nyolszáz, kilenszáz

Recently when tracking a variety of citations back into early literature, I was directed to Zsigmond Simonyi, 1901: “Az Ábel-féle szójegyzék” (Nyelvtudományi Közlemények 31: 225–227), an article reporting the corpus of a small Hungarian–Italian phrasebook from 1438. One point that caught me by surprize were the words for ’80’ and ’90’. These are written as gnalsase ~ gnalzase, chilansase ~ chilanzase. These are clearly not quite the modern Hungarian words nyolcvan, kilencven — they look like they instead contain száz ‘100’ as the last member. The article does not give much commentary in general, but this is indeed noted. Simonyi thinks they are simply mistranslations and stand for the Hungarian words for ‘800’, ‘900’. However, the phrasebook at other times renders Hungarian /ts/ as z or ç; nyolc ‘8’ is gnauz, harminc ’30’ is armiz ~ armiç. kilenc ‘9’ is indeed written as chilens, but I don’t think this would represent a failure of the Italian author to distinguish /ts/ generally, perhaps just after /n/. So why then gnalsase?

It can be noted that etymologically nyolc and kilenc do contain old morpheme boundaries: they’re constructed on the general Uralic pattern of ‘8’ and ‘9’ as 10−2 and 10−1, and their shared final -c represents a contracted reflex of tíz ’10’. I think this might be happening here in a different way. That is, the words indeed do not have an affricate, and would be nyolszáz, kilenszáz if projected to modern Hungarian. They are also not to be read as 8·100 or 9·100, but rather, as subtractive constructions 20−100 and 10−100; “two (decads) before 100” and “one (decad) before 100”. Perhaps this idea is known already in Hungarology, but of course tracking references forward in time is much more difficult than backward in time. (Google has nothing for nyolszáz, kilenszáz, but then these are modernized spellings by me. Honti’s 1993 monograph on numerals in Uralic I do not have on hand to consult.)

Also the word for ‘100’ is itself given as tissase, seemingly standing for ‘ten hundred’ (tízszáz). However the word for ‘1000’ (mod. ezer) is still given separately as esere, so I don’t think this represents a translation error either. My guess would be that the phrasebook’s Hungarian informant spoke a dialect where this archaic-seeming model of ’80’ and ’90’ was pleonastically extended to ‘100’ as well.

[added 2021-07-04] Novel words for ’80’ and ’90’ would not feel terribly out of place also since Hungarian shows a wide variety of strategies for forming decads anyway. ’20’ is a separate word húsz (in 1438 usso ~ us), which has cognates in Ob-Ugric, Permic and Mordvinic; ’30’ is harminc, with a suffix -inc that has been compared with Permic /-mɨs/ in ‘8’ and ‘9’ (though I would think the –c is again from ’10’ with similar contraction later, and this means that the nasal could also have some different origin entirely [1]); ’40’, ’50’, ’60’ have a suffix -van ~ -ven (negyven, ötven, hatvan; in 1438 negiuem ~ neguieun, ethuem ~ octauen and otovan ~ otouem) that is normally compared at least with the decad endings in Komi (/-mɨn/) and Mansi (/-mən/).

Worth mentioning while I’m at it: the original point that led me to Simonyi’s article is that this phrasebook is apparently one of the last sources (maybe the last source?) that still displays retained word-final vowels in Hungarian, as we already see in sase, esere for modern száz, ezer. The former could in principle be an orthographic device to indicate voiced /z/, the latter however seems patently genuine: it can be contrasted with hamor and not anything like **hamoro for mod. hamar ‘soon’. This seems to be another sign that the Hungarian informant spoke a nonstandard dialect. To my knowledge, 1400s Hungarian codices otherwise no longer contain any trace of the word-final short vowels as they appear in the earliest Hungarian texts from 1055 (the Tihany abbey charter) and the 1190s (Halotti beszéd…). Also, while these two early sources seem to reflect a word-final u for several consonant stems of modern Hungarian, in the phrasebook this is more typically now an o; a front-harmonic equivalent e is also well attested. One word recorded at both stages of development is the adjective ‘big’: HB nogu > 1438 nogio > mod. nagy. This of course is just the same change as the lowering of Old Hungarian u to modern o (when from Proto-Uralic *u and probably standing for a short reduced /ʊ/) as also found inside word stems. Some cases of seemingly unlowered u still appear too though, e.g. burso ~ borth ‘pepper’ > mod. bors; harum ‘3’ > mod. három. Probably the reflex of Old Hungarian *ʊ was at this point still a high-mid-ish vowel [o̭] that was partly heard as /u/ by the Italian author of the phrasebook (when adjacent to labials? this would kind of parallel the modern Northern Mansi spelling of unstressed [ə] as у before labials, as in e.g. хӯрум /χūrəm/ ‘3’).

