Sampsa Holopainen (University of Helsinki):

Notes on the reflexes of Proto-Uralic sibilants in Hungarian

It is well-known that the changes PU *s, *š > *θ and *ś > *s occured in Ugric (and Samoyed), with PUg *θ reflected by zero in Hungarian and PUg *s by sz [s]. A number of exceptions to these sound-laws are found in Hungarian, with -z- and s [š] appearing as alleged reflexes of PU *s or *ś in cases like íz ‘taste’ (< PU *ipsi) or mos ‘wash’ (< PU *mośki-), and sz reflecting PU *s in fészek (< PU *pesä ‘nest’). Various explanations have been offered for this irregularity (see Honti 2017: 168–177), and in this paper all the relevant etymologies and the earlier explanations are critically reviewed, and it will be established whether 1) the exceptions stem from conditioned sound-changes, 2) the Uralic/Finno-Ugric/Ugric etymologies showing the exceptional developments are wrong or 3) the exceptions point to a post-Ugric, areal spread of the sibilant changes, which have taken place with incomplete results in Proto-Hungarian.

If one attempts to establish conditions for the divergent reflexes in Hungarian, it could be assumed that the development of PU *ś in Inlaut or in *śk clusters was *ś > s [š] (eg., *mośki- > mos ‘wash’), but several counter-examples can be found, such as haszon < *kaśa- (? *kaća-) ‘gift’ (Zhivlov 2014: 128) or the Hungarian verbal suffix -sz- < PU *-śk- (Helimski 1982: 74). Some of the irregular developments could be explained as reflexes of PU *ćrather than *ś, but the reconstruction of these two separate phonemes has been doubted recently (Zhivlov 2014: 114, ft. 2), and it is often difficult to distinguish *ś and *ć on the basis of Ugric. Because of this, also the Hungarian etymologies traditionally reconstructed with *ć are discussed in this paper.

Irregular developments of *ś and *s are also known in Khanty and Mansi (Honti 2017: 171–173). Zhivlov (2018) has recently commented the reflexes in Ob-Ugric and noted that the sibilant-changes have probably spread areally within Ob-Ugric (cf. already Helimski 1982: 119–125). This points to the conclusion that the changes spread areally also into Proto-Hungarian after the split-up of Proto-Ugric, which can be further reinforced by the observation that in the inherited Uralic and Ugric vocabulary, the irregular reflexes of *ś in the three Ugric languages often do not appear in the same words or similar environments (eg., PU *puśirta- > Hu facsar ‘squeeze’ but Khanty VK posər- or PUg *me/äśV- > Hu mez-telen ‘naked’ but Mansi So mas- ‘Kleiden’).


Хелимский, Е. А. 1982: Древнейшие венгерско-самодийские языковые параллели. Москва: Наука.

Honti László 2017: A magyar és a nyugati ótörök szókészleti kapcsolatairól. Budapest: Tinta.

Zhivlov, Mikhail 2014: Studies in Uralic vocalism III. – Journal of Language Relationship 12: 113–148.

– 2018: Историческая фонетика и внутренняя классификация уральских языков. Presentation, XIII традиционные чтения памяти С. А. Старостина, 22.–23.3.2018.