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The Hungarian language is one of the greatest treasures of Hungarian culture, however, living abroad makes it a much more difficult task to preserve it. Talking to Hungarian Londoners and vising their community centres allowed me to see their struggle to maintain Hungarian language use in their day-to-day lives.

What is it about Hungarian?

The Hungarian language is unique and it is surrounded by a sea of Germanic, Latin and Slavic language users in the Carpathian Basin. However, it may not be present at all if it were not for drastic interventions in the 19th century. During this period great interest was taken in preserving Hungarian – its use was more strictly enforced in the region and Hungarian words were conjured up for ones which were borrowed from other languages. That is why Hungarian uses the word ‘rendőrség’ instead of one derived from the Latin word ’politia’ for example.

Hungarian language became intricately tied with Hungarian patriotism and nationalism, meaning today it is a very important aspect of Hungarian culture, especially for people living abroad.

Preserving Hungarian in London

Over the past decade tens of thousands of Hungarians have moved to London.  Discussing Hungarian culture with Hungarian Londoners, language was always one of the first topics to come up.

They express a sense of pride of being able to speak Hungarian; for them it is the most beautiful language in the world and allows them to mark the boundaries between themselves and other Eastern European cultures.

In community centres it became clear that language use is central in their lives.  In London they constantly differentiate between speaking Hungarian and English. For example, when children or even adults make grammatical mistakes, they correct each other in order to reinforce the accurate use of the language. Children are often reminded to speak Hungarian as they easily slip English words and phrases into their speech; living and going to school in Britain means English comes much more naturally to them. Intricate aspects of language that may not be seen as crucial for Hungarians living in Hungary, such as adding accents on letters when typing messages, become very important in language use and expressing ‘Hungarianess’.

Older individuals in communities are worried about Hungarian youth losing their heritage language, especially ones who have lived a significant part or their whole lives in Britain. While membership is growing, participation is not. London offers so many different opportunities for young people to pursue their interests, meaning going to a Hungarian community centre and talking in a language that is not used in their surroundings is not their priority. As families stay for multiple generations, Hungarian language is less likely to be passed on.

The Hungarian language is vital to preserve other aspects of Hungarian culture. Without speaking it, we cannot access other national treasures such as literature. It is only when we read the poems of János Arany and Endre Ady in Hungarian that we get their true meaning and exquisite beauty.

It is difficult to preserve your mother tongue in a foreign country. However community centres in London, including the Szent István Ház and the Balassi Institute are doing their best to cater for the needs of Hungarian Londoners – both for younger and older generations. They provide the community where Hungarians can speak in their mother tonuge to each other.

Previously we also looked at Hungarians living in Phoenix (AZ) and how they preserve their Hungarian heritage.

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