Gyula Németh was born in Karcag. He began learning Turkish there and set off from there on his first trips to Turkey (Istanbul –1907, later to Aydin and Smyrna – 1908). From 1909, as a member of the Eötvös College, he studied at the University of Budapest from such personalities like Zoltán Gombocz, Bernát Munkácsi, Ignác Goldziher and Ármin Vámbéry. Between 1911 and 1914 he went on several study trips to Leipzig, Kiel and Berlin. He habilitated at the University of Budapest in 1915. In 1916 he became an extraordinary professor at the Department of Turkology, and in 1918 he became a full professor.
His Turkish grammar was published in 1916–17, which is still a good manual for learning Ottoman-Turkish written in Arabic script.
In 1921 his first studies on the Turkish loanwords of Hungarian and issues of Hungarian prehistory were published.
His most important and most influential work, A honfoglaló magyarság kialakulása, [The Formation of the Conquering Hungarians], was published in 1930. In this book, he examined the naming practices of Turkic tribes, the Turkic tribal system and the formation of the nomadic Turkic states and presented the role of the joined Turkic tribes in the formation of the ethnicity of the Hungarian people.
Another important area of his scientific work was the study of the inscriptions on the treasures of Nagyszentmiklós. In his opinion, the inscriptions were written in a Kipchak-type Turkic language, namely the Pecheneg.
From the 1930s onwards, he focused on research into the Ottoman-Turkish language: he dealt extensively with the Turkish dialects of Bulgaria. He collected and published dialectal texts, clarifying the theoretical problems of dialect classification.
He devoted several studies to the question of where the homeland of the Turks was and when the migration of the Turkic peoples began. He sought answers by means of linguistics to these questions. He was also very concerned about the problem whether Attila’s Huns spoke a Turkic language and what the Hungarians had to do with the Huns, as well as the question of how reliable the statements of the Hungarian chronicles were, according to which the Hungarians were the descendants of the Huns. Gyula Németh tried to answer these questions, together with four excellent experts, Lajos Ligeti, Péter Váczy, Nándor Fettich and Sándor Eckhardt. This was the summarizing volume for the general public, entitled Attila és hunjai, published in 1940.
In 1957 on the verso of a diploma from 1422 a short glossary was found, thought to be Pecheneg. The text was deciphered by Gyula Németh, who found that it was written on the Jassic language. Still today this is the only linguistic monument of the Alans.
In recognition of his scientific work, in 1930 he was allowed to organize the Turkish Institute of Philology and Hungarian Prehistory at the Faculty of Arts in Budapest. In 1932 and 1935 he was elected dean of the faculty, and in 1947-1949 rector of the university.
He was a correspondent member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 1922, and a full member from 1932. From 1939 he was his secretary for ten years, then from 1949 to 1954 the president of the 1st Department of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. From 1950 to 1965 he was the director of the Institute of Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
The establishment of the Kőrösi Csoma Society (1920), the editing of the Kőrösi Csoma-Archivum and Acta Linguistica Hungarica, as well as the launch of the monograph series Bibliotheca Orientalis Hungarica (1928) are connected to the name of Gyula Németh.
He was an honorary member of several scientific organizations. He was inaugurated as an honorary doctor of Eötvös Loránd University in 1970.
His library placed at the Department of Altaic Studies was purchased by the József Attila University of Szeged in 1978.