Kontra, Miklós – Borbély, Anna (eds.): Tanulmányok a budapesti beszédről  a Budapesti Szociolingvisztikai Interjú alapján [Papers on Budapest Speech based on “The Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview”] Reviewed by Veronika Jakab Dančo

Kontra, Miklós – Borbély, Anna (eds.): Tanul mányok a budapesti beszédről a Budapesti Szociolingvisztikai Interjú alapján [Papers on Budapest Speech based on “The Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview”]. Budapest, Gon dolat Kiadó, 2021, 356 p.

This collection of papers, co-edited by Miklós Kontra and Anna Borbély, is concerned with The Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview (henceforth abbreviated as BSI; Hungarian: Budapesti Szociolingvisztikai Interjú, abbrev. BUSZI). It focusses, therefore, on the major sociolinguistic research project carried out between 1985 and 2010 by co-workers of the Hungarian Research Centre for Linguistics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, aiming at an exhaustive description of Budapest’s Hungarian linguistic usage, based on a broad database.

The volume contains recent (or quite recent) essays as well as earlier publications, introduced by two recent papers by Miklós Kontra. The first of his papers, entitled The History of The Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview (A Budapesti Szociolingvisztikai Interjú története), the author provides a fullscale overview of the story of BSI, starting 1985, when József Herman, the then Director of the Research Centre for Linguistics at the Academy, commissioned Kontra with starting and supervising the Hungarian sociolinguistic and dialectological research to be pursued by the Institute. Kontra, who reacted quickly, conducted preliminary research, with other fellow linguists who participated, during the autumn of the same year. Their work resulted in the completion of the first version of their research method/corpus (BSI-1, Hungarian BUSZI-1). Two years later, in 1987, based on the experience they had gained from BSI-1, they tape-recorded sociolinguistic interviews with 50 interviewees (the corpus known as BSI-2, Hungarian BUSZI-2); during the years 1988 and 1989, the corpus became even more expansive with two hundred new informants interviewed (called BSI-3-4, Hungarian BUSZI-3-4). Kontra provides a detailed description of the team’s research methodology: during the phase of preliminary work, as he informs us, the starting point was a traditional Labovian interview (Labov 1984), and each interview contained guided conversations and tests. He goes on to explain that they had used a quota sampling technique during BSI-2 (i.e. teachers, students, shop assistants, industrial employees, and skilled labour pupils, with 10 informants per each group), but BSI-3 and BSI4 were carried out in a different way: the 200 informants were now chosen in order to give a representative sample of the Budapest populace, considering age, sex, and erudition. Lastly, the author emphasizes the fact that, having recorded and coded the interviews, they had successfully created an excellent computer-based corpus of spoken language, based on BSI-2 and without a match in Hungary, by the end of the year 2009. At the same time, Kontra says, the directorship of the Research Centre expressed their wish for the interviews to be made available online. Kontra himself admits to have opposed such a move, mainly because it would have been against research ethics. He details his view in his second paper in the volume, entitled Issues of Research Ethics, saying he had contacted the Privacy Commissioner concerning the subject, who in turn informed him that the publication of the recordings, or the transcripts thereof, was illegal unless the informants had previously agreed to it; or, the recordings and the transcripts thereof might also be made public if sufficiently modified (distorted, as far as audio-visual recordings were concerned, or made anonymous, in relation to the transcripts). Based on that legal requirement, the linguists involved in the research programme did receive a written permission from ten of the informants; yet, the Institute distorted each of the fifty recordings, insisting on publicizing them in that form. In the end, the recordings failed to be publicized.

The two papers discussed above are followed by a thematic section of the volume, Introductory Essays (Bevezető tanulmányok), itself introduced by Miklós Kontra’s study Research on Living Budapest Speech (Budapesti élőnyelvi kutatások), where the author emphasizes, among other things, that research on living speech is quite different from earlier linguistic research both in its methodology and its subject. Connected to this, and indeed reflecting upon the Budapest sociolinguistic surveys, he discusses several issues, such as what characterizes any study that is to be sociologically interpretable; what the issues of data storage and data processing are; furthermore, he provides a detailed definition of what terms such as first language, observer’s paradox, elicitation, stigma(tization) and hypercorrection.

