Our final Mansi sessions were spent studying a folktale in Tavda, a southern dialect which, before it died out in the 1920s, was probably the closest to Hungarian. Reflecting on his visit to the lower Tavda river area in 1894, Munkácsi initially assumed that Tavda was a separate language:
A Tavda folyó alvidékén csekély számban fönmaradt vogulok nyelve a vogul nyelvterület lenönállóbb s legsajátosabb része, mely első tekintetre olyan benyomással hat a figyelőre, mintha benne nem is egy tájbeszédnek, hanem az uráli ugor nyelvek egyik külön tagjának őriződött volna meg végső maradványa.
Bernát Munkácsi, A vogul nyelvjárások szóragozásukban ismertetve, Budapest, MTA, 1894, p. 244.
A mere forty pages of Tavda exist: texts collected by Munkácsi from the late 1880s onwards and, later, by Artturi Kannisto in the early 1900s (see Kannisto, ed. Matti Liimola, Wogulische Volksdichtung, 6 vols., Helsinki, 1951-63), which are collated (and treated as one dialect) by László Honti in System der paradigmatischen Suffixmorpheme des Wogulischen Dialektes an der Tawda, Budapest, 1975.
Although stress nearly always fell on the second syllable, Tavda had an accusative marker (-mee/-mii), and vowel harmony where front and back vowels largely corresponded with those in Hungarian:
Its other cases are: lative, locative, ablative, instrumental, comitative, and translative. Tavda is paratactic, which means that there is no subordination in sentence formation, where words can be placed in any order. Some relics of parataxis (in other words, where there is no accusativity) still exist in Hungarian, such as háztűznézni, könyvolvasás, kézmosás. In terms of the text we studied, the verb system has a passive marker inserted before the durative or the past marker; an indicative and imperative mood (the latter only in the second person); and momentaneous and durative present tenses and one past tense. Like Hungarian, there is no definite/indefinite disctinction in the past tense. There are no definite forms in the passive, or in intransitive verb forms. Personal possessive suffixes may be familiar to speakers of Hungarian:
Some examples, in which the sequence of morphemes is the same in Tavda and Hungarian include: niim (HU: nőm); käätəmən (kezembe); torəm (torkom). Of course, Hungarian has long since developed European features on top of the Uralic characteristics, such as the definite article, and agreement between definite noun phrases and verb forms.
The text is the story of a hunter who, having killed and skinned a reindeer and put it in the pot, is astonished when a wind blows up, the pot tips over and the reindeer jumps out and flees. He goes to the nearest village and tells a man there he has seen a miracle, and recounts the tale. The listener, a ploughman, invites him to stand with him on the plough, while he relates an even more fantastic story: he once came home to find his wife in bed with another man, and when the woman hit him and commanded him to turn into a black dog, he turned into a black dog. The dog came across some ploughmen who, believing Torem had sent them a guard dog, gave him food while he guarded their dwellings for a week. The dog then guarded the dwelling of the landowner, whose wife bore him a son. The baby was stolen. She had another son, who was also stolen. When the third son was born, the dog stopped the thief by biting his leg, and was rewarded with bread and sugar, even a ribbon around his neck. One day, he set off hunting for rabbits with the landowner, but instead returned home to find his wife in bed with another man. She beat him, and commanded him to turn into a sparrow, which he did. He flew off and started eating oats with horses in a field, where he was caught by two children and taken to their home. Their father, the baby thief, whips him and commands him to become a man. He becomes a man. They feed him and, when he leaves, the old man presses a whip into his hand and tells him to go home, whip his wife and turn her into a mare, and to whip her lover and turn him into a stallion. He does just this. The narrator harnesses the mare and stallion to his plough, on which narrator and hunter are standing. The hunter says, now that is a miracle!
Lexical items of interest: the words for black dog (śarnəšk), sugar (sääkäär), bed (krawāť) and miracle (t’iwa) are from Russian (чорнышка, сахр, кровать, диво), while Tatar borrowings include tüs (hunting), pajtəl (mare), and sol (oats).
Although it would be misleading to say that Tavda is ‘easy’ or even remotely intelligible for Hungarian speakers, the text provided numerous ‘whoah!’ moments. Having studied Mansi now for a few months, this was plain sailing. The Hungarian morpheme-by-morpheme crib sheet provided was immediately understandable. The following original and Hungarian crib, in which the ploughman begins his story, will illustrate the beauties of Tavda (transcription simplified in the interest of legibility).
tü kom länt: “tiťi ńokor ťiwa?! äm ťiwa wāsəm. āləs äm niim,” länt. “äšnäl jisəm, niim māt kom jōrtəl krawāť ašt šänəwtäktiim koji. nii noƞläkətəs, ńärəmtəs tupiinək, šäwräpəwsəm päntä, läws: ālsən näw kom, iń sown šiiməl ämp!” äm sowsəm šiiməl ämpəw, künpāšəwsəm. äm kajtsəm.
Ez ember mond: “Emez milyen csoda?! ÉN csoda láttam. Volt én nőm,” mond, “munkából haza jöttem, nőm más férfival együtt ágyon ölelkezve fekszik. Nő felugrott, vett dorong, vágott féjjen, mondott: “Voltál most(ig) férfi, most válj fekete eb!” Én váltam fekete ebbé, kiűzettem. én futkároztam.