Transylvanian Hungarian and Elections Canada

It’s not very nice to look a gift horse in the mouth; especially not on Thanksgiving weekend! But considering that some of HFP’s readers are from Transylvania, the northwestern half of Romania that is home to 1.4 million ethnic Hungarians, I wanted to share with you two videos from Elections Canada, produced in advance of our federal vote scheduled for October 19th, in which Hungarian Canadians are provided information in their mother tongue. I very much appreciate Elections Canada’s efforts to provide information to minority voters in some 30 different heritage languages, including Hungarian.

There are 67,920 Canadians who listed Hungarians their mother tongue on the 2011 census. Of these, 60,970 speak English and a small minority indicated that they speak either French, or both of Canada’s official languages. Even while the majority of Hungarian Canadians are proficient in either English or French, over the past years there have been some new arrivals – in a few cases elderly people – who I know struggle with Canada’s official languages and are just starting their journey of integration into this society. Additionally, the fact that Elections Canada offers Hungarian-language videos is a much appreciated symbolic gesture, even for those–like myself–who have already born here, but still speak Hungarian.

Yet the two videos have raised questions among some Hungarian Canadians, several of whom were  a little surprised by the narrator’s accent. I initially shared the first video on HFP’s Hungarian-language sister site, and it was quickly picked up by the weekly Hungarian television broadcast in Toronto, which posted it to Facebook. In total, Elections Canada has produced two Hungarian-language videos, one for voter registration and the other for advanced polling. Take a look and listen in…

One viewer of the Hungarian television broadcast in Toronto contacted Elections Canada and expressed concern about the accented Hungarian in the video’s narration. Of course, all Hungarian is accented in some way, but this certainly isn’t the sort of accent one might hear often in Budapest, or indeed in rural Hungary.

A representative of Elections Canada was good enough to respond very promptly to the query.

“I asked our advertising agency about the selection of the Hungarian voice talent and they responded saying she is Canadian born, but speaks Hungarian as a first language at home with her parents, (who are from Cluj). She is an actress and has done voice over work in the past. The dialect you refer to is Transylvanian Hungarian. Though that accent may sound different, the recording is not incorrect in any way,” wrote Nancy MacLeod, Manager of Advertising Services at Elections Canada.

I am not an expert in Transylvanian Hungarian, and I am not even sure that I would call the accented Hungarian spoken in these regions (and there are differences in accent throughout northwestern Romania) a dialect. But I would say that the narrator’s accent sounds a lot more like what one might hear from Hungarian Canadians who have lived in this country, and in an English or French environment, for many decades. Our intonation and sentence structure changes with time, especially when we speak multiple languages, and when our mother tongue is used only at home, or not at all.

While the narration may sound a little foreign to the ears of people living in Hungary or in large Hungarian communities in Transylvania, I don’t think it sounds very unusual to most Hungarian Canadians. And at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily a problem that when Elections Canada speaks to us in Hungarian, it does not sound like a Hungarian major who spent his entire life in the academic cafés of central Budapest, but a little more like a volunteer from the Catholic Women’s League at a Hungarian parish in Toronto, who arrived in Canada in 1956.

A screen capture from a Hungarian-language video produced by Elections Canada.

A screen capture from a Hungarian-language video produced by Elections Canada.

2 Comments

  1. György Lázár says:

    Excellent observation! She sounds like “Transylvanian Hungarian” (whatever that is) with a healthy dose of Hunglish.

    My experience is that leaders of “Hungarian organizations” in the US are mostly illiterate in Hungarian; they are unable to speak, read or write our mother tongue.

    Maximilian Teleki, President of the Hungarian-American Coalition does not speak Hungarian! Ferenc Koszorus of the Hungarian American Federation speaks heavily accented kitchen-Hungarian. It is almost surreal that these people are lobbying for Hungarian language rights in Romania and Slovakia.

    I might add, that most of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia etc. also have problems with the language, some are unable to write a coherent Hungarian sentence….

  2. Pingback: Az elections Canada magyar nyelvű videója géphang vagy erdélyi kiejtés? (+Szavazás, videó) | Kanada Világa hírportál

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