Sámuel Decsy: Pannonian Phoenix, or the Hungarian language arisen from the ashes. Vienna, 1790, Trattner János Tamás. 274, [12] p.

Sámuel Decsy: Pannonian Phoenix, or the Hungarian language arisen from the ashes.
Vienna, 1790, Trattner János Tamás. 274, [12] p.


Our Earliest Printed Scientific Books from János Sylvester’s Grammar to the Czuczor–Fogarasi dictionary

Organised jointly by the National Széchényi Library and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the exhibition Pannonian Phoenix, or the Hungarian Language Arisen from the Ashes opened on 11 March 2005, presenting the gradual spread of the Hungarian language in sciences, starting with the appearance of the first Hungarian prints in the middle of the 16th century up to the Academy’s comprehensive dictionary compiled by Czuczor and Fogarasi, published between 1862 and 1874. The exhibition introduces the process whereby the use and functions of the Hungarian language were extended, the vocabulary of the various disciplines had been established. It shows how by the 19th century, at the time of establishing and with the active co-operation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the disciplines had Hungarian as their only medium.

The history of Hungarian scientific books is very closely related to the spread of the Reformation and book printing. In the decades following the disastrous Battle of Mohács (1526), the Reformation was spreading at a fast rate, focusing on the mother tongue in schools and in book publishing. That is the time when the Protestant usage of language started becoming dominant in Hungary. Over the 16th and 17th centuries, the linguistic features of the North-eastern and Eastern dialects spoken in regions unoccupied by the Turks, were becoming dominant in the newly forming Hungarian language of common people.

From 1536, Hungary always had its own printing houses. In the 16th century they were mostly established by Protestants, and by the end of the century the number of Hungarian prints they had issued was over four hundred. The Reformation attached special importance to having the Bible translated into the vernacular. Therefore, a number of printing houses were set up with this goal as their main mission. The earliest Hungarian print produced in the country is a translation of the Bible, namely János Sylvester’s translation of the New Testament (1541).

Due to its unifying effect, book printing was a major step towards the formation of the national literary language. It greatly helped and strengthened the elaboration of the norms of the written language, the influence of writing on speaking. In his Pannonian Phoenix, the pamphlet whose title the exhibition borrowed, Sámuel Decsy says that “…the invention of the printing trade was a great heavenly godsend for humankind.” “Since this useful trade has emerged from nowhere, sciences have clearly matured and scholars have grown in number.”

Grammars and dictionaries are among the most significant early prints, as they had an important role in translation and education, which apart from the lowest levels, was still using Latin. The first systematic language development and prescription efforts in Hungary appeared at the same time as the first printed works: János Sylvester’s Grammatica Hungarolatina (1539) was the first to discuss Hungarian grammar. Although he did this in Latin, his main goal was to help language tuition at school. The printed dictionaries and glossaries of the age, the first products of Hungarian lexicography, served similar purposes. Albert Szenci Molnár’s 1604 dictionary is outstanding on more than one score: partly because of the encyclopaedic character of its interpretations and partly because of the pioneering Hungarian-Latin dictionary that follows the Latin-Hungarian section. The Prologue to the Hungarian-Latin section is a landmark also in the history of Hungarian orthography, because among other things, Molnár describes the usual methods of representing the sounds in the Hungarian language.

Besides translations of the Bible, dictionaries, glossaries and grammars, István Székely’s world chronicle, the first historiography published in Hungarian is also among the earliest scientific prints (Cracow, 1559). Using a vivid style close to contemporary spoken language, Székely’s chronicle follows Hungarian and world history from the first day of Creation up to his own age.

The earliest extant mathematics book in print is the so-called Debrecen Arithmetic (1577) from the Hoffhalter press. Being a major centre of trade in the 16th century, the town of Debrecen had a huge demand for such publications mainly in order to help traders. Péter Melius Juhász’s Herbal (1578) is the first botany written in Hungarian, and is at the same time the first well-edited Hungarian handbook for sciences. The first chapter of the Herbal is an alphabetical list of plants, which had an enormous significance in identifying “trees and grasses” in Hungarian. The second part is the actual herbal, containing the description and applications of the various plants.

In the series of conscious language development efforts, János Apácai Csere’s Hungarian Encyclopaedia (1655) represents a significant stage, aiming at creating the Hungarian language and terminology of sciences, and being the first to give a full summary of contemporary scientific knowledge. The Encyclopaedia was in fact intended to be a textbook for secondary students (‘a school book written in the Hungarian language’). Apácai recognised the close relationship between national education and the mother tongue, thus the purpose of his undertaking was that all sciences (school subjects) could be taught in Hungarian. He translated the text of the Encyclopaedia mainly from Latin, creating the terminology from almost nothing. In the case of themes close to everyday life (e.g. medicine, zoology, botany, housekeeping and jurisdiction) he coped relatively easily, thus producing simple and easy to follow terminology. More abstract disciplines (e.g. logic, philosophy, mathematics and astronomy), however, were more challenging. In these chapters his language is often clumsy, frequently experimenting with mirror translations of certain terms.

