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Linguistic diversity and the court system in Dualist Hungary

  • Ágoston Berecz

    Ágoston Berecz is a Research Fellow at Pasts, Inc at Central European University, Budapest. He holds a PhD in Comparative History from Central European University and an MA in Hungarian Linguistics and Literature from ELTE, Budapest. He is interested in the relationship between language and nationalism, as well as in the history of nineteenth-century Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on Transylvania. He is the author of two books, The Politics of Early Language Teaching: Hungarian in the Primary Schools of the Late Dual Monarchy (distributed by CEU Press, 2013) and Empty Signs, Historical Imaginaries: The Entangled nationalization of names and naming in a late Habsburg borderland (Berghahn Books, 2020).

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From the journal Multilingua


Dualist Hungary (1867–1918) was the linguistically most diverse would-be nation-state in the long nineteenth century, with less than half of its citizens speaking Hungarian as their home language and more than two-fifths being ignorant of it. The Nationalities Act of 1868 accommodated the language of court proceedings to that of the parties, but these provisions remained in effect for no more than a couple of years before a complete overhaul of the court system. Minority nationalist activists were vocal in their attacks against the sidelining of their languages, and the issue came to a head in much the same terms when policy-makers debated the introduction of the jury. In the 1890s, with jury trials introduced and oral proceedings expanded in civil litigation, the government could not postpone the appointment of court interpreters any longer. Interpreting fees were set too high for the average non-Magyar citizen, which, together with a few other predicaments, was likely to bring home to them their second-class status. At the same time, top officials were anxious about the concessions that lower courts, which were for the most part left to muddle through without translators, had to make to non-dominant languages.

Corresponding author: Ágoston Berecz, Pasts, Inc., Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, E-mail:

Funding source: Max Weber

About the author

Ágoston Berecz

Ágoston Berecz is a Research Fellow at Pasts, Inc at Central European University, Budapest. He holds a PhD in Comparative History from Central European University and an MA in Hungarian Linguistics and Literature from ELTE, Budapest. He is interested in the relationship between language and nationalism, as well as in the history of nineteenth-century Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on Transylvania. He is the author of two books, The Politics of Early Language Teaching: Hungarian in the Primary Schools of the Late Dual Monarchy (distributed by CEU Press, 2013) and Empty Signs, Historical Imaginaries: The Entangled nationalization of names and naming in a late Habsburg borderland (Berghahn Books, 2020).


I thank the Max Weber Programme and Central European University for funding my research, Piotr Kisiel and Marija Mandić for their comments on the manuscript and Alyson Price for polishing my language.

  1. Funding: The author was a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence, while doing research and writing the first drafts for the paper. Sources from Romanian archives were collected with the financial support of Central European University, Budapest.

  2. Competing interests: Authors declare no conflict of interest.

  3. Availability of data and material: Not applicable.

  4. Code availability: Not applicable.


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Published Online: 2020-07-25
Published in Print: 2021-05-26

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