OSSETIC LANGUAGE ii. Ossetic Loanwords in Hungarian


ii. Ossetic Loanwords in Hungarian

One of the features of Ossetic is the number of lexical traces that show ancient contacts with many, often very diverse, ethnic groups. Conversely, Ossetic loanwords can also be observed in the languages of those groups. One of these languages is Hungarian, whose speakers came into contact with Ossetic speakers, when they were still settled in the Don-Kuban area (near the Caucasus). These contacts probably dated to the 4th-6th centuries CE, well before the Hungarian settlement of the Carpathian Basin in 896 (cf. Fehér, p. 23). Afterwards, small groups of Ossetians, the so-called Jász, arrived with the Cumans, a Turkic-speaking tribe, in Hungary (13th century). Most of the Ossetic borrowings in Hungarian apparently stem from the earlier period, although a small word-list and some names relating to these Jász have survived in Hungarian chronicles (cf. Németh, pp. 5-38).

Establishing the number of probable Ossetic loanwords in Hungarian proves to be problematic, as the similarity may be sheer chance. Even if we are dealing with borrowing, it may well stem from a third source. It is therefore not surprising to find major disagreements in the handbooks.      

The following Hungarian forms are considered to be likely borrowings from an earlier stage of Ossetic, following L. Benkő (see Bibliog.): Hung. asszony “mistress, madam” ~ Oss. æxsin/æxsijnæ “lady, mistress” (< Ir. *xšaiθnī-); egész “healthy, whole(some)” ~ ægas/ægas, igas “whole(some), healthy, alive” (< *wi-kāsa-); ezer “thousand; regiment” ~ ærzæ, ærʒæ “thousand; a countless number” (< *hazahrā); gazdag “rich, wealthy” ~ qæznyg, qæzdyg/ǧæzdug “rich” (< *gazna- + -yg/-ug); legény “young man, apprentice” ~ læg “man, male, human” (< Caucasian ?); méreg “poison” ~ marg “poison” (< *marka-); tölgy ~ tulʒ/tolʒæ “oak” (see below); üveg “glass” ~ avg/avgæ “glass, bottle” (< *āpa-kā-); vért “shield, mail” ~ wart “shield” (< *warθra-).

Other Hungarian forms that have been cited as ancient Ossetic loanwords in earlier studies (notably Munkácsi, 1904; Sköld) are disputed or declined by Benkő: éd-es “sweet” (~ Oss. ad “taste”); esztendő “year” (~ az “year”); fizet “to pay” (~  fizyn/fezun “to pay”); gond “care” (~ kond “work, act”); keszeg “white fish” (~ kæsag/kæsalgæ “fish”); mély “deep, depth” (~ mal “deep spot in a river, sea”); mén “stallion” (~ moj/mojnæ “man, husband”); nép “people, nation, populace” (~ Naf “divine protector of a settlement”); rég “long” (~ rag “long”); részeg “drunk” (~ rasyg/rasug “drunk”); zöld “green” (~ Dig. zældæ “(young) grass, turf”). Hung. bűz (Benkő, I, p. 405) “smell, bad odor” may indeed have an Iranian origin, perhaps Parthian bwd rather than pre-Ossetic (cf. bud/bodæ “fragrance, incense”). Another disputed form is Hung. “work,” which is considered a borrowing from Oss. mi, Dig. miwæ “thing; work” by V. I. Abaev (1958, II, pp. 112 f.). According to Benkő (II, p. 987), the etymology of Hung. is unclear; it may be inherited, whereas the connection of Oss. form mi to Skt. mīv “to press on,” Khot. mvīr- “to move,” etc. is semantically unconvincing.   

A large number of similar forms without a good (Finno-)Ugric or Iranian etymology are also shared by Ossetic and Hungarian, e.g., Hung. ezüst “silver” ~ Oss. ævzist (cf. Udmurt azveś, Komi ezyś), kőris ~ kærz/kærzæ “ash tree” (cf. Kalmuck kǖrsn, Nogay küyriš, Chuvash kavărš, etc.; Bläsing, pp. 8 ff.), körte ~ kærdo/kærttu “pear” (cf. Cuman kärtmä, Darginian qjart, Ingush qor). In these cases there are very few conclusive clues to prove a direct donor/borrower relationship between Ossetic and Hungarian, except for two forms. The “oak” word, tölgy, is probably a loanword from Oss. tulʒ/tolʒæ, as it contains an Ossetic suff. -ʒ/-ʒæ; for the etymology see A. Loma (pp. 112 ff.). Oss. læg, probably from Caucasian, may be the source of Hung. legény “young man,” in view of the Ossetian proximity to the Caucasus and the semantic agreement between læg and legény.



V. I. Abaev, Istoriko-etimologicheskiĭ  slovar” osetinskogo yazyka (A historical-etymological dictionary of the Ossetic language), 5 vols., Moskva and Leningrad, 1958-1995.

Idem, “K alano-vengerskim leksicheskim svyazyam” (On the Alanic-Hungarian lexical relations), in Europa et Hungaria, Congressus etnographicus 16-20. X, 1963, Budapest, 1965, pp. 517-37.

L. Benkő, ed., A Magyar nyelv történeti-etimológiai szótára (A historical-etymological dictionary of the Hungarian language), 4 vols., Budapest, 1967-84; published in German as Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Ungarischen, 3 vols., Budapest, 1993-97.  

R. Bielmeier, “Sarmatisch, Alanisch, Jassisch,” in R. Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, pp. 236-45.

U. Bläsing, “Pflanzennamen im Kumückischen,” Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia 7, 2002, pp. 7-44.

G. Fehér, “Bulgarisch-Ungarische Beziehungen in den V-XI. Jahrhunderten,” Keleti Szemle/Revue orientale 19/2, 1921, pp. 4-190.

Z. Gombocz, “Osseten-Spuren in Ungarn,” in Streitberg Festgabe, Leipzig, 1924, pp. 105-10.

A.I. Joki, “Finnisch-ugrisch im Ossetischen?,” Mémoires de la Société Finno-ougrienne 125, 1962, pp. 147-70.

A. Loma, “Osetisch tūlʒ/tōlʒæ “Eiche,”” Die Sprache 46/1, 2006, pp. 112-16.

B. Munkácsi, “Kaukasischer Einfluss in den Finnisch-Magyarischen Sprachen,” Keleti Szemle/Revue orientale 1, 1900, pp. 38-49, 114-32, 205-18.

Idem, “Kaukasischer Einfluss in den Finnisch-Magyarischen Sprachen,” Keleti Szemle/Revue orientale 2, 1901, pp. 38-45.

Idem, “Alanische Sprachdenkmäler im ungarischen Wortschatze,” in Keleti Szemle/Revue orientale 5, 1904, pp. 304-29.

J. Németh, “Eine Wörterliste der Jassen, der Ungarländischen Alanen,” Abhandlungen der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Klasse für Sprachen, Literatur und Kunst, 1958 (1959), No. 4, pp. 5-38.

A. Róna-Tas, “Turkic-Alanian-Hungarian Contacts,” AOH 58/2, 2005, pp. 205-13.

H. Sköld, Die Ossetischen Lehnwörter im Ungarischen, Lund Universitets Årsskrift, N.F., Avd. 1, 20/4, Lund and Leipzig, 1925.

(J.T.L. Cheung)

Last Updated: June 5, 2013