21st Century Hungarian Language Survival in Transylvania. Edited by Judith Kesserű Némethy. Helena History Press, 2015.

21st Century Hungarian Language Survival in Transylvania. Edited by Judith Kesserű Némethy. Helena History Press, 2015.


The book examines the present-day situation of Hungarian as minority language in Romania. It is an important addition to the study of the Hungarian language in the Diaspora that should be of interest not only to linguists and sociolinguists but to historians and political or social scientists, educators, and dialectologists as well. The problems presented, although referring specifically to the Hungarian language in Romania today, have parallels across borders and across all languages spoken by minorities. One of the authors is Attila Z. Papp, Director of Institute for Minority Studies, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Survival of minority languages, be it Quechua in Peru, Spanish in the United States or Hungarian in the Carpathian Basin, depends on historical, geopolitical, and sociolinguistic factors. To a large degree it also depends on the politics of the governing majority country, whose regulations have repercussions on all aspects of education, work environment, and cultural and social life. In fact, in the course of the twentieth century, after Hungary was dismembered following the 1920 Treaty of Trianon and one third of its population became minorities of neighboring countries, their use of Hungarian has been greatly weakened by unrelenting restrictive or even punitive policies on the part of successive governments. Today, political and social pressure, coupled with the passage of time and globalization, threatens to endanger the very existence of the Hungarian language outside of Hungary, and with it the minority’s national identity as well.

The six essays in this volume, written by Hungarian academics living in Transylvania and Hungary, deal with historical, political, educational, legal, social, and linguistic aspects of minority language survival in Transylvania. They also point to the tools that make possible the reversal of the trend toward linguistic and cultural assimilation, tools that could also open the path toward a healthy multicultural and multilingual coexistence. The essays are preceded by an introduction with an overview of majority-minority relations today and their governance through international covenants, followed by a brief review of the history of Transylvania within the history of Hungary delineating the forces that contributed to the make-up of its population and shaped the interaction among its ethnicities.

Orsolya Nádor’s essay, “East Central European Traditions Shaping Language Policy and Language Instruction,” is a historical review of the evolution and status of the Hungarian language since the Middle Ages, both in majority and minority situation. The author analyzes the role of linguistic ideologies in shaping the attitude towards majority and minority policies leading to linguistic conflicts in East Central Europe. Through a review of international language laws, we come to the question of survival of the minorities in a homogenizing nation-state ideology.

In “Educational Policy Concepts in the Carpathian Basin,” Attila Z. Papp outlines the main changes in Hungarian minority education in the four countries housing today the largest Hungarian minorities: Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and the Ukraine. The author contextualizes minority education policies by reflecting on challenges related to major demographics, educational statistics and institutional development processes.

Rita Fóris-Ferenczi and János Péntek aim to present the Hungarian sub-system of Romanian public education in their essay “Hungarian Public Education in Romania, with Particular Attention to the Language(s) of Instruction.” The authors make the case for the Hungarian minority’s specific situation within the Romanian educational system, in view of their sheer numbers and historic traditions. In Transylvania where they have lived as an indigenous community for 1,000 years, Hungarians constitute nearly 20% of the population. Therefore, they consider it their basic right to study in their native language, but are confronted by a system that does not support the development of high level bilingualism.

Noémi Fazakas’ paper “The Hungarian Language in Transylvania: Its Existence in the Diaspora and the Possibilities of Revitalization” portrays the complexities of bilingualism and of language shift and maintenance, as well as the possibilities of revitalization. She examines the level of endangerment in three distinct types of demographic and linguistic situations of Hungarians in Transylvania: the compact territory of the Szekler lands, the island situation, and the diaspora of Northeastern and Southern Transylvania. Based on a thorough theoretical backdrop, Dr. Gál Fazakas studies the possibilities of reversal of language shift and revitalization through the implementation of minority linguistic rights as part of the basic human rights. She concludes that ethnic and national identities can be revived through conscious revitalization programs starting in small communities and aided by the involvement of intellectuals and specialists.

Krisztina Sárosi-Márdirosz’s “The Official Register of the Hungarian Language Used in Transylvania” is a sociolinguistic study of the impact of Romanian upon the official register of the Hungarian language as it appears in the audiovisual media, specifically in official, administrative and political discourse. While current legislation allows the use of the minority language when its percentage is of at least 20% of the population, the official register of the Hungarian language is underdeveloped, and users encounter many problems while trying to translate laws, acts and documents from Romanian. Based on a two-year extensive monitoring of the Hungarian electronic media in Transylvania, during which specific errors, inconsistencies and problems of translation were analyzed, Dr. Sárosi-Márdirosz identifies the tasks related to problems of translation derived from an imbalanced bilingualism. Her conclusion is that these can be solved, provided that a conscious expansion of journalism instruction in Hungarian is implemented by Romanian universities and adopted by the media.

In “Language Use in the Hungarian Electronic Media in Romania,” Borbála Zsemlyeifollows up on Dr. Sárosi-Márdirosz’s theme by presenting the characteristics of the Hungarian language use of reporters and correspondents of the Hungarian electronic media in Romania. The goal was to determine the extent to which reporters and correspondents follow standard norms, the mistakes they tend to commit, and the most common language phenomena. The analysis covers all substructures of language: pronunciation, morphology, lexicology and semantics, syntax, and stress, even including pragmatics, and presenting, with numerous examples, the influence of Romanian over the Hungarian phrases. The paper concludes that mistakes are linked not only to foreign influence, but also to poor competence in Hungarian, denoting the strong influence of the bilingual context of which it is part. It is from this reality that a policy of language planning must be built in order to maintain and revitalize the Hungarian language in Romania.