I have always known that Hungarian was related to Finnish, but it wasn’t until I first heard a Finnish song that I realized how similar they were. Or more precisely, how similar they can sound, at least for a few lines, in singing. I did not understand a word of the lyrics, as Hungarian and Finnish are mutually unintelligible, but at times I had the uncanny feeling that I should, that in fact it was in Hungarian, and it was I who somehow lost the ability to comprehend my mother tongue. Since then I have met a half Finnish girl here at bab.la who told me about a very similar experience she had as a young child hearing Estonian for the first time, which is another member of the Finno-Ugric language group . She didn’t know it was Estonian, she thought it was Finnish, and was deeply disturbed by not understanding what she heard!
I suppose it is not so surprising that Finnish and Estonian should be related, as the two countries are only separated by a stretch of sea. How the Hungarian language managed to survive surrounded by so many Slavic countries is as much of an anomaly as Romanian being a Romance language so far East. By the way there are many other Finno-Ugric languages besides the three mentioned above, mostly spoken in remote areas of Russia by a few thousand speakers each.
But just how closely related are these languages really? We cannot understand each other, but this sentence (from Wikipedia) is a fairly good example of how similar the language structures are. Of course, this is an illustration of the best case scenario – in most cases, only a hardcore linguist could detect any similarities.
English: Live fish swim under the ice in the winter.
Finnish: Jään alla talvella elävät kalat uiskentelevat.
Hungarian: A jég alatt télen eleven halak úszkálnak.
Not convinced? I wish I could find that song again that made me feel like I was listening to Hungarian. Well, it was a long time ago, so I just searched aimlessly on Youtube, and came across Chisu, a Finnish artist. Give a listen to these two songs, one in Finnish and the other in Hungarian (from the Péterfy Bori & Love Band), and see if you can hear the difference! Also, let us know if there are any other related languages that confuse you!
Chisu – Yksinäisen keijun tarina
Péterfy Bori & Love Band – Hajolj bele a hajamba