There is also evidence of consonant-stem nominals already, such as aram ‘gold’ (> mod. arany), assem ‘woman’ (> mod. asszony) (m for word-final /ń/ appears to be regular in the phrasebook for some reason), bor ‘wine’, fos ‘penis’ (> mod. fasz); nevet accusative of ‘name’ (but leginto acc. of ‘young man’ > mod. legényt, napotu acc. of ‘day’ > mod. napot). A possibility that these bring to mind is that word-final vowels may have been already regularly lost in words of some shapes such as *CVRV or *CVCVNV, while most retained cases in the phrasebook seem to follow obstruents; or a consonant cluster in embre > mod. ember ‘person’, olno > mod. ón ‘tin’. The available corpus of data is lamentably small though and I would also not rule out that some words like bor (coming via Turkic from Middle Persian bōr) simply were always consonant stems in Hungarian.

[1] Even *harm-van-c > *harmanc with a cluster simplification *mv > m could be worth considering, but this would leave -i- very mysterious.

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Posted in Etymology
5 comments on “nyolszáz, kilenszáz
  1. David Marjanović says:

    The Hungarian o is still [o] or nearly so, differing from ó almost entirely in length.

    …unless that’s a Duke of York development where o first moved towards [ɔ] and was then pushed back up by the rounding of a. That last step has happened next door in Bavarian, where the MHG /ɔː/ has merged into /o/ by the rounding of the MHG /a(ː)/ (and by the loss of length), but their umlaut products are still distinct as /ɛ/ vs. /e/.

    • j. says:

      Sufficiently Old Hungarian probably didn’t even have /o/, all cases can be derived either by the general lowering of short †/ʊ/ (and sometimes †/ɪ/ in cases like †achsin [ɒχsɪń] > asszony) or conditional raising of /ɒ/ (most prominently *au > ó, also e.g. *alT > /olT/ as seen here in nyolc). Graphical o in pre-14th century records and also this phrasebook probably just stands for /ɒ/ I think, which is slightly raised compared to cardinal [ɒ] — it sometimes gets transcribed as /ɔ/ too after all. Somewhat similar to common Slavic really, where *u > ъ [ʊ] > ∅ by default but generally > /o/ when conditionally retained, *a > /o/ unconditionally. Bavarian sounds like it also fits into this areal picture.

      I’ve yet to write the post about it, but it seems that the standard Hungarological belief in OHu. words like nogu having been actually something like /noɟʊ/ and not /nɒɟʊ/ originally mainly comes from analysis of Slavic loanwords but before the recent date of the common Slavic vowel shift had been figured out.

  2. Alex F says:

    Could m for word-final /ń/ be a misreading or miscopying of ni or in?

    • j. says:

      Could be. The option I was thinking though is that because Italian allows no word-final nasals other than /n/, maybe m was used for any other word-final nasals, a bit similar e.g. to the translitteration of Sanskrit anusvāra as .

  3. B. Blasebalg says:

    As far as extending an overlapping pattern to or across 100 is concerned:
    Old Norse had “tolfrætt hundradh”, lit. ‘twelfe(‘s) hundred’, meaning 120,
    where ‘twelve tens’ would be arithmetically correct.

    Of course, this touches on a paradigm change (duodecimal to decimal) or, more generally, to the (partial) synchronity of several paradims, and the latter seems to apply also to the Hungarian situation with tens.

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