Hungarian language in Slovakia

The CEREN Research Seminar, held on the 16th of February, addressed the Hungarian minority language in Slovakia. Petteri Laihonen, who is a Postdoctoral researcher and adjunct professor at the Centre of Applied Language Studies at the University of Jyväskylä, gave a presentation on his research with the topic “Hungarian in Slovakia: language rights, language(s) in public space and language ideologies.”

IMG_9877Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Kingdom until 1920. In the late 19th century, a Hungarization took place in the Slovak region and, for example, many subjects in schools had to be taught in Hungarian during that time. When Czechoslovakia was established after World War I, the region of Slovakia became a part of that newly established state. After World War II, when Slovakia was still part of Czechoslovakia, the public use of Hungarian was forbidden and Hungarian schools were closed. During the communist time, between 1948-1989, Hungarian was allowed again and the Hungarian schools were re-opened. Since the Slovak Republic was established in 1993, a fast integration to Western alliances, such as Nato and EU, occurred.

Today, there are about 450 000 ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, making up about 8,5 % of the whole population. The Hungarians and Slovaks are ethnically very similar, basically the only difference between Hungarians and Slovaks is the language. The Hungarians live mostly in the southern areas of Slovakia, by the border of Hungary. In that area, the Hungarian population is very large, even up to 95 %.

The Hungarian language is seen by some as a threat in present Slovakia, especially for those Slovaks living in areas where Hungarian is the majority language. According to Laihonen’s research this feared threat is somewhat overrated. For example, public signs are mostly provided in Slovak. Many of Laihonen’s local informants gave as a reason for the modest use of the Hungarian language that they wanted to “avoid problems” and did not want to “provoke” by requesting the use of the Hungarian language. The Hungarians did not want to display any type of Hungarian nationalism that would repeat the occurred incidents in the past. Therefore, even though the Hungarians represent the clear majority in parts of the southern area of Slovakia, the Hungarian language is not used to the extent that the language laws would allow.


Petteri Laihonen’s doctoral dissertation in 2009 dealt with language ideologies and multilingualism in the Romanian Banat. In 2011–2013 Laihonen held an Academy of Finland postdoctoral grant to study language ideologies among the Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine from a comparative perspective. Laihonen has developed qualitative methodologies to study research interviews and private linguistic landscapes as manifestations of language ideologies and language policy. Currently he studies the visual and material dimensions of education and learning. His publications deal with sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language ideologies, linguistic landscapes, language education and language policy in Eastern Central Europe.

Written by Heidi Aaltonen