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Hungarian Ikish Verbs

Hungarian has a number of verbs that end with “ik” in third person singular present indicative indefinite: eszik, iszik, alszik, tetszik, nyugszik, mászik, lakik, dolgozik, ugrik, vágyik, múlik, nyílik and so on. They’re called “ikes”, “equipped with ik” – let me translate that to English with ikish.
  This verb type differs from the normal (iktelen, i.e. ikless) verbs in two things. First, they have a special conjugation. Second, that special conjugation doesn’t really exist.

The Story

The ikish conjugation was born in the Proto-Hungarian period, between 1000 BC and 896 AD, the arrival of Hungarians to the Carpathian Basin. Originally, it served to distinguish verbs that have an object from those with no object. There was no accusative marked in those times (like in English), and the ikish conjugation showed the action was taken on the noun, not by the noun. The following sentence shows this (no accusative and no definite article is used, but the words are in their modern forms):
  Emberek fa törik. – SVO – men tree break = Men are breaking the tree.
  Here, -ik was added to meaning the tree is the subject of the breaking. But later the object was marked by the accusative -t (the sentence in modern Hungarian: az emberek törik a fát), and two different conjugations had been developed, indefinite when there’s no object and definite when there is. These changes rendered the ikish conjugation useless, and it became decaying. In the modern language, it’s almost completely broken.
  In the indicative and conditional, the ikish forms had practically disappeared even from the literary language.

The Conjugation

Let’s start it with an ikless regular verb, say, olvas (read). Its forms in indicative present indefinite:
  olvasok, olvasol, olvas, olvasunk, olvastok, olvasnak
  Now a clearly ikish verb, dolgozik (work):
  dolgozom, dolgozol, dolgozik, dolgozunk, dolgoztok, dolgoznak
  Beyond the -ik in the third person singular, the only difference is the first person singular -m. However, the regular dolgozok is commonly used in the colloquial, just it didn’t become naturalized in the literary language.
  Some verbs are alternating: álmodozik (fantasize, daydream): álmodozom or álmodozok, lakik (dwell): lakom or lakok (still considered dialectal or uneducated speech), also in the second person: laksz versus dialectal lakol.
  Many verbs are “false-ikish”. They show no more ikish feature than the third person singular ending -ik. In all other forms, they work the same as ikless words. Verbs behaving so are folyik (flow), hazudik (lie), törik and so on. This last one, “to break” has broken apart in the centuries, into two verbs, an ikish one and an ikless one:
  törik – (intransitive) to break (something becoming broken)
  tör – (transitive) to break something
  Some verbs are alternating even in the third person, occasionally losing -ik: heverész(ik) (lay passively, relax), tündököl or tündöklik (coruscate, glow).
  And there’s a phenomenon called ikesedés (ikification) when an ikless verb receives the ikish -l ending in second person singular, instead of the normal, ikless -sz. This happens to verbs ending in sibilants (s, sz, z, dz): mos (wash): mosol (instead of unpronouncable mos+sz), tesz (do, put): teszel, edz (train): edzel.
  In the past, several verbs turned from ikish to ikless or backwards, even in the recent centuries.

The Future

We can now predict the final disappearing of the ikish verbs. For phonetic purposes, the second person ending -l will probably survive, since forms with a linking vowel and -sz like mosasz, teszesz, edzesz are never or almost never used. The third person ending -ik may gradually disappear, its last occurrences will probably be those words that don’t look appealing without it, for example, because they would end in a consonant cluster: ugrik, botlik, alszik, ömlik (however a form ömöl is known), and those like érik (ripe) because ér (1. reach; 2. be worth) is a different verb.


Láng Attila D., 2014.2.24.

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