The jargon of Pietracamela carders
An ancient language of vague origins, with words coming from across the Adriatic Sea, of unknown and doubtful etymology the Pretarolo or pretarèjë dialect is for the people of Pietracamela, in particular those who are older and full of memories, the symbol of this village nestled in the Gran Sasso mountain. Here the language merges with the gestures and body movements, both codified according to unmistakable semiotics for the natives. A singular language which existed side by side with and partly blurred into the obscure jargon of the itinerant wool carders, and which has had its defenders and poets, among whom we remember Ginevra Bartolomei (1909-2007), who also left us numerous notebooks and, as a consequence, a spontaneous form of writing.
Even though it is a linguistic variation referable to the central-southern Italian dialects, the Pretarolo is an immaterial cultural asset that distinguishes the community of Pietracamela, who have always been particularly attached to it. Although the complex phonetics (especially the vocalism) , recall, among others, some typical traits belonging to the phonetics of the Pennese dialects (for example the transition in a closed syllable of a tonic /e/ to an /o/, as in the toponyms PĬNNA > Penne / Pònne and Betlemme / Betlòmme: «ha netë a Betlòmmë lu Santë Bambun», according to a Pretarolo religious song) and more generally traits belonging to the koine from Abruzzo, like some fractures of the closed tonic vowels in an open syllable (PULLĬCĒNUM > pulcino / pëcèunë; NĔPOTEM > nipote / nipautë etc.) or the transformation, until it dissipates, of the final atonic vowel (V > [ë]), typical of the Adriatic side of the mountain and not the Aquila side, the most characteristic elements of the Pretarolo dialect concern the lexicon, the syntax and, from the sociolinguistic point of view, the configuration of the repertoire.
From the lexical point of view, we will point out some frequently used words, related to family life and of clear or possible foreign origin, in particular Albanian or more correctly Arbëreshe (Albanian of Italy), which seem not to be attested in any of the neighbouring or regional varieties, and thus act as authentic identifying markers of the Pretarolo community. This is most likely the case of vascia (“ragazza”=girl or “figlia”=daughter) in the Pretarolo dialect which we also find in Molise in the Italian-Albanian communities of Campomarino (CB) (vasheza in the determined singular feminine form) and Portocannone (CB) (vasha in the determined singular feminine form). More complex is the case of r(i)juf / r(u)woff(a) (“bambino”= little boy, “bambina”= little girl) in the Pretarolo dialect, which we could very cautiously relate to rufë, attested in Chieuti, an Arbëresh linguistic island in the province of Foggia, and indicating a baby’s cradle cap, through a metonymic procedure completely analogous to that which leads to “moccioso (snotty kid)” from “moccio (snot)”. The possible kinship with Italian-Albanian varieties could be explained by the documented presence of «Slavonic and Greek» leather merchants at Prati di Tivo in the seventeenth century. Moreover, it is partly supported by some peculiar anthropological aspects still alive in Pietracamela and still found today in some Italian-Albanian communities, such as the presence of mourners during funeral rites who, at the end of the rite, ask the relative of the deceased if they are satisfied with their work. We have recently found a similar formulation, in the same context, in Civita (Cosenza), an Arbëresh linguistic island in the Pollino mountain range. However, the research must be further investigated: here we want only to emphasize its fruitfulness.
Among the other noteworthy lexical peculiarities in this brief synthesis is the form of the numeral adjective “eighty”, which is built on a vigesimal basis (presumably of Celtic origin, arriving in central-southern Italy probably through the Normans), giving rise to the syntagma “four twenties”. This form survives in some localities of the inland areas of Abruzzo up to the Sulmona basin, but is in strong regression and is therefore particularly noticeable.
The Pretarolo language is also perceived as highly unusual because it must be included in a more complex repertoire that includes the Italian language, given the high level of education (also female) that has traditionally characterized the town, and the jargon of the wool carders, itinerant craftsmen typical of Pietracamela and the nearby Cerqueto.
Regarding the relationship between the jargon, the local dialect and the Italian language we have observed some interesting porosity (the singularity of the Pretarolo dialect already made some lexical elements available for the jargon) and, above all, the fact that the former has become a community heritage, being still widely known in the village, albeit in a fragmented way, at least by the over forty, both men and women. Regarding the Italian language, it is necessary to point out, rather paradoxically, that in the past people referred to Pietracamela as an “oasis of Italianness”. This is the case of Tommaso Bruno Stoppa, who observed in 1947 how many carders from Pietracamela having to go to Tuscany to work, brought back to the village the language that had emerged as the model of the national language.
WATCH THE VIDEO
The name of the children
Lidia Montauti and Paolo Trentini talk in Pretarolo and explain the names that designate boys and girls, in the local language..
Pietracamela (TE), May 25th 2013.
Filming by Giovanni Agresti,
Sociolinguistic Study Centre Archive .
Transmission and conservation
The first sound recordings of the Pretarolo language were made in 1964 by Don Nicola Jobbi, who documented conversations, poems and songs by various witnesses of the time; in 1978 the same Jobbi produced a vinyl entitled Natale sul Gran Sasso (Christmas on the Gran Sasso), with two recordings of Pretarolo songs.
Currently, despite the demographic collapse that has marked the recent past of the village, a strong feeling of linguistic loyalty has been observed especially within a group of passionate scholars and local activists (Lidia Montauti, Celestina De Luca, Ezio Giardetti, Paolo Trentini among others) who have, in a more or less systematic way, given rise to or collaborated with , various initiatives for the collection and documentation of memory and language. The Pretarolo spelling, due to the particular phonetic complexity, is still the subject of reflections and discussions, also based on written testimonies that are sometimes very old, as in the case of a questionnaire developed by the eminent glottologist Francesco D’Ovidio (1849 -1925), which we found at the Benedetto Croce Library Foundation in Naples. Of particular importance in this context is the work of Ginevra Bartolomei (1909-2007) who, in her later years, wrote down part of her poetical works which she had first been inspired to compose after she had emigrated to Canada. This work, written in some notebooks and recorded in some videos, often courtesy of her nephew Graziano Mirichigni, deserves a fully-fledged critical edition, as it is a linguistic-literary monument and testimony of the history of the town in the last century.
Regarding this subject, which must be systematized and valorized at some point, we are very worried about the transmission of the Pretarolo dialect to younger generations. To this end, it is worth mentioning, regarding the dissemination activities, the video Testimonianza dialettale pretarola (Testimonial of the Pretarolo dialect) (Di Domenicantonio 2001), a recent study presented as a degree thesis (Gabriella Francq 2016) on the social representations of the language and of the Pretarolo identities in relation to social development and the appended Italian-Pretarolo social and ethnographic dictionary, resources that are yet to be perfected but useful not only for the documentation of the Pretarolo language-culture, but also for its revitalization and its use for the purposes of territorial promotion.