Pragmatic Aspects of the Acquisition of Hungarian


Ilona Koutny and Maria David


Language acquisition is a complex process encompassing different linguistic skills, including pragmatic ones. The better a speaker's grammatical, lexical and communicative competence, the more embarrassing lacks in pragmatic appropriateness are. Nowadays language teaching involves the development of both grammatical and communicative skills, and pragmatic knowledge is transmitted through the language material.


Learning Hungarian as a foreign language requires extensive grammar teaching due to its rich morphology and syntax. In spite of the emphasis that must be paid to grammatical elements in the beginning, for the Polish students studying Hungarian, emphasis is also laid on the development of communicative competence. Their attention is drawn to the peculiarities of language usage and customs in role-plays and working with selected texts.


The goal is to create routines (internalized norms) of language usage in the target language just as one has in the mother tongue. Exercises simulating different real life situations (such as initiating, maintaining and concluding interactions, asking and giving information, expressing an opinion and accepting and declining requests and invitations) are carried out in different settings (e.g. in the family, in the workplace, in the street, in a shop) with different social contexts depending upon the age, sex, social status, and relation between the interlocutors (between friends, strangers, young worker and the boss, etc.).


There is not enough time during lessons to explore every relevant situation (communicative teaching has to face this problem for linguistic skills as well!) Therefore there is a danger that the students will automatically apply the norms of their native culture in an unforeseen situation type, especially true if the two cultures are generally close as is the case with Hungarian and Polish.


At a higher level of language teaching, the routines of the native culture have to be consciously repressed and replaced by those ones of the target language. The students of Hungarian can observe daily Hungarian language use during a semester spent in Budapest. But even after a semester-stay in the target country, it is necessary to systemize their knowledge and make them aware of the differences – this is the role of the subject pragmalinguistics.


The traditionally used T/V distinction for informal/formal interactions represented by ty + VSg2 / Pan(i) + VSg3 in Polish, and te + VSg2 / (ön/maga) + VSg3 in Hungarian is completed by a third asymmetrically used form: V + tetszik ‘you please to V’. This form is used by the subordinate in an unequal relationship. Examples would include a child speaking to an unrelated adult, an employee with his or her boss when the social distance is large or it may also be a polite way for a man to address a woman. In the first case the T-form is returned and in the others a V-form. All these distinctions have equivalents in the forms of address and in greetings. These are more distinct than in Polish, so they have to be made conscious.


This paper will outline the main differences in the language use in Hungarian-Polish context (levels of politeness, greetings, forms of address, giving thanks, etc.), and propose some exercises, which could be useful in the teaching of other languages as well.