Unfortunately, Apácai’s monumental work had no followers, and his attempt stayed rather isolated. For language, the late 17th and early 18th century represent a period of decline: in public life as well as in scholarship, Latin was again gaining ground, the language that after some encouraging signs in the second half of the 16th century, was still the official language of the country. It was the language of administration, jurisdiction, politics and education. Almost completely neglecting the vernacular, the main focus of secondary and higher education was primarily teaching Latin grammar.

From the middle of the 18th century, however, there was a small upturn in publishing Hungarian scientific books, although mainly of textbooks and popular scientific works. Among them, one of the most interesting is a lengthy volume by the pioneer of scientific and popular writing, János Molnár, a Jesuit teacher and writer: Nine Books of Distinguished Old Buildings (Nagyszombat, 1760). It is not merely a study of the history of architecture, but is rather a summary of cultural history in which by applying descriptions of the Bible and ancient authors, Molnár introduces famous classical creations like Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babylon, the pyramids of Egypt, the Circus Maximus and the Colossus of Rhodes. In addition, he gives a colourful insight into the culture of the age and the given people, describing their languages and customs.

The linguistic and literary movements of Enlightenment led to great changes in the history of Hungarian scientific language. The beginnings are tied to György Bessenyei and the writers in Maria Theresa’s Guard, and gained more ground through literature. Bessenyei elaborated his highly influential educational program in the last years of the 1770s. He saw society’s ultimate aim in creating public good or ‘public happiness’ through science. He argued that the key to science was the language of the ‘majority’, or in other words, not scholars’ Latin, but the whole nation’s language, i.e. Hungarian. In order for sciences to spread and become familiar to the country’s inhabitants, a civilised and widely used language was required. He claimed that our mother tongue had to be enriched primarily by naming new things. Based on French models, Bessenyei thought to entrust the cultivation of the Hungarian language to a scholarly body, namely to the Academy. These principles are elaborated in his pamphlets: in the 1778 Hungarian Language and in the 1779 Hungarian Spectator, as well as in the Humble Proposal written in 1781 but published by Miklós Révai as late as 1790. Through these works, Bessenyei was the forerunner of the nobility’s post-1790 pamphlet literature.

One of the main pieces in this pamphlet literature is Sámuel Decsy’s 1790 Pannonian Phoenix, or the Hungarian Language Arisen from the Ashes. Similarly to Bessenyei, Decsy too recommends setting up a scholarly body modelled on foreign societies, and emphasises the role of libraries and book printing in education. “The library and the book printing house are two such useful tools in strengthening sciences without which no well-constructed scholarly society can be stable,” he says. In his pamphlets in addition to discussing what is to be done for culture, he also lists what the nation is to do in the field of economics. Besides making the national language official, he attaches great importance to developing agriculture and trade.

In several areas of culture, the tenets of Enlightenment contributed to processes serving the cause of the Hungarian language. Hungarian newspapers were launched inviting competitions to support the cause; in Pest-Buda, and somewhat later in Kolozsvár Hungarian theatre productions were staged, and in education too the Hungarian language was gradually gaining ground. Wide-ranging public attention focused on language led to the establishment of a number of cultural societies, among which the most outstanding was the Transylvanian Language Cultivation Society, organised by György Aranka and active from 1793 up to 1806. “No nation may be enlightened but through its national language,” Aranka asserted in agreement with Bessenyei’s views. It was on the initiatives of this age that the uniform Hungarian national language was created, in which these societies had no negligible role to play.

Pest-Buda was developing into a cultural centre, while primary and secondary education were gradually switching to Hungarian as their language of tuition. In 1777 Maria Theresa issued Ratio Educationis, the first comprehensive regulation of public education. The intention was to transform the hitherto fragmented school system into a unified organisation, bringing major changes to the content and methods of the curriculum. For example, it extended the range of science subjects and their syllabus, and supported the widening of national-language tuition. Partly thanks to this regulation, from the last third of the 18th century, besides the Latin and German textbooks, more and more modern Hungarian works were also coming out. Through their text-books, outstanding writers of the age, namely Miklós Révai, János Molnár, István Márton and Ézsaiás Budai contributed significantly to spreading the ideologies of Enlightenment. It is to be noted that at the time textbooks and scientific handbooks did not constitute separate genres, as a result of which course books for secondary education also served as handbooks of a discipline, like for example János Molnár’s physics (The Beginnings of Physics, 1777) and Ézsaiás Budai’s historical works (Ordinary Story,1808; Hungary’s History, 1805), which are at the same time the first modern Hungarian summaries of the given subject.

