Rovás, or Ye Olde Hungarian Runes

Another major theme at the recent NCATA regional conference was maintaining your passion for language. Adopting an appreciation for life-long learning seemed to help many of the pros. In fact, the more seasoned the translator or interpreter, the more excited he or she was discussing dialect and other details. Sharing their language treasures only intensified their excitement.

I enjoy this sort of collaboration. Not many people know about my central European working language. Of it, yes, but specifics, no. I’m happy to act as an unofficial cultural ambassador; to me, it’s a natural corollary to the job of translator. And, in reading up on your working culture’s background, you never know what you’ll uncover! Rovás, an original Hungarian writing system, is one of my more exciting recent finds.

rovás ABC

Hungarian is an old language that adopts change slowly. I don’t always expect to find much language-related variation far back in the people’s history. Rovás was largely replaced by Latin orthography throughout the Hungarian territory by the 15th century, though Latin had been the official written alphabet since the coronation of Saint Stephen in 1000. The term rovás literally translates to “nick” or “score.” Hungarians in the 10th century and earlier carved a combination of lines and simple curves into sticks to form their alphabet and written literature. There are several forms of rovás from different time periods; the Székely form persisted the longest and experienced a widespread revival in popularity in the 19th century.

The simple line-letters were often combined in the word they made up (perhaps to save space?). Some ligatures have left older rovás writing almost unintelligible. Try your hand at deciphering the runes in the sample here. Remember, text often flowed first right-to-left, then left-to-right as it dropped to a new line. Once you figure out the letters, send a note to someone in rovásírás (rovás writing). And for more information, this Hungarian-language site houses a treasure trove of rovás history. Good luck, and enjoy!

Update: Dr. Gábor Hosszú, a rovás expert, wrote to correct the date cited for Latin script replacing rovás. He has written an English-language book on the topic, available here.


2 thoughts on “Rovás, or Ye Olde Hungarian Runes

  1. Pingback: Interview with an expert: Dr. Gábor Hosszú | translation, untangled

  2. Pingback: Happy anniversary! {with giveaway} | translation, untangled

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