Global English in Hungary: Hunglish
Global English as spoken in Hungary (‘Hunglish’)
Some expressions commonly used in Hungary by Hungarians when communicating in English are distinctly “Hunglish”—things a native speaker would not say or write in that way. Compared to standard English, as spoken by natives, these variations can vary from the amusingly harmless to the bizarre. In general, it is pretty clear what a person wanted to say, they just chose an unexpected combination of words to express themselves.
Most of the time, these variations cause few problems. However, problems do arise when the English being used should be formally ‘correct’ for an international audience and not just for the local non-native speakers.
From Hunglish to (standard) English
Over a series of short posts, I aim to introduce some common differences between standard English and the international version of English spoken by Hungarians, aka Hunglish. The goal is to raise awareness of these differences and allow people to switch between styles of English to better achieve their purpose.
Native versus non-native English
It would be lovely to have one simple answer to every problem. Unfortunately, this is far from the case with regards to English and any other global language. I am not one of those people who thinks that there is one standard solution for communicating effectively with each and every audience. As a result, some of the examples of non-standard English used in international settings will be the preferred option in that particular setting. We will look at each example of international English in turn and discuss:
- how serious a “problem” this represents
- where the difference stems from
- how a native speaker would express the same
- whether and when we should use either the native or non-native version
To start us off, let’s have a look at a common problem, as illustrated by a sign found on public transport in Budapest.
For each sentence find the problem word or phrase and write a corrected version. That is, how would a native speaker express the same idea, intention or emotion?.
- Allowed number of luggage and sizes. (A poggyász megengedett mennyisége és mérete.)
For native speakers the answer is obvious, but non-native people will often struggle to find the mistake.
Here’s a clue: luggage (unlike suitcase) is uncountable. That is, it is a mass noun, as are milk and toothpaste.
Still many people will need an extra prompt. So, I would ask the question of: “What can or can’t you do with mass/uncountable nouns?”
The obvious ones are:
- the indefinite article can’t be used with them i.e. a or an
- you can’t count them
- they are not numbers, but quantities
- you look at the thing as a whole, the mass of it
- to make the word countable, you need to find the unit that can be used to measure it i.e. a tube, a bottle, etc. (a tube of toothpaste, a bottle of milk,…)
- you can’t use any words that suggest a number of objects
Many of these seem to be saying very similar things, but they are quite distinct.
So, back to the question of what is wrong with the sign on Budapest Public Transport? Well, look at rules 3 and 6 above and then look at the sign.
The problem is “number of luggage”. You can’t have a quantity of non-countable objects.
What can we use instead: anything that refers to mass. As a result, the simplest solution would be “quantity of luggage”.
It’s that simple: and that hard. For too many non-native speakers of English they simply never see the problem.
Having said that, it gets us back to the question of, does this matter.
Is this an error, blooper, or a glaring mistake?
Do you think this is a sign of language change?
Does this suggest the future shape of international English?
What do you think.
- Új világnyelv az angol helyett (in Hungarian)
- Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language
- Globish for Beginners: If the whole world speaks English, will it still be English?