The linguistic ambitions of the Enlightenment culminated in the language reform, which developed into a comprehensive countrywide movement. Its most spectacular outcome was the unique vocabulary and terminology revival movement in Hungary, unparalleled in the whole of Europe. On top of considerably enriching Hungarian vocabulary, the language reform entailed major stylistic revival efforts.

The development in professional and scientific expression was also spectacular at this time. Numbers of newly published academic and popular scientific works were constantly growing. Their writers and translators had to be highly resourceful in order to render various Latin and German technical terms into Hungarian.

By this time a number of disciplines had won their independent status. For example, that is when Bernát Sartori’s Philosophy in the Hungarian Language (1772) came out, the first such volume written by a monk in the Minorite Order, who was the first to teach philosophy in Hungarian at the Arad and later at the Miskolc monastery. This volume is an edited collection of some of Sartori’s lectures. Although he devoted a chapter to words and phrases applied in philosophy, the list still features more Latin than Hungarian terms. Ádám Pálóczi Horváth’s Psychology, or the Science of the Soul (1792) was submitted to a competition by the Vienna journal Hadi és más nevezetes történetek (Well-known Military and Other Stories). Although in psychology he had no predecessors writing in Hungarian, his word-building and usage forecast the successful innovations of the mid-19th century. The science of statistics also split from geography and state studies. A Description of Europe’s Best-known Countries (1795) is the first Hungarian statistics, written by László Németh, who had acquired the basics of the discipline from Schlözer in Göttingen. In the preface, Németh introduces the statistical theories of his age, then formulates his main purpose, which is to promote education and culture in the national language, and also justifies the need for his new coinages and for Hungarian words not used as widely as they should. This is the time of starting the long struggle for Hungarian as a national language, which to a large extent, was a counter-move against Joseph II’s language act (1784) and contributed to the upswing of the Hungarian scientific and literary language. Over the 35 years between Joseph II’s death and the establishment of the Academy (1790–1825), several parliamentary sessions and language debates paved the way for the Reform Age and the Academy. On several occasions, the issue of the state language was on the parliamentary agenda, and acts were passed on conducting public administration in Hungarian, on teaching and using the language, but declaring it the state language was no more than a plan with limited success. Article IV of 1805 enables counties to use Hungarian when sending letters and other documents to the king, the court chancellery and the council of the governor-general, which made it urgent to have the Latin terminology in Hungarian and gave rise to the so-called officers’ dictionaries. Translating the terminology into Hungarian was initiated by Pest County. The County’s ‘trail booklet’ came out in August 1806, called The Special Words of Official Writing. For review, the manuscript of this booklet had been sent to Miklós Révai, who returned the dictionary to the commission with his detailed comments. As they had accepted several of the famous linguist’s suggestions, the 1806 trial booklet came out integrating Révai’s modifications. Not only did the publishers take his advice on content, but also observed his principles of orthography.

The printed dictionary is divided into five sections: the first takes account of forms of address in official correspondence; the second gives the wording of various certificates (e.g. the certificate of poverty); the third gives the forms of taking the oath of office. The actual dictionary starts in the fourth chapter, where the Hungarian names for church and secular offices are listed. The printed dictionary was sent to all the legal authorities and to Transylvania’s Gubernium so that they should distribute them in all their counties. Incorporating incoming comments and suggestions, the following year an improved version of the dictionary came out. A similar dictionary was issued in Zala County, where Sándor Kisfaludy and Ferenc Verseghy were among its contributors. The Veszprém County version (Notes on using the Hungarian language in public administration and jurisdiction, 1807) was then compiled by Sámuel Pápay, who is also the author of the first literary history written in Hungarian (Introduction to Hungarian Literature, 1808).

The 1825–27 parliamentary session again had the language issue high on its agenda, with the ultimate aim of making Hungarian the state language to be used in every sphere. Only in 1844 did this fight achieve its aim when Hungarian was declared the official state language. However, the 1844 victory was fully realised from as late as 1860 onwards. The strong Germanisation wave following the War of Independence affected the language of public administration as well as that of education, so tuition at the Pest University was conducted in German and Latin. Emperor Franz Joseph settled repeatedly the language issue in a diploma dated 20 October 1860, and finally the 1868 Parliament re-introduced Hungarian as the state language. After the upsurge in the Reform Age, however, even the Germanisation campaign was unable to hinder considerably the development of the Hungarian language of sciences.

This was so primarily thanks to the establishment of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, whose explicit mission was to cherish the language. This was a milestone in the history of the language, as the Academy’s founding deed laid down that “this Society’s primary duty is to cultivate and enrich the country’s language”. However, only in 1831 did the scholarly society start its activity in six sections (i.e. linguistics, philosophy, history, mathematics, law and natural sciences). The work of the linguistics section was especially fruitful in the first decade. Of the tasks seen as being ahead of language specialists, regulating orthography was the first to be tackled according to Miklós Révai’s principles. The first orthography guide was published in 1832, soon to be followed by a grammar.