The second paper, by Andrea Ágnes Reményi, is entitled On the Coding System of The Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview. The author first describes which linguistic variables were in the focus of attention of the re searchers while designing the structure of the sociolinguistic interviews; thereafter, she goes on to produce a detailed presentation of how the computerized processing of the test results and the guided conversations had been carried out; finally, she shows what kind of phenomena one can examine, using various types of software to decode BSI-2 coded texts.

The third paper, by Tamás Váradi, The Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview, starts by the author’s overview of the preliminary work underlying BSI, devoting special attention to the problems, and some solutions, of how intonation – including pauses – could be marked and recorded. He then goes on to list an inventory of phonological, morphological, syntactic, and lexical issues (as well as the modules, or components, of the guided conversations) which have emerged during the interviews. Váradi also discusses the technical problems of digitalizing analogue magnetic tape recordings as well as converting recorded interviews to a html or multimedia format.

In his essay, entitled Average Sentence Length in BSI-2?, the fourth in the above-mentioned section, Miklós Kontra replies to a claim made in Váradi, Oravecz, and Peredy (2012), according to which “The syntactic segmentation, or the division of the BSI corpus (text) into sentences, was determined by the native intuitions of the people noting down the texts, as well as along the principles laid down in T. Németh (1991). Kontra points out, furthermore, that the linguists in charge of writing down the interviews and double-checking the transcripts did not follow any explicit regulation as far as the marking of syntactic boundaries was concerned, due to practical considerations.

The fifth, and last, essay is a recent joint paper by Anna Borbély and Csilla Bartha, BSI2: Interviewing, Recording, and Coding, in which the authors point out that the BSI-2 corpus can be used for multiple purposes.

Notably, not only is it a useful tool to analyze linguistic phenomena or variables, for which purpose it has been designed for by the linguists who had the goal of their research in mind. Instead, it has been a fruitful source of linguistic data for adherents of the social-constructivist theoretical model of sociolinguistics; as such, it makes possible to analyze the discourse-organizing and style-creating activities of field workers, too.

The second main thematic part of the volume, Analyses, contains seven sections, viz. Phonetics/Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Lexis, Style, Discourse and Varia.

The first paper (entitled Hangtan in the Hungarian original, but corresponding to the English expression “Phonetics and Phonology” – Translator’s note), by Helga Hattyár, Miklós Kontra and Fruzsina Sára Vargha, addresses the question whether there exists a mid-high (half-close) front unrounded short vowel, viz. IPA [e], in the dialect of Budapest (Van-e

Budapesten zárt ë?)[1]. The authors approach the problem considering the perceptional and productional data collected during the relevant test questions and guided conversations of BSI-2, while also analyzing the effects of independent variables. Another paper within the same section, entitled The variability of /l/ across five professions: Research in the spoken language corpus of Budapest Socio linguistic Interview, by Anna Borbély and András Vargha, examines the variability of /l/ depending on profession (occupation), based on the guided conversations in BSI-2. The authors base their analysis on the percentage of formal L-Dropping, which results – among other things – in a falsification of a common stereotype, according to which L-Dropping is less frequent in the conversations with whitecollar professionals than in the speech of bluecollar ones.

The section called Morphology starts with a paper by Kinga Mátyus, Julianna Bokor, and Szabolcs Takács, bearing the title “I cannot possibly go to the theatre in those jeans”. A study of the variability of the [Inessive – Translator’s note] suffix (bVn) in the test tasks in BSI. The authors examine the effects of social background as well as the type of task on the usage of the standard form of the suffix (bVn) vs. its non-standard form (bV). Their statistical analyses lead them to conclude that the standard variant is used by BSI-2 informants with a degree in higher education to a significantly higher proportion than by less educated people; furthermore, BSI-2 informants have produced a significantly lower number of the standard form in the tasks focussing on slow and fast reading than in other task types. The other essay in the Morphology section, by Anna Borbély, A statistical and socio-cognitive analysis of two morphological variables in the spoken language corpus of Budapest Sociolinguistic Interview,

analyzing the occurrences of the dialectal variables –nék and jöttök in these standard forms as opposed to the non-standard variants –nák and jösztök in the spoken language, based on BSI-2. The essay shows that the use and acceptance of the relevant variables depends greatly – both across social groups and contextual styles – on how widespread they are geographically speaking as well as to what extent they are stigmatized by prescriptivists.

