Lajos Ligeti (October 28, 1902 - May 24, 1987)
Ligeti was born at the North Hungarian city, Balassagyarmat. After his secondary school years
at Gyarmat, he gained admission to the Budapest József Eötvös College of great fame and French
orientation. As a student of the Faculty of Arts in the University of Budapest he studied
classical philology, and learned even more absorbedly Turkish philology and severe judgement
from Gyula Németh, with whom the undergraduate dissected the works of great Vámbéry to false
and true segment. He learned etymology, a passion to search for the Turkish elements of
Hungarian language from Zoltán Gombocz. But he realized that at home he could not arrive at the
final source of our relationship with, and beyond, the Turkish peoples, so after he took a
Ph. D. degree with honours - then rewarded with an iron ring instead of the golden one of the
pre-war time - he gladly went to Paris to be instructed by the great masters of Sorbonne.
On a Hungarian scholarship, he studied Chinese subjects with Henri Maspéro, Tibetan philology -
in the wake of Csoma de Kőrös - with Jacques Bacot, and first and foremost, the Mongolian and
related fields with highly versatile Paul Pelliot, his most influential professor in Paris.
The metropolis urged him to stay, but he returned to Hungary, into unemployment. Eventually he
managed to raise support for an expedition to China. In 1928-30 he
visited the Mongols
in the north between the Great Wall and the Gobi Desert. He lived in lamaistic monasteries
and studied the little known languages of southern and eastern Mongolians: Chahar, Harchin
Tumet and Dagur,
so important for its ancient pecularities. Most of his collection was destroyed during the
Second World War, but his invaluable old Mongolian, Manchu, Tibetan and Chinese manuscripts and
books survived, which he gave to the Library of the Hungarian Academy as a gift. In his
scholarly report (Rapport preliminaire..., 1933) he made mention of his inquiry into the
108-volume Mongolian Buddhist canon, which he was the first to describe as an immense source
for linguistic, cultural and historical research (Catalogue du Kanjur mongol imprimé,
1942-1944). In the autumn of 1936 he
travelled to Afghanistan
, where he sought out the Moghols, a people believed to have already vanished, and reported
new data on their disappearing
language. He also studied the folklore of the Uzbeks in Afghanistan. In the meantime he
discovered the correlation between the long vowels of old and contemporary Turkish languages.
From 1936 he was elected corresponding member of the
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
ordinary member from 1947. He was 37 when he became a professor of the Faculty of Arts in the
University of Budapest and a year later he was appointed to the holder of the
Chair of Inner Asia.
He was the first to teach there Mongolian and Tibetan language and culture, Inner Asian
history and Manchu, from the alphabet to many settled and unsettled questions and to various
complex methods of investigations. In addition to his own department, for twenty years, he also
held the Chair of the Far East,
where he taught the first generations of Hungarian sinologists.
For several years he was in the Chair of Turkish philology as well. Among others, he was also
managing director of the Institute for Hungarian Studies.
He was the vice-president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for two decades. He was the
Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae,
so far the longest-lived of our
journals devoted to Oriental studies; he edited the monograph series Bibliotheca Orientalis
Hungarica in Europaean languages and that of the Csoma de Kőrös Pocket Library in Hungarian;
he reorganized the Csoma de Kőrös Society, set up a research group under the aegis of the
Academy to constitute a workshop for tacking the philological problems of Mongolian, Turkish,
Manchu, Tungus and Inner Asian subjects. He initiated the teaching of Altaic subjects at
He donated his private library of several thousand volumes to the Library of Szeged University.
After his tour of Japan at the onset of the Second World War, from the late 40-s he travelled
extensively, also to Mongolia and again to China, though for shorter times. He devoted most of
his time left from his university and academy engagements to research. He probed into the
history of the Mongolian, Turkish, Manchu, Tungus and Tibetan languages, literature and culture,
published and interpreted sources, edited the Collection of Mongolian Written Monuments and the
Mongolian Vocabulary of Istanbul, dechipered the Mongolian material in the Yemen Polyglot
written in Arabic script, threw light on the principles and dechipherment of the Jurchi "small
characters" and searched for the key to the Khitan language and writing.
