What language is this? Genealogy edition
March 6, 2017 2:52 PM   Subscribe

My wife is working on some genealogy stuff and came across a picture that claims to be of the family's home town in the old country. Complicating factors: we're not entirely sure where the old country was, when the photo was taken, or what language the text on the front and back are.

Front of photo

Back of photo

We believe it's some variant of Slovak or Czech but beyond that we're in the dark. Mostly we're looking for the name of the town, but any indication of what the back says would be super helpful.

Thanks in advance!
posted by zrail to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
Sorry, dumb question, but why don't you just type the text into Google Translate and see if it has an opinion? It will try to detect the language for you.
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on March 6

I'm guessing that the word on the front could be Klenovec. If I'm right, then per google, there is a Klenovec in Slovakia, and a Klenovec Humski in Croatia.
posted by gudrun at 3:34 PM on March 6

I believe the front says Klenovec, which is in present-day Slovakia. My Slovak is not good enough to read much of the handwriting on the back -- sorry!
posted by karbonokapi at 3:34 PM on March 6

(The language does indeed seem to be Czech/Slovak. There are letters like ý that do not appear in Serbian/Croatian.)
posted by karbonokapi at 3:35 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]

If it is Klenovec Humski in Croatia, it's written in the dialect of the region (so not the one that's in google translate). My great grandparents spoke this dialect and it is very similar sounding, so it's a possibility. (I don't speak Slovak, so it still could be the other).
posted by A hidden well at 3:40 PM on March 6

From my wife:
I tried putting it into Google Translate but it didn't detect the language, but I'm not sure if I'm typing all of it correctly. I also tried Google's picture translate but again it couldn't pick up the language.
Klenovec Humski seems plausible, and/or picture translate just isn't good enough to read that particular handwriting. Either way, this gives us something to go on. I marked a few answers as "best" but if someone runs across this who can read this very particular dialect and feels like typing out a translation you'd make our day!
posted by zrail at 4:16 PM on March 6

Is this for Steve Liptok (married Julia) from Ohio? If it is, I think he says he is from Hungary and speaks Magyar?
posted by ReluctantViking at 4:36 PM on March 6

Is this for Steve Liptok (married Julia) from Ohio? If it is, I think he says he is from Hungary and speaks Magyar?

That's the family, yes. So this is actually Hungarian?
posted by zrail at 4:46 PM on March 6

I don't know. It's the language the census enumerator records which isn't always accurate. It seems like the village might be Klenóc/klenovec which is now in Slovakia. You may be able to check to see what languages were spoken there.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:13 PM on March 6

> So this is actually Hungarian?

No, definitely West Slavic of some variety. People in those parts tended to speak a number of languages.
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on March 6

I don't speak more than a couple words of Czech or Croatian, though my family tree has both. However, having seen many unreadable captions in both languages, I'd vote that it's Czech. Or Slovak - they're evidently mutually intelligible.
posted by notsnot at 5:19 PM on March 6

Definitely not written in Hungarian, although that'll turn out to be a good clue. It looks to me like Czech/Slovak, but that could be because I'm more familiar with Czech orthography. So I did a little digging. Both towns are near their respective countries' borders with Hungary. Knowing that Hungary was historically much larger than its present borders, I looked at the demographics on Wikipedia. The Klenovec in Slovakia is located in a region with a "substantial" Hungarian minority, while the one in Croatia is in a district that's 98.8% ethnic Croat. Not definitive, but my vote is firmly Slovakia.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:38 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]

What's the timeframe? The census entry supports it being the Klenovec in Slovakia, because it looks like it was located in Hungary (and officially known as Klenócz) until 1920. (That is, the location didn't change, but the boundaries did.) There are lots of potential reasons that the postcard is in Slovak and the ancestor reported speaking Hungarian, including that "it's complicated" was the linguistic reality in that part of the world and not an acceptable answer to census takers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:42 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]

The ancestor in the photo was born in 1881, so assuming he's the boy in the picture than that fits. My wife just emailed someone who works for the city of Klenovec in Slovakia to see if we could get it translated by someone there.

Thanks so much everyone! I love Mefites :)
posted by zrail at 5:48 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]

Mr. Brambory (Czech native speaker and very good with Slavik languages) says it doesn't seem like pure Slovakian - he said 25% recognisable Slovakian. I suggested maybe it was a regional dialect, but he pointed out that the handwriting is confident and like someone who went to school. From what he can tell, the beginning says "I'm sending you back home...." there is something about the road/way. We'll see if we can find anyone who has more expertise!
posted by brambory at 10:16 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]

Together with my Slavic language speaking colleagues (Czech, Slovak, Slovenian and Serbian), we came to the conclusion that this is most probably Slovakian, however written by an old person, and with some spelling mistakes. What they were able to translate:

"Here we are sending you our house, which (or something what) we built on the backside (?) 15 metres away (or long) from the road."

The word "Liptok" might be a reference to a city in Slovakia nowadays called Liptovski Mikulas.
posted by fullfrontal at 7:53 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]

Awesome! Thank you!

Liptok is the family name, at least how it's spelled now. We're not 100% sure what the family name was before they came to the US, although there is some concensus it was "Liptak".
posted by zrail at 10:02 AM on March 7

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