People have always been concerned with the origin of the language
they speak, and for each language there have been attempts to explore their
origins and relatives. In case of the Hungarian language, due to its loneliness
in its environment and isolation from its relatives, it is understandable that
they tried to relate it to a variety of languages. In the 16th and 17th century
many thought to recognize the Hebrew as a relative of Hungarian.
In the 18th century, at the end of which the fact of Finno-Ugric relationship
became known in Europe, although its theoretical background was not yet
two new trends started in Hungary. The one saw the relatives of Hungarian in the
while the other linked the Estern origins of Hungarians with the relationship of
its language to those spoken by Huns, Scythians, Avars and Turkic people.
The historical and comparative linguistics, which developed by the early 19th century, created the necessary scientific background and methods for the study of the origins and relationships of languages, and elaborated the criteria which are needed to consider two languages as linguistic relatives. 5
Against this background appeared in 1870 the study of Ármin Vámbéry in the Nyelvtudományi Közlemények, the linguistic journal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences: “Magyar és török-tatár szóegyezések” [Hungarian and Turco-Tatar word correspondences]. 6 In this he states that “the kinship of the Hungarian language with the Turco-Tatar ones is only of second degree, and at the first degree it is only related to the Finno-Ugric languages, most closely to Vogul” (p. 114). This study of Vámbéry won the Samuel Prize “among the specifically linguistic treatises, with six votes against four”. 7
This writing of Vámbéry was toughly criticized 8 by József Budenz (1836-1892), head of the Finno-Ugric department of the University of Pest, 9 to which the offended Vámbéry wrote his book A magyarok eredete [The origin of the Hungarians]. 10 In this, he revoked the above quoted statement, described the Hungarian language as “Turkish in core”, and anounced war on the “deeply rooted Finno-Ugric theory” (p. 219). This is how one of the greatest battles of Hungarian linguistics, the so-called “Ugro-Turkic war” began, 11 and the waves of this debate also reached the large public. 12 Those on Vámbéry’s side (Géza Czirbusz, Henrik Marczali, Aurél P. Török, Károly Pozder, József Thury, Sándor Várnai) published mainly in the Egyetemes Philologiai Közlöny, the Földrajzi Közlöny and the Századok, while those opposing him (Ferdinánd Barna, József Budenz, Pál Hunfalvy, Bernát Munkácsi, József Szinnyei) mainly in the Akadémiai Értesítő, the Nyelvtudományi Közlemények, the Egyetemes Philologiai Közlöny and the Magyar Nyelvőr. The debate permeated public life, and the pros and cons also appeared in the more popular Nemzet and Budapesti Szemle. In general it can be said that no linguist supported Vámbéry, except for József Thury, but he was the student of Vámbéry, who obviously wrote his respective articles under the influence of his master and at a very young age. 13
The replies of Budenz 14 were so clear for the linguists, that the inclusion of the Hungarian language in the Turkish language family never arise again in the scientific community. Nevertheless, today no one would deny, that – as Gyula Németh pointed out in 1930 – Vámbéry “has great merit in the comparison of Hungarian and Turkic languages”. 15 His idea of the separation of the ethnic group from the language also proved to be stable over time. 16 An important result of the debate, which was also laden with unjust accusations, was that after the death of Budenz Vámbéry recognized the Ugric origin of Hungarian, while maintaining that “the Hungarian people became Turkic in its culture, and entered the world history already as a Turkic people.” 17