He published in Hungarian and in foreign languages (first of all in his favourite French); he
wrote for the narrow circle of connoisseurs and for all literate Hungarians in a wise, well-
refined style. He translated the Secret History of the Mongols, the Tibetan Sa-skya pandita's
Subhasitaratnanidhi into Hungarian. His last greatest work, The Early Turkish Relations of the
Hungarian Language before the Conquest and during the Árpád Dynasty - published in Hungarian -
is good reading for experts and lay readers alike for all who are interested in the living
linguistic proof of our relationships reaching as far as the easternmost corners of Inner Asia,
and in the Hungarian prehistory in general.
He was a member of several scholarly associations abroad. Several Hungarian decorations and
those of other countries acknowledged his endeavours in education, research, organization
and the public life.
György Kara, Louis Ligeti, 1902-1987: AOH 41(1987) pp. 3-6.
• Bárczi Géza, Ligeti Lajos hatvanadik születési évfordulójához: Magyar Nyelv 58(1962), pp. 525-527.
• Sanzheev, G. D., Akademik Lajos Ligeti i razvitie altaistiki v Vengrii:
Narody Azii i Afriki 1962:5., pp. 155-158.
• Czeglédy Károly, Ligeti Lajos hetvenöt éves: Nógrádi Szemle 21(1977):254 p. 7.
• Kis Tamás, A keleti nyelvek kézikönyve Ligeti Lajos dolgozószobájában. (Születése 75. évfordulóján): Magyar Hírlap 10(1977):265 p. 6.
• Benkő Loránd, A nyolcvan éves Ligeti Lajos köszöntése: MNy 79(1983), pp. 369-373.
• Czeglédy Károly, Ligeti Lajos (1902-1987): Hungarológiai Értesítő 8(1986):3-4 pp. 263-265.
• Kara György, Ligeti Lajos emlékezete: Népszabadság, 1987. jún. 10.
• Kara György, Ligeti Lajos, 1902-1987: Magyar Tudomány 32:10(1987), pp. 813-815.
• Kara, György, Louis Ligeti, 1902-1987: AOH 41:1(1987), pp. 3-6.
• Róna-Tas András, Ligeti Lajos, 1902-1987: Keletkutatás 1987:2 pp. 3-11.
• Sinor, Denis, In memoriam Louis Ligeti: PIAC Newsletter 17(1987), pp. 4-5.
• Sinor, Denis, Louis Ligeti (1902-1987): Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher 60(1988), pp. 195-196.
• Aubin, Francoise, Louis Ligeti: Journal Asiatique 276:1-2(1988), pp. 1-22.
• Diószegi István, Ligeti Lajos, 1902-1987: Balassagyarmati Honismereti Hiradó 10:1-2(1988), pp. 133-143.
• Nagy Rezső, Ligeti Lajos, 1902-1987: Balassagyarmati Honismereti Hiradó 10:1-2(1988), pp. 129-133.
• Róna-Tas, András, Lajos Ligeti: UAJb, N.F. 8(1988), pp. 183-186.
• Schütz Ödön, Ligeti Lajos, 1902-1987: MNy 84(1988), pp. 373-378.
• Zimonyi István, Ligeti Lajos magyar őstörténet-koncepciója: Századok 1988:1-2, pp. 216-221.
• Karaagaç, Günay, Louis Ligeti, 1902-1987: Türk dili ve araştırmaları dergisi 5(1989) pp. 153-170.
• Sárközi Alice, Ligeti Lajos a magyar orientalisztika nagyhírű kutatója 90 éve született Balassagyarmaton: Balassagyarmati Honismereti Hiradó 14:2(1992) pp. 8-11.
• Ligeti Lajos: Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon (1978-1991). Főszerk. Kenyeres Ágnes. Bp., (1994). pp. 563-564.
• Róna-Tas András, Emlékbeszéd Ligeti Lajos rendes tag felett [Speech in Memory of Louis Ligeti] (downloadable document in rtf format)