Collecting the special terminology of the various disciplines was started at the dawn of the Academy’s life. First the vocabulary of mathematics was issued (1834), then that of philosophy within the same year, and finally that of jurisdiction (1834). Equally important was the Academy’s Hungarian-German and German-Hungarian pocket dictionaries, which helped contemporary daily practice as well as being of utmost significance to linguistic science, as its vocabulary was a basis of the later extended Academy dictionary and that of the 1838 dictionary of local dialects.

The most spectacular change of the age took place in the technical language of natural sciences, with chemistry undergoing the most dramatic changes. The situation was very favourable for creating the national terminology and nomenclature, as there was no uniformly and widely used technical jargon yet. János Schuster, a chemistry professor at the University of Pest was the first to elaborate the professional language on the basis of systematic principles, which his pharmacist students immediately started to apply. Their essays and studies on medicine and pharmacy appeared with titles that sound weird or incomprehensible today. In coining Hungarian terms, Schuster introduced a system of artificial suffixes for naming various elements and compounds. For example, all metals were given the ending –any, using the analogy of ‘arany’, the word for ‘gold’. Thus, he called copper rézany rather than réz, iron vasany rather than vas, and silver ezüstany rather than ezüst. Sodium was labelled as szikany reminding us of salt, while potassium was hamany, coined from the Hungarian word for ash. This is the time when mercury got its name higany. With non-metals, the word was usually based on the adjective best describing the given element. Thus hydrogen had the names gyúló and víző, i.e. ‘something flammable’ and ‘forming water’. Nitrogen was fojtó, i.e. ‘suffocating’, oxygen was savító, i.e. ‘acidifying’, chlorine zöldlő, i.e. ‘something green’, bromide was bűzlő, i.e.‘stinking’, iodine was iboló, a ‘disinfectant’ and phosphorus villó, i.e. ‘flashing’. Chemical compounds had the suffixes –ag and –acs.

Schuster’s coinages were slightly revised by the next generation of language reformers. In his medical translations and adaptations, their leader Pál Bugát was more and more active in creating new words and even elaborated a novel system of word building. A summary of Bugát’s twenty years’ work, The Vocabulary of Natural Sciences (1843) contains some forty thousand technical terms explained mostly in Latin and occasionally in German. Most are medical expressions, but there are also a large number of items from other natural sciences.

Besides Bugát, János Irinyi and Károly Nendtvich were also active in creating new words. Their technical language was not very unlike Schuster’s in its structure. The major difference was that they made no distinction between metals and non-metals; thus every element was given the -any, or –eny suffix, which had earlier been applied only to metals. In addition, they also coined new names, such as for example köneny for hydrogen, alluding to the lightness of the gas; éleny for oxygen from the word life; and halvany hinting at the light green colour of chlorine. Within a short period, this form of Hungarian chemical language thus became widely used. Nevertheless, contemporary textbooks and professional papers would still give Latin and German equivalents in brackets. The revived language of natural sciences was applied for a relatively long period, until under pressure from linguists and scientists, in the 1870s international terms took over.

In linguistics, lexicography was one of the main areas of the Academy’s activity. Based on József Teleki’s 1818 competition essay, the idea of compiling “a possibly complete dictionary” was included in the basic deeds. Indeed, at the end of 1834 a little booklet was issued for the internal use of members, then in 1840 the final plan The Design of the Internal Order of a Large Hungarian Dictionary was published, finally in December 1844 Gergely Czuczor and János Fogarasi were elected to be the dictionary’s editors. With interruptions, the manuscript was produced between 1845 and 1861, over two years of which Czuczor spent in prison. Finally, The Dictionary of the Hungarian Language was published in six volumes between 1862 and 1874. After Czuczor’s death, the final editorial work was completed by Fogarasi. As soon as it came out, the dictionary was heavily criticised primarily for its etymologies and comparative methods of languages. As followers of “sophistic” (philosophical) linguistics, the editors compared Hungarian words to those in various different languages, and also attributed an equally important role to the Hungarian words they regarded as internal developments. Nevertheless, the “Czuczor–Fogarasi” has become a household name in Hungarian linguistics: it is our first scholarly monolingual dictionary, which gives an insight into the language state of the mid-19th century, especially the Reform Age and the Age of the War of Liberty, including the vocabulary of sciences, trades and regional dialects.

Ágnes Stemler miczike@oszk.hu

Ezsaias Budai: New Hungarian School Atlas. Debrecen, 1804, Ref. Koll. 12 map sheets.

Ezsaias Budai: New Hungarian School Atlas.
Debrecen, 1804, Ref. Koll. 12 map sheets.