Historical background and current data
situation of minority languages
5. Institutions and practice
most states in the region, the official status of the dominant -Hungarian-language is not
stipulated either by the Constitution or by any comprehensive language law in Hungary.
Although Hungarian is used in state administration, no law in force prescribes this use.
However, some specific provisions do regulate the use of Hungarian such as the 1997
Act on consumer protection and advertisements or the 2001 Act on the presentation in
Hungarian of economic advertisements, shop trade-signs and communiqués of public
The preamble of
the latter act ascertains the particular importance of the national (Hungarian) language:
"The Hungarian language is the most important manifestation of our national
existence, it expresses our national affiliation and constitutes the most important
vehicle of Hungarian culture, science and information. This is why its protection, its
transmission to our descendants, the preservation of its adaptability and the maintenance
of a sound linguistic environment constitute the common responsibility of the present
One of the final
clauses of this act states that its provisions do not affect commercial advertisements and
inscriptions formulated in one of the minority languages in settlements where the given
linguistic minority has established a minority self-government.
rights of minorities are regulated by the Act on the rights of national and ethnic
minorities in a comprehensive way. The provisions of this act will be detailed hereafter.
2. Historical background and current data
Before the peace
treaties closing WWI, only less than half of the population living in the Hungarian part
of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy spoke Hungarian as his/her native language. This is why
the will of establishing a Hungarian-language administration was hindered not only by
political but also by linguistic barriers. As a result of the peace treaties putting an
end to the Monarchy, the still multilingual Hungarian Kingdom reorganised itself with an
exclusive Hungarian-language dominance. The supplanting of minority languages from public
life was raised to the level of conscious state policy. This was facilitated by the fact
that the minority communities living now in Hungary had generally left their original home
region before the development of a standard literary language, consequently the language
they spoke in the 20th century were archaic dialectal versions hardly adapted
to meet the communication needs of this modern era.
The forced or
voluntary resettlement of populations after WWII still enhanced the
"effectiveness" of the forced linguistic assimilation that went on between the
two world wars. The resettlement fundamentally destroyed minority communities, weakened
their identity and speeded up their assimilation. Although the minority policy carried out
before 1990 recognised some minority communities and seemingly supported the transmission
of minority cultures and the development of an educational basis, cultural assimilation
and the diminution of the role of minority languages continued.
As a consequence
of this, the majority of minorities living in Hungary today profess dual or multiple
affiliation: their ties to the Hungarian culture and language are as strong as (or
sometimes stronger than) their original nationality ties.
The last census
took place in Hungary in 2001. Accordingly, the population of the country was 10,198,000
at the turn of the century. The proportion of people belonging to the 13 minorities within
the whole population is rather low: in 1990 and in 2001 it only reached 2.5% and 3.2%
respectively. When evaluating these data, we have to consider that answering
affiliation-related questions was not compulsory, and the willingness to declare
ones identity is still influenced by negative historical experiences.
Results of the 2001 census (45 KB)
earlier census returns, the 2001 data also highlighted the fact that minorities live
geographically scattered throughout the country and they generally constitute a minority
within the settlements they inhabit. The former regional localisation of minority
communities is no longer possible; the exodus towards urban centres has started also among
them. This process has speeded up linguistic assimilation and makes the enforcement of
linguistic and more particularly, educational- rights rather difficult.
In spite of what
has been said, minority linguistic communities have shown increased activity since the
change of the political system. Minorities that had not been officially recognised earlier
(Rom, Bulgarians, Greeks, Poles, Armenians, Ruthenes and Ukrainians) created their
organisations and associations and took an active part in working out the principles of a
democratic minority policy. The elaboration of the Minorities Act by 1993 was largely due
to the active contribution of minorities. It is this Act that determines the minority
policy of the Republic of Hungary. Considering the fact that this act puts a great
emphasis on linguistic rights, we can regard it as the first systematic summary of
minority language policy.
and lengthy historical co-existence constitute an important criterion in the definition of
minorities given in the Act on the rights of national and ethnic minorities. According to
this definition, "All groups of people who have lived in the territory of the
Republic of Hungary for at least one century, who represent a numerical minority in the
country's population, whose members are Hungarian citizens, who are distinguished from the
rest of the population by their own languages, cultures, and traditions, who demonstrate a
sense of belonging together that is aimed at preserving all of these and at expressing and
protecting the interests of their historical communities" are national and
ethnic minorities recognised as constituent components of the state.
