Back in the green youth of Languagehat, when it was still on Blogspot, I did a post on English second-person pronouns with comparisons to other languages, and the first comment (the first remaining, anyway—comments tended to vanish inexplicably in those days), by Mark, discussed Hungarian: “The story is that Count Szechenyi, their impatient and energetic reforming nobleman of the late 18th century, early 19th, was personally responsible for cutting the number of respect-related forms of address down from five to three (as it still is now) in his lifetime.” Now Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes (pronounced SEAR-tesh) elucidates the situation in a couple of posts on his blog (1, 2): “In Hungarian, I know of four forms and some twenty or so years ago had some problems with them….” There are some great anecdotes:
The great Hungarian poet, Ágnes Nemes Nagy, who died in 1993 at the age of 71, told me quite clearly on our first meeting in 1985, that she wanted me to to address her as maga and that she would address me in the same way. So it continued over the years. One day when I was visiting her (I always brought flowers), her ex-husband, the literary critic Balázs Lengyel called, and we were all in the room together. I addressed him as maga and he immediately told me to use te, because we were colleagues in the same field of work. Immediately, there were two relationships going on at the same time, and despite the fact that I had seen Nemes Nagy regularly and had never before met Lengyel, the relationship with her remained formal, with him they immediately relaxed.