Dictionary Review: Hungarian Practical Dictionary
Hungarian Practical Dictionary
I picked up this small dictionary of 31,000 entries,
I wondered 'Why do we need a small dictionary when
we have the benchmark large Országh?' The
title explains it one way: it is a practical
dictionary. The Preface mentions the other reason:
it is a contemporary dictionary. Indeed,
we all know that no matter how comprehensive a dictionary
might be, it becomes obsolete
by the time it emerges from the printer. An interesting
phenomenon can be illustrated through the term ATM,
for example. When the above-mentioned benchmark
dictionary was published, this term was not very
well known in
The dictionary is aimed mostly at brave Americans who are interested in learning Hungarian, but would also help Hungarians learning English.
The author makes a valiant effort to explain the intricacies of the Hungarian language, some of which I am not sure the American reader, used to a simpler structure, will be able to follow without a live teacher. The bilingual list of abbreviations is very helpful. So is the extensive pronunciation guide with special attention paid to vowel harmony.
Appendices at the end are quite useful. I would
have moved the Hungarian irregular verbs to the
beginning of the book where Hungarian grammar
is discussed, but perhaps the author felt that
the juxtaposition of both English and Hungarian
irregular verbs might be more interesting. These
are followed by a listing of numbers and measurements
in both languages as well as the States and Territories
An oddity at the very end is that some of the authors listed among the Works Consulted have their names in the order as used in English, with given name first, followed by a comma and family name last, as e.g., Imre, Móra Gábor, Kiss, but Pusztai Ferenc has his name in the order used in Hungarian: family name first, followed by given name with no comma.
I had some doubts about some of the entries:
Kenyér n bread; livelihood, a living-may be somewhat confusing. It is appropriate in a large dictionary but, without examples of the way the word is used in the second meaning, it is beyond the scope of a small, practical dictionary.
The dictionary does little to explain the use of the intricate system of Hungarian suffixes, except for listing some of them and giving a few sentences as examples. This list is helpful to those interested in the Hungarian language who want know what the suffixes stand for, and it is easy to apply when the suffix is a simple addition to a word, as in "mi" (nominative case) v. "mit" (accusative case). However, it must be confusing when a vowel (and not always the same vowel) is inserted between the word and the suffix -t. E.g. "könyv" (book) becomes "könyvet" v. "óra" (hour), which becomes "órát," or when the final vowel of the root word changes with the addition of the suffix: konyha (kitchen)- konyhává ([transform] into a kitchen).
Neither does the dictionary explain the consonant harmony rules, whereby the first consonant of a suffix disappears and the last consonant of the root word is doubled instead; thus the resultative suffix -vá, -vé, as in konyha - konyhává, becomes gá: boldog - boldoggá ([make somebody] happy) instead of boldogvá.
But then again, a relatively small dictionary like this cannot be expected to be everything to all people. Perhaps the intention was to whet the appetite of the linguistically curious to venture further into the mysteries of the Hungarian language.
perused this dictionary page after page and could
barely find a typo here and there, which
is a credit to the typesetter and proofreader.
I also liked the simple, clear layout, and the
easy-to-read type size. It is not the typesetter's
in all, this practical dictionary is what it says
it is: a practical companion for the American
traveler. It is definitely an asset for second-generation
Hungarians whose mother tongue may be Hungarian,
but whose dominant language is English, who know
to eat chicken paprikash in Hungarian but
perhaps find it difficult to talk about weapons
of mass destruction, sexual harassment,
or cell phone (which they will find in
the dictionary), or domestic violence (which
they will not). It is of little use to the translator
who is supposed to be beyond this stage.
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