Aside from the adventurous state founding and the war ridden walls of the castles and hill forts of Hungary, we have one more precious relic from long ago: the Old Hungarian Alphabet. There are numerous tall tales surrounding the alphabet, and half of them do not even come close to reality. Érdekes Portál has collected the most important and real facts that you need to know about the Old Hungarian Alphabet.
The article says that if you read this introduction to one of the most important Hungarian treasures, you will understand why so many people are interested in it and why it has to be kept alive as a cultural heritage.
In Hungarian, it is called ‘rovásírás’, translating to ‘score writing’. The name comes from the method of ‘writing’: the letters are not written with pen and on paper, parchment, but scored into wood or stone with a knife. They look a lot like geographical shapes rather than letters.
The Hun origins
According to medieval tales, the Szeklers (Székelys) were Huns, and the Hungarians were only related to Huns, thus the Szeklers transmitted the Scythian-Hun alphabet to the Hungarians. Most historians agree that the Old Alphabet came into being in the 9-10th century. This means that the Hungarian tribes arriving at the Pannonian Basin were the ones who brought the signs to the region. This is despite the fact that the first indirect remnants of the Old Alphabet can be pinned to the end of the 15th century. However, there are direct proofs for the existence of the Alphabet from the 16th century.
There’s a twist, however: historians would link score writing to the Göktürks or the Avars, instead of the Huns. There Hungarian linguists in the 17-19th centuries who even doubted that the writing system is actually ancient. They believed it to be the craftwork of 16th century Humanists. Late Humanists campaigned to spread the Old Alphabet, with the aim of convincing everyone to shift to the Old Alphabet.
The first linguistic inquiries
In the 16th century, linguists have started to examine the languages spoken by different nations. Not just the Hebrew, Greek and Latin grammars were prepared in those times, but also the first vernacular grammars. The first systematised Hungarian grammar can be linked to János Sylvester, from 1539. The descriptive approach is only one aspect of inquiry; the other ones are the historical tradition, the activity of the language or how much it resembles those languages that have important roles in culture transfer. It was revealed that there are more declensions in Hungarian than in Latin, and also Latin is missing the articles.
János Telegdy and János Baranyai Decsi
János Telegdy wrote a book about the Old Hungarian Alphabet in 1598, the preface of which was written by János Baranyai Decsi. Although not a single printed version has resurfaced since then, we can conclude from 17-18th-century sources that it was quite popular and it had a great impact on the views of contemporaries. According to the preface, the Old Alphabet is proof for the ancient origins of Hungarians, and the right-to-left writing is proof for the connection between the Hebrew and Hungarian languages. They thought that our Scythian “ancestors” have taken up writing from the Hebrews. With this form of writing, such Hungarian letters were created that not even the French, Germans or other big European nations had. Thus Humanists repeated what Kézai ascertained: the Szeklers inherited the Old Alphabet from the Huns.
The debate between historians and linguists
If we consider the skeptical approach of the 17-19th-century linguists to the matter (the Old Alphabet is a fake made in the 16th century), then for the Humanist forger, his acts were only a process of re-creation, the restoration of something long gone. The doubts of the linguists are supported by those facts from past sources that were vigorously examined with a critical approach. Most historians absolutely believed in what was written by Kézai: Thuróczi, Bonfini, and Miklós Oláh all talk about the Alphabet as it was used in their time, yet there are no signs of such thing taking place. It is for certain that the Szekler score writing, to which historians refer to as real, based on facts deriving from tradition, was not actually used before the 15-16th century. Another great Hungarian linguist, Albert Szenci Molnár drew attention to this problem in 1609, saying that he’s never seen the Szekler letters in his life, nor did he know anyone who’d ever seen them.
The basis for doubt
The linguistic examination of the Szekler score writing is based on those 15-16th-century remnants that are unquestionable. However, in these sources, the Szekler writing uses those 16th-century phonemes that were not used in Ancient Hungarian. Furthermore, the ‘i’ and ‘j’ sounds along with the ‘u’ and ‘v’ are denoted the same way as in contemporary Latin writing. If there was a version of this score writing dating back to the Ancient Hungarian times, then that form completely adapted to the 15-16th-century Hungarian language. However, the signs denoting the new sounds look nothing like the Latin letters. This leads to further complications, as if the score writing lived together continuously with the Latin alphabet, then there would be functional similarities.
Based on these, it cannot be proved that the score writing was used before the 15-16th century.
featured image: felfedes.hu