The following section of the volume, Syntax, opens with a study by Ilona Kassai, one of the field workers in the research project, entitled The interrogative clitic –e in Budapest usage: A pattern without value judgment.  On the basis of BSI-2 data, she concludes that the non-standard use of the interrogative clitic is mostly characteristic of urban working-class speakers, while it is least characteristic of teachers and college/university students. The only English-language paper of the volume, Loss of Agreement between Hungarian Relative Pronouns and their

Antecedents, by Dániel Szeredi, is found in this section, too. Szeredi studies the use of the re lative pronouns amely, amelyik, aki, ami in the BSI-2 corpus, contrasting the results of the research with the dogmas of prescriptive lite rature. His analysis shows that the use of amely is increasingly restricted, but it still occurs occasionally – as an archaism – in the speech of upper-(middle)-class speakers.

The section entitled The Lexicon contains but one essay, written by Miklós Kontra, viz. Word-making (The role of motivation in naming an unknown object), discussing the process of how the word kapocskiszedő ‘staple remover’ was created. First, Kontra lists the expressions used by BSI-2 informants to name the object in question; then he points out that the terminological variation was finally eliminated by the need of manufacturers and distributors, who required a a single standardized technical term.

“close e” has been a traditional symbol for Cardinal Vowel №2 in Hungarian dialectal studies, opposed to “open e” (= Cardinal Vowel №3).

(Translator’s note.)

The section called Style includes an essay by Csilla Bartha and Ágnes Hámori, entitled Style in sociolinguitics and style in interaction. Linguistic variability and social meanings in the social constructivist stylistic studies of sociolinguistics. The authors provide an interactional stylistic analysis of fourteen BSI-2 interviews, based primarily on the social constructivist sociolinguistic method. They conclude that style (as well as how and why it changes) is not determined solely by predetermined social factors or specific topics of discourse by themselves; instead, what plays a crucial role is the active strategy on the part of speakers, which keeps forming their self-presentation and discourse identity as well as their relation to their speech partner.

The next section, entitled Discourse, contains but one paper, also written by Csilla Bartha and Ágnes Hámori, called The dynamics of speech modes in interaction. The potentials of speech adaptation theory in studying social language use, in which the authors – based on social-constructivist sociolinguistics as well as speech adaptation theory – study the changes in the speech mode of a field worker, who co-worked in several interviews (partly in line with the BSI-2 guided conversation modules), with reference to the connection between the informant and the informant’s language use.

The last section of the second part, entitled Varia, contains two papers by Miklós Kontra. The first of them, bearing the title Notes on linguistic indeterminacy in BSI-2, examines the differences between the BSI-2 informants’ views on what is “linguistically correct” as opposed to their judgments concerning their own speech; this boils down to the Labovian notion of “manifest linguistic indeterminacy index” (cf. Labov 2006: 319). The se cond paper, entitled Samples gained from the two-dimensional data tests in BSI-2, in which Kontra examines to what extent the four independent variables (age, gender, job, as well as whether the informant is a native/immigrant inhabitant of Budapest) influences the BSI-2 informants concerning their responses to the oral sentence completion test data.

The brief overview above will go to show that the collection Papers on Budapest Speech based on “The Budapest Socio linguistic Interview” does indeed fill a gap in Hungarian linguistic studies: not only does it collect and systemize various pieces of information based on the first survey on living Hungarian, but the information publicized in it makes it perceivable for the reader to see the essential differences between the views and research methods of sociolinguists versus linguists working in “ivory towers”.


Labov, William 1984. Field methods of the Project on Linguistic Change and Variation. In: Baugh, John–Sherzer, Joel (eds.): Language in Use: Readings in Sociolinguistics. Englewood Cliffs N.J., Prentice-Hall, 28–53.

Labov, William 2006. The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Second edition. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Németh, T. Enikő 1991. A megnyilatkozástípus elméleti kérdései és a szóbeli diskurzusok megnyilatkozás-példá nyokra tagolása [Theoretical issues of utterance types and the segmentation of oral discourse into utterances]. Academic Dissertation, Szeged.

Váradi, Tamás – Csaba Oravecz – Márta Peredy 2012. A Budapesti Szociolingvisztikai Interjú lexikai és szintaktikai jellemzői. [The lexicon and the syntax of the Bu dapest Sociolinguistic Interview]. In: Váradi, Tamás – Prószéky, Gábor (eds.) Általános Nyelvészeti Tanulmányok XXIV. Nyelvtechnológiai kutatások. Bu dapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 199–222.