstanding that gives rise to the popular belief that ‘Hungarian doesn’t like consonant clusters’. This statement might come as surprise if we consider that the Hungarian noun system abounds in derived or root words such as boncnok, stráfkocsi, krumplistészta, etc. The Hungarian verb system is more archaic than the noun system, which is why the above belief holds only in the case of verbs, which preserved more archaic elements of the Ugric phonotactic system. Nouns must be able to take any kind of ending, among them suffixes starting with a consonant without a linking vowel–unlike verbs, which do not allow a suffix added to the stem without vowel insertion if the verb ends in a consonant cluster and the first sound of the suffix is a consonant as well (e.g. parasztnak (NOUN: sz + t +n), akasztanak (VERB: sz + t + a + n).

We discussed changes affecting the sounds β and γ, which are the two extreme ends of the vocal tract, hence, they are more likely to disappear or to be replaced by a vowel if the extra syllable is needed.

After that we turned to the Zyrian and Tatar loanwords in Vogul and Ostyak dialects, and looked at charts showing the distribution of loans of various origin among the various dialects. We also looked at etymological relations between the Hungarian, Ostyak and Vogul lexicon and explored arguments for and against the existence of a Ugric language branch within the Uralic languages.

The next couple of sessions will be spent looking at a bear poem, and a translation by Gyula Illyés.

Ob-Ugric 4: Mansi vocabulary, Song of Conversion (cont.)

At around the same time as Europeans were colonising the Americas and decimating the native populations there, Russians were pushing eastward. Siberia was colonised during the reign of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible, 1530-84) and, by the end of the sixteenth century, the Mansi had been pushed from ‘European Russia’ to the other side of the Urals. Incidentally, the word ‘Ural’ itself comes from Mansi: ur (mountain) + ala (roof).

While the Mansi religion is polytheistic and shamanistic, images of worldly deities (tsars, Lenin) were gradually added to sacred places in Mansi dwellings over the centuries. Leonid Trauberg and Grigori Kozintsev’s 1931 film Одна (Alone), for which Shostakovich wrote the score, was filmed in the Altai mountains. Although shamans were to be liquidated together with the kulaks under collectivisation, the film includes footage of a surviving shaman, and the entire crew were reportedly terrified of him. Their awe is almost tangible, if not contagious, in the scene in which he dances and sings by a fire.

A few notes on borrowed words in the northern (Sygva) dialect of Mansi we’ve been studying. Some words for ‘modern’ things come from Russian: ārkeri (архиереи, bishop), aťēl (отдел, carriage), xōsax (казак, Cossack), konkrēs (конгресс, congress), rūt (род, kin), sāprańi (собрание, meeting), tēsis (тезис, thesis), and also pil(i), the word for car, which comes from автомобиль.

Others come from Komi (also known as Zyrian), another Uralic language, but one spoken on the western side of the Urals: nēpak (nipik – paper, letter, book, writing), and tujt (tūjt – horsedrawn sledge). The Sygva Mansi words for Russian, cross (as in crucifix), and bread (as in naan bread) also come from Komi. We can see how Russian, and other more western-ly items are imported via other Uralic languages that exist in closer proximity to Russian(s).

Oddly enough, however, the Sygva word for silk (japak), comes from Tatar, which means that it must have travelled a great distance. The word for cow, too, comes from the south, where livelihoods depend on herds, rather than on reindeer and fish.

Mansi is, as one would expect, particularly rich in river vocabulary. So far, we’ve come across words for the flat piece of land next to the riverbank (pōx), downriver (lui), and the part of a river between two bends (wōľ). There’s also reindeer vocabulary, such as kot, the skin on a reindeer’s leg; mańśək, a reindeer’s tail; and xār-ōjka, a reindeer bull, where xār is reindeer, and ōjka is the same as the Hungarian bácsi, uncle or older man.

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Ob-Ugric 3: Mansi (Tavda), Song of Conversion

Before languages die out, they go mad. This means that agreements fail, phonologic differences may fade away, there is syntactic loss: the language’s systems fall apart. We need to bear in mind this kind of craziness when looking at dialects of Mansi that have died out, because samples collected from Tavda in the late 1800s, for instance, a southern dialect that was probably the closest to Hungarian, may well contradict each other.

Mansi belongs to the Ob-Ugrian sub-group of the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic languages, and its speakers mostly live along tributaries of the river Ob, while a few live along the river Konda. There are, or were, three distinct Mansi branches. The Northern Mansi speakers live(d) along the banks of the rivers Sosva, Sygva and Upper Lozva. Speakers of Eastern Mansi lived along the Konda valley, while Southern (including Tavda) and Western Mansi no longer speak Mansi.

Tavda had vowel harmony, and displayed some fascinating Ugric ideas that speakers of Hungarian will be familiar with. In Hungarian, definiteness might be expressed in one of four ways. Here are the ways in which distinctions between conjugations are made:

1. látok / látom – I see something, vs. I see it. Here, the difference is in the consonant used.

2. -unk, -ünk / -juk, -jük: these are first person plural endings, in which the sequence of letters is jumbled up, the ‘n’ disappears and a ‘j’ appears at the beginning.

3. -t-ak / -t-ák: here, the vowel is lengthened to denote definiteness in the third person plural.

4. néz-tek / néz-i-tek where something (here, ‘i’) is inserted for the second conjugation (you [informal plural] look vs. you look at it).

Tavda used the fourth principle, in which a slot for a definite marker appears before personal endings. However, all pronouns are definite in Mansi and Khanty, not just the 3rd person.

Tavda had an accusative marker, and two sorts of instrumental, for when an instrument is used (e.g. I hit him with an axe) and a comitative (I hit him [together] with my friend), as well as an equivalent to the Hungarian translative -vá/-vé, which denotes something becoming something else, e.g. vérré vált ez a sör (I’ve just drunk this beer and it has become blood in my body).

Tavda died out in the 1920s, at around the same time written forms of Mansi and Khanty were introduced, using the Cyrillic alphabet.

After looking at the grammar, we moved on to a poem collected by Bernát Munkácsi (1860-1937) in 1888, but which dates from the early 1700s, when the Russians decided to convert the ‘heathens’ of Siberia to Christianity. Munkácsi’s original family name was Munk, and his family were so poor he grew up in a cave in Nagyvárad (today Oradea in Romania). He travelled to the Urals in the 1880s, and his collections of Ugric song and verse, first published by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1892, delighted and inspired a number of twentieth-century poets. Ferenc Juhász and László Nagy both borrowed imagery from Khanty and Mansi verbal art forms and motifs, such as the ‘nyaklevágható álom’, literally, neck-cut-off-able dream, a sleep so deep your head could be severed and you wouldn’t wake up, rendered as ‘fejlevágható álom’ in László Nagy’s poem Medvezsoltár (Bear psalm).

The poem we read has been translated as the Song of Conversion, and is one of the most powerful, sparse poems I have ever read.

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