Published: May 22 2023
When exploring the Hungarian language, you may come across a unique character in the alphabet: 'ü' with two lines above it (ű or Ű). What is this peculiar character, and how does it fit into the Hungarian language? In this blog post, we investigate this intriguing component of Hungarian orthography.
The Double Acute Accent
The two lines that appear above the 'ü' letter are called a double acute accent, and it represents a long variation of the vowel sound. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the 'ü' sound can be represented as [y], whereas this long variant would be [yː]. In Hungarian, it is possible to find two vowels that take the double acute accent: 'ő' and 'ű' (or their uppercase counterparts, 'Ő' and 'Ű'). These unique characters are part of the Hungarian alphabet, positioned after their respective vowels without the double acute accent ('ö' and 'ü').
The Hungarian Alphabet and Character Position
The double acute accent, as mentioned earlier, appears only on the 'ő' and 'ű' characters in the Hungarian alphabet. It is among the eight additional characters that are included in the language, alongside the 26 basic English-Latin letters. The other special characters in the Hungarian alphabet spell a distinctive 'halant' sound and include:
- 'á' ([ɒː]) - A long variation of 'a'
- 'é' ([eː]) - A long variation of 'e'
- 'í' ([iː]) - A long variation of 'i'
- 'ó' ([oː]) - A long variation of 'o'
- 'ö' ([ø])
- 'õ' ([øː]) - A long variation of 'ö'
- 'ú' ([uː]) - A long variation of 'u'
- 'ü' ([y])
- 'ű' ([yː]) - A long variation of 'ü'
The position of the characters in the alphabet is crucial, as Hungarian lexicography follows this predefined alphabetical order. Consequently, when sorting words or searching for them in a dictionary or index, the words containing 'ü' and 'ő' are placed separately and follow those incorporating 'u' and 'o' respectively.
Pronunciation Guide and Usage
The pronunciation of 'ű' can frequently pose challenges to non-native speakers, as it is an extension of the 'ü' sound, which is almost unique to the Hungarian language. The sound falls somewhere between the English pronunciation of 'ee' and 'oo,' requiring the positioning of the tongue closer to the soft palate. To pronounce the long variant 'ű,' this sound should be sustained for a longer duration.
The double acute accent is an essential component of Hungarian spelling rules. To achieve grammatical accuracy, it is vital to use the appropriate accents on the correct vowels. A change in accent can modify a word's meaning significantly, potentially leading to confusion and miscommunication.
Common Words with the Double Acute Accent
To familiarize yourself with the Hungarian 'ü' and 'ő' with the double acute accent, consider learning the following everyday words:
- Mű (art)
- Út / út (road, way)
- Hő (hero, heat)
- Bő (loose, wide)
- Kő (stone)
- Új (new)
- Művelődés (culture, cultivation)
Mastering the usage of Hungarian's double acute accent and understanding how it alters vowel pronunciation is crucial for gaining proficiency in the language. By familiarizing yourself with these unique vowel characters and practicing the subtle differences in pronunciation, you'll be one step closer to mastering Hungarian.