This act defines
13 communities the Bulgarian, Rom (Romany), Greek, Croatian, Polish, German,
Armenian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian and Ukrainian ethnic
groups as national or ethnic minorities native to Hungary. In conformity with of
Article 51 of the act, "In the Republic of Hungary everybody may freely use his/her
mother tongue wherever and whenever s/he wishes to do so. The conditions of the language
use of minorities -in cases provided for by a separate law- must be guaranteed by the
The situation of minority languages
Due partly to the
lack of minority self-organisation over almost 50 years, the use of minority languages in
public life has practically disappeared, and their use has gradually become restricted to
the family sphere. Parallel with the modernisation of society and the dissolution of big
families, the transmission of the minority language is not now ensured even within the
family. During the past decades, the members of the middle generations did not participate
in mother tongue education, therefore they do not know the erudite or literary version of
their language, and thus they are unable to transmit it. It is increasingly typical that
the educational system is taking over the task of the transmission instead of the family.
As a result, the dialect that the members of the given minority are familiar
with is disappearing and is being replaced by the standard literary language spoken
in the kin state.
reasons, the process of the headway of the literary languages has become irreversible by
now. What the State and the minority communities can do is to promote the documentation of
the still existing linguistic monuments and to ensure that pupils wanting to participate
in minority mother tongue education are given the opportunity to learn the literary
version of the language.
language use, the 13 minorities can be divided into three bigger groups. In the first
group we find the Rom, the majority of whom an estimated 80% speak Hungarian
as their mother tongue. (The smaller part of this population a minority within the
minority has a different mother tongue and belongs to the second group explained
below. The use of the Romany and the Beash differs from the use of other languages within
that group only in that respect that the Rom communities are less integrated in their
The second group
is composed of smaller minorities (Ukrainians, Ruthenes, Poles, Greeks, Bulgarians,
Armenians). In the past decades a proportionally great number of newly arriving members
joined these communities without any, or any substantial knowledge of the Hungarian
language, and they immediately started taking an active part in the life of the community.
It is typical for these minorities that the minority language is actively used both in
family and in public life. However, we can expect that language transmission between the
generations will become problematic in the future, and the use of the language by the next
generations will differ from the present use. The so-called Sunday schools can only
contribute to improve the language knowledge acquired in the family, and so far we have
had no experiences as for the teaching of the language at school.
The third group is
composed of the bigger communities (Germans, Croats, Slovaks, Romanians, Slovenians, and
Serbians) that arrived in the country before the emergence of the neologist movement in
their homeland and that therefore typically speak an archaic version of the language.
These communities have reached a high level of linguistic assimilation and they hardly use
the minority language even within the family.
In the case of
these minorities, the establishment of minority self-governments made things move back
into gear, although this development has had only limited results so far. The efforts of
minority self-governments to "rehabilitate" the mother tongue and to bring it
back to public life have had a certain effect.
educational reform might bring about wider opportunities to re-learn and use the
languages. The consultative and veto rights legally guaranteed to local minority
self-governments can ensure the protection of minority language education. The detailed
elaboration of minority language and literature requirements and the introduction of
compulsory further training for teachers make the improvement of school instruction
of the Republic of Hungary (Act No 49 of year 1949) stipulates that national and ethnic
minorities living in Hungary are constituent components of the state. The Constitution
guarantees the minorities the right to collective participation in public life, the
nurturing of their own culture, the widespread use of their native languages, education in
their native languages, and the right to use their names in their own languages.
The Act No 77
of year 1993 on the rights of national and ethnic minorities provides the thirteen
historical minorities individual and collective minority rights including the right to
non-territorial (personal) autonomy and the establishment of self-governments.