Mysterious inscription

This photo was sent in by a visitor to Omniglot who is curious to know what the inscription means. The inscription, which he thinks might be in Russian or Bulgarian, appears on a gravestone in a cemetry in Rhinebeck, NY.

Mysterious inscription

Can any of you help?

This entry was posted in Language, Puzzles.

15 Responses to Mysterious inscription

  1. Amy says:

    I’m no expert, but I took a year and a half of Russian in college and this inscription seems different from the standard. I’ve never seen that “Z”-like letter before, not even in cursive, and there are a few unlikely consonant clusters as well. On the other hand, this might be some kind of Russian shorthand. The first line has the year the person was born, 1911. The “г.” stands for year, and the following word might be related to “поживать,” which means “live” (more or less). The second to last line contains the phrase “on the seventeenth day,” I think, and I’m fairly sure that the inscription also contains several names.

  2. AlexM says:

    It’s Bulgarian. A literal translation goes something like:

    In 1911, lies here Ivan Kolev from the village of Ak-Mekhmedeski-Dzhumanska…eternal memory. Buried on 17 December. A Bulgarian.

    It looks like the stone has been carved by someone who doesn’t know Cyrillic.

  3. James C. says:

    The “Z”-like letter is known in Russian as the твёрдый знак (/tvʲordɨj znak/, tvjordyj znak), or “hard sign” (lit.) or “yer” in English. It signals that the preceding consonant is not palatalized by the following jotated vowel. In calligraphy it’s often written with the ascender at an acute angle, just as it appears here.

    The use pattern of the yer in Bulgarian is a dead giveaway that distinguishes it from all the other Slavic-Cyrillic languages. In Bulgarian it’s still a vowel /ɤ/ or /ə/. It most notably appears in български език /ˈbəlgarski ɛzˈik/ “Bulgarian language” and in any other form of the name “Bulgaria”.

    The yer is not used in Belorussian or Ukranian, and in Old Church Slavonic it is a vowel notated /ŭ/, with the companion vowel ь which is notated /ĭ/.

    The signs that the carver didn’t know Cyrillic are the use of R and Z, the use of the triple-upright т which isn’t normally found in lapidary inscriptions, the ж lacking a strong middle upright, and the inconsistent shapes of letters which are not in the Latin alphabet, meaning that the carver probably lacked a template for them.

    The stone is exactly what one would expect from upstate New York in that era, a locally produced brown sandstone that wears away quickly with time. I’ve seen plenty of similar gravestones made of the same rock.

  4. prase says:

    My attempt to rewrite and transliterate:

    Въ 1911 г. почива тук Иван Колев от село Ак-Мехмедески Джуманска. Околня вечнаму памет. Погребан на 17. д. ек. Българин.

    Vă 1911 g. počiva tuk Ivan Kolev ot selo Ak-Mehmedeski Džumanska. Okolnja večnamu pamet. Pogreban na 17. d. ek. Bălgarin.

    It really seems that the author didn’t know Cyrillic, since some letters appear in two forms (т for example), whereas ч and ъ and sometimes и and н are not distinguished. Full stops after every word look also suspicious.

  5. Sennin says:

    I can also confirm the inscription is in Bulgarian and the translations above are correct. What puzzles me is the name of the village. “Ак-Мехмедески Джуманска” sounds distinctly Turkish to me.

  6. Sennin says:

    Oh, one more thing. “Джумайска околнr” probably means “Джумайска околя”, i.e. region Džumanska. If that’s the case, then the name of the village is simply “Ак-Мехмед”.

    I believe “ескм” is some abbreviation but I can’t attribute any meaning to it.

  7. prase says:

    The “(е)ски” should be a rather standard Slavic adjectival suffix (masculine form of ска in Джуманска), which can be quite easily part of a village name. Turkish local names hardly surprise in Bulgaria, but I expect the name has been changed since then.

  8. prase says:

    … and Bulgarians have lived also in Dobrudja and today’s northern Greece, and Macedonians probably haven’t been distinguished from Bulgarians then, so the village needn’t be in Bulgaria. I tried to find the location by Google, but unsuccessfully.

  9. Sennin says:


    They still live in Dobruja :). I tried googling it too, alas without much success.

  10. Jeff says:

    I doubt its Russian, because there are some letters not in cyrillic. It may be some kind of uneducated jumble.

  11. As #6 says, “Джуманска” could actually be “Джумайска” (on the inscription it looks like a Latin “N” rather than Cyrillic “н”). In which case it could refer to the region of Горна Джумая (renamed Благоевград in 1950). I haven’t found the village though.

  12. Delodephius says:

    The letter ‘Z’ is correct. It is how it is written in Old Church Slavonic and Church Slavonic. Basically, the Z looked like Z in Latin and Greek, but with a small tail. Eventually this small tail was raised up and curved so today the letter looks like 3 instead of Z.

  13. Greg says:

    well, seeing as how the last word says “bulgarian” in bulgarian script, i’m going with TAGALOG hahahah

  14. E Jensen says:

    Here’s what I found out:

    Ескиджумайска (Eskidshumajska)was 1911 a district in the oblast Shumen.Административно_деление_на_България
    (translate with Google language tools)

    Eski Cuma is the old Turkish name of a town that today is called Targovishte (Bulgarian: Търговище:”marketplace”).

    This region has had for a very long time a mixed population of Bulgarians and Turks. According to the Bulgarian Wikipedia about 37 % of the regional population still today consider themselves Turks, which explains the Turkish name of the village “Akh-Mekhmed”. (Mehmed/Mehmet is a quite common Turkish name, being the Turkish version of Arabic Muhammad – actually it’s the most common name).

    As all the Turkish place names have been changed to Bulgarian names it will be very difficult to find the village without a more profound knowledge of the local history.

  15. E Jensen says:

    Now this is the full story as far as the stone reveals it:

    On 17 December 1911 this Ivan Kovlev was buried.
    He came from a village in north-eastern Bulgaria then called Ak Mehmedi. In 1923 this village was renamed Zvezda (Звезда), meaning “Star”, because from the next village it looked like a star. It still bears that name today.

    This village lay in a district then called Ескиджумайска (Eskidjumajska), Eski Cuma in Turkish, which means “old bazaar”, which was the name of the largest towns of this district. This town was later renamed Targovishte (Търговище) meaning ”marketplace” – i.e. nearly the same.

    There is actually a rather long article about this little village in the Bulgarian Wikipedia (Google translation).

    The inhabitants of the village were mostly Turks, so Ivan’s family was part of an ethnic minority in their village. During the Russo-Turkish war (1877-1878) the village was evacuated. So Ivan most likely left his home village before 1877 (maybe much earlier) and emigrated to America.

    I find this gravestone unusual not only because of the language but also because it doesn’t give the age or birth date.

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