How closely does Christian name vs. formal address map to informal 2nd person verb vs. formal 2nd person verb?

F456

New Member
Great Britain, English
My question derives from recently meeting Hungarian cafe managers chatting in the street outside their English premises: I heard them speaking Hungarian and asked the nearer one 'Ön magyar?' She was surprised but delighted, answered, and then asked me a few questions in Hungarian, most of which I understood, and introduced herself at a distance (bear in mind the pandemic) as 'Monika vagyok.'

Now this got me thinking, though I was at this point just a stranger and not a customer at their cafe. It may be different in Hungary but in Britain there quite often arises a customer to shopkeeper/proprietor/manager relationship whereby the customer is addressed by surname or as 'sir' or 'madam' while the shopkeeper gives out their first name. If this happens in Hungary, do both parties speak on polite form terms as far as the verbs are concerned or is use of a first name (vezetéknév / keresztnév) incompatible with the formal 3rd person verb form of polite address?

And part of the same question really: if it is incompatible it follows on to wonder whether the customer would in fact address even a long-serving and known shop assistant by their first name, or whether he/she would use a surname with suitable title.

The foregoing question can encompass telephone calls as well: frequently a British assistant will say something like 'you're speaking to Bill today; how can I help you, Mr. Smith/Bloggs/Jones?'

In summary, what is the Hungarian practice — i.e. how exactly are name usage and convention in this situation matched by choice of familiar and polite verb forms?

I hope I am making sense. It is quite hard to put the question clearly into writing, given the possibility of several outcomes.
 
Last edited:
  • francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    In my opinion the "problem" is that the politeness in English cannot be expressed by any pronoun, as "you" is ambiguous from this point of view.

    So in Hungarian, in general, the usage of the surname or of the first name is not necessarily linked with the verbal form. I can imagine both "Jó napot, Mária, hogy van?" and "Szia, Mária, hogy vagy?". The same e.g. in Spanish "Buenos dias, María, cómo está (usted)?" and "Hola, María, cómo estás?".

    Of course, the second option is more common, especially in case of young people, even if they do not know each other very well. The first option requires some kind of relationship, not automatically possible with a totally unknown person whom I see for the first time ....

    In a café or a pub, in general, I think the surnames are not used at all, they are not even known.

    But let's see the opinion of other natives that may have more experiences with cafés and pubs :) .....
     
    Last edited:

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Hello F456,

    When it comes to usage of names and formal/informal addressing, don't expect an easy, clear-cut answer, either. :oops:
    I can imagine that probably all permutations are possible, however, the tendency is clearly towards using the informal verb conjugation form (even in cases where neither knows the other's name) in everyday situations especially among the young.

    To come back to the situation with Mónika (whom I imagine around 30). There are still too many factors to consider but just because she told her first name, I don't think I would use the informal way of verb conjugation (and I am a woman and past 60!) immediately. If we had a good chat and decided (probably I would have to offer it) we wanted to use the informal way (also probably because we would meet later, too - otherwise I don't see much point in it but this would be different in the case of younger people), it would be possible but for a fleeting moment of a chat I don't see much point in even deciding one way or the other. (It means that in such situations there is a certain space left to a neutral conversation where both parties avoid using the informal way of addressing the other, sometimes even the formal way, if it is really difficult to decide what way the chat and relationship is going.) But the whole case would be different with another person of another age, educational background, etc.

    So, I would say, that just knowing somebody's name doesn't decide either way in itself.

    P.S. Francis, I noticed your post only after having posted mine. But it seems that we agree. :)
     

    Torontal

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    In my opinion the "problem" is that the politeness in English cannot be expressed by any pronoun, as "you" is ambiguous from this point of view.

    So in Hungarian, in general, the usage of the surname or of the first name is not necessarily linked with the verbal form. I can imagine both "Jó napot, Mária, hogy van?" and "Szia, Mária, hogy vagy?". The same e.g. in Spanish "Buenos dias, María, cómo está (usted)?" and "Hola, María, cómo estás?".

    Of course, the second option is more common, especially in case of young people, even if they do not know each other very well. The first option requires some kind of relationship, not automatically possible with a totally unknown person whom I see for the first time ....

    In a café or a pub, in general, I think the surnames are not used at all, they are not even known.

    But let's see the opinion of other natives that may have more experiences with cafés and pubs :) .....
    I remember I was once surprised when a bank clerk (approximately the same age as me) also addressed me with first name + formal speech (3rd person). I didn't mind it, just found it interesting. I think our language is now in a transitional period (ok languages are always in transition :)) when we are starting to drop many of the old polite forms, and I think formal speech (magázódás) itself is slowly on the way of dying out. At least that is my impression that there is more and more uncertainity among Hungarian speakers too what to use in a given situation and there is an increasing preference for tegeződés. Which i think is all good, we only started magázódni around the 16th century, linguistic phenomenas come and go...
     

    numerator

    Senior Member
    Hungarian, Slovak
    Yes, I agree this seems to be a transitional period.

    In addition, there are gender differences: Addressing women in a neutral, polite way with their last name seems to be a problem. "Jó napot, Kovács úr, hogy van?" is fine, but "Jó napot, Kovácsné? Kovácsné asszony? Kovács kisasszony?" Nope.
    The slightly less formal "Jó napot, Mónika, hogy van?" comes to the rescue.
    Then, once calling women by their first name has become standard, why not men, etc.

    There are regional differences too. In Slovakia, I feel magázódás is still a pretty standard and simple option, but no longer so in Hungary, so I'm always at a loss how to address strangers once I cross the border :)
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I agree both with Torontal and numerator. I have the same or similar experiences.

    Let's see some standard grades of politeness, still used in Hungarian:

    Te hogy vagy?
    Maga hogy van?
    Ön hogy van?
    Kend hogy van? (dialectal, not used in standard language)
    Hogy tetszik lenni?
    Béla bácsi hogy van? (addressing directly Béla bácsi...)
     

    Torontal

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I agree both with Torontal and numerator. I have the same or similar experiences.

    Let's see some standard grades of politeness, still used in Hungarian:

    Te hogy vagy?
    Maga hogy van?
    Ön hogy van?
    Kend hogy van? (dialectal, not used in standard language)
    Hogy tetszik lenni?
    Béla bácsi hogy van? (addressing directly Béla bácsi...)
    I'm glad that you guys confirm it, I was not sure was it only a subjective perception of mine or others feel that trend too :))

    Kend sounds extremely archaic for me, I feel maga impolite, and tetszikezés is also one of the forms which are going out of fashion, I think I wouldn't use it with anyone under 70+. Bácsi/néni is also reserved to addressing those age groups. :))
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Kend sounds extremely archaic for me, I feel maga impolite, and tetszikezés is also one of the forms which are going out of fashion, I think I wouldn't use it with anyone under 70+. Bácsi/néni is also reserved to addressing those age groups. :))
    As to kend, I (personally) have never heard it in my real life, I know this term primarily from fairy tales and old books ....

    As to "tetszik", yes, it is now reserved for addressing older people. However, meeting a for me unknown person, even if more than 70 years old, I'd probably use Ön. On the other hand, persons whom I addressed bácsi/néni and used "tetszik" speaking with them when was a child, I still continue to do so in front of them, even if I am now perhaps more aged than they were when I was a child ....
     
    Top