West Old Turkic: Turkic Loanwords in Hungarian.

Author:Hitch, Doug
Position:Book review

West Old Turkic: Turkic Loanwords in Hungarian. 2 vols. Turkologica, vol. 84. By ANDRAS RONA-Tas and ARPAD BERTAI. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2001. Pp. x + 1494. 148 [euro].

This monumental two-volume work presents the state of the art of knowledge concerning the West Old Turkic (WOT) component of the Hungarian (H) language. It is important for the reconstruction of WOT and Proto-Turkic, for unraveling Turkic and Hungarian etymology, for the history of the Hungarian language, and for the general historical and cultural information that these loanwords bring to light. It is an ambitious work, highly technical, thoroughly researched, and should remain the standard reference for a long time. Until now, much literature in this field has been in Hungarian. Now scholars who read English have access to all of this rich material.

A few statistics illustrate the depth of detail. The bibliography occupies eighty-eight pages, and I estimate it contains more than 2,200 entries. Documents in Old and Middle Turkic are attested in eighteen different scripts. Thirty-two different modern Turkic languages are consulted and probably at least that many other languages, ancient and modern. The list of abbreviations takes up twenty-one pages.

Andras Rdna-Tas and Arpad Berta collaborated on this project for about a decade before Berta's untimely death in 2008. Berta was responsible for the entries C-G and L-Z in the "lexicon" while Rdna-Tas was responsible for the remaining entries and for the analyses and discussions before and after the lexicon.

The volumes examine in total "561 Hungarian words with a possible or hitherto proposed Turkic origin" (p. 1489). 70 of those were judged improbable and are discussed outside the lexicon (sections 8.1 and 8.2). 72 words are grouped under the entry for a related word, leaving 419 detailed etymological studies in the Lexicon. 35 of those Hungarian words of Turkic origin turn out to stem from Cumanian. The remaining 384 entries represent "the largest number of West Old Turkic words ever reconstructed" (p. 1489).

After the Proto-Turkic language period, Turkic divided into two main branches, Eastern and Western. Today, almost all Turkic languages descend from East Old Turkic (EOT). Similarly, most of the documentation on Old and Middle Turkic relates to the Eastern branch. Of WOT, the only modern descendant is Chuvash. Other information on this branch of the Turkic family is rather limited. There are some words in sources relating to the WOT-speaking Bulgarians (before they were Slavicized), there are some short inscriptions from the Volga Bulgarians, and there is the WOT component in the Hungarian language. Consequently, study of the latter is of great importance for the understanding of WOT, and for the reconstruction of Proto-Turkic. It is a curious fact that we should study a Central European language (Hungarian) to learn about a language from the Altai (presumed homeland of the Turks).

There is Turkic material in Hungarian that is not from WOT. Besides the loans stemming from the Ottoman occupation, there are loans from the Cumans and the Pechenegs. These are all East Turkic forms. The authors take great pains to identify the origin of these items in order to have a clearer picture of West Old Turkic.

Chapter one is a seventeen-page "brief" review of previous research on Turkic elements in Hungarian and on the historical lexicology of Turkic. Chapter two is a twenty-page summary of the complex historical context of Central Eurasia within which the Hungarian language evolved. Rdna-Tas carefully analyzes the sources (Greek, Arabic, Persian, Latin, Chinese, etc.) without, at this point, relying on linguistic evidence to set the historical framework. This section summarizes part of his major monograph on the subject, Hungarians and Europe in the Middle Ages (Budapest: Central European Univ. Press...

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