A Question of Interface or Language? (Answer: Both.)

Now I am in Budapest, and I’m feeling quite illiterate. Hungarian is in the Finno-Ugric language family, which relates it to languages like Finnish and Estonian. Though Hungarian uses the Roman alphabet, because of the language family to which it belongs, I find myself completely unfamiliar with the words and sounds that surround me as I move through Budapest. It’s beautiful to listen to, and I’m sure with a bit of study I would be more comfortable with it, but for now it has no relation to other languages I can understand, and I am relying heavily both on pictures and the English speakers here.

I was having a drink today with a Hungarian fellow who now lives in Australia, but is back visiting his home country. He told me an interesting story about deciding one day to install the Hungarian version of Windows on his computer, perhaps as a way of staying connected to the language in a far away place such as Australia. Though he is fluent in Hungarian, having used the language all his life, he found the Hungarian version of Windows unusable and quickly uninstalled it. Curious, I asked him to elaborate on why it was unusable. He said that the naming of certain familiar things in Windows were not what he expected, and it was very difficult to find what he was after. The example he used was looking for the Help menu. He was looking for the Hungarian word for help, but instead found that the help section was named súgó, which means someone who whispers in your ear.

Someone who whispers in your ear! This was really amazing to me. In a way, it works, but seems far too poetic to describe what is usually a last-ditch attempt to try to solve some frustrating Windows problem. An art project springs to mind: poetically describing each function of Windows, and re-doing the interface with those changes. Unfortunately, English is probably not poetic enough to describe the functions of Windows in a whimsical fashion with four-letter words, (well, perhaps certain unpoetic four-letter words) but in Hungarian, it is possible.