The “trignano” or “tregnéla” jargon has survived long after the sun has set on the ancient craft of hand wool carding. It was developed over the years and kilometres by ranks of travelling workers from Pietracamela who, as far back as the eighteenth century, reached both bordering and remote regions: the Marche, Tuscany, Romagna and Emilia. These carders, exclusively male, often travelled in pairs, carrying the tools of the trade with them: two stackable wooden boards – the lower board and the upper board, the crëàcia, which weighed about ten kilos and was fitted with nails and two handles – and their own language which was completely obscure to those outside the circle. Today this jargon is considered a cultural heritage asset and an identifying brand of the community from Pietracamela, while its unintelligibility awakens the memories.
The profession of wool carder has, for a long time, contributed to structuring the socio-economic configuration of at least three towns in Abruzzo: Pietracamela (Teramo), Cerqueto di Fano Adriano (Teramo) and Fara San Martino (Chieti). Clearly an ancient activity, it seems to have characterized in particular the highest of the above-mentioned towns (1,005 meters above sea level): in the eighteenth century, Francesco Antonio Marcucci (1717-1798), viceregent of Rome and founder of the Congregation of the Pious Workers of the Immaculate Conception in Ascoli Piceno in 1744, wrote to a nun of the Order warning her against, gossips, who could ruin the souls of her neighbours like the «carders of Pietracamela» disentangled wool.
The extent of their range of action was also remarkable: from an investigation by Ernesto Giammarco published in 1964, it results that each wool carder from Pietracamela had his own “market place” and moved north and north-west, following routes which led them to Tuscany (Garfagnana), Marche, Umbria, Romagna and even Emilia. During these long journeys (they left in the autumn and came back to the town at Christmas or in the spring) the carders developed and spoke a jargon of the trade, the “trignano” or the “tregnéla”. With a touch of romanticism Tommaso Bruno Stoppa associated this name with the Trignale woodland in the territory of Prati di Tivo, located between 1,500 and 1,800 metres above sea level, describing the jargon as “a forest language therefore, and therefore incomprehensible to non-woodcutters” (Stoppa, April 1947).
Like all the jargons linked to itinerant trades, it held an essentially cryptolalic function, aimed at making the conversations between the carders completely incomprehensible to the clients.
Although this trade disappeared several decades ago, its jargon remains a cultural heritage of the whole community (men and women), having blended in and partly integrated with the already characteristic local language-culture. An example given to us by Lino Montauti is somewhat emblematic: the expression “chettëlògnë saniuwònnë” which can be translated literally as “What is St. John saying?”, would actually be understood by those who know the jargon as “What time is it?” since Pietracamela’s public clock was, and still is, placed on an external wall of Saint John’s Church.
watch the video
The jargon of the Pietracamela carders
Pietracamela, 4 May 2013
Video footage by Giovanni Agresti,
Sociolingua Study Center Archive
Cultural transmission and preservation
The first collection known to us of the slang terms of trignano consists of a non-exhaustive list of seventeen terms published by Tommaso Bruno Stoppa in 1947. The first systematic investigation is, however, that of Ernesto Giammarco, published in 1964 in Abruzzo Journal of the Institute of Studies of Abruzzo, which contains ninety-eight voices, each of them accompanied by the translation, provided particularly by Giovanni Bartolomei (who at the time was 65 and had been a “scardassiere” [carder] since the age of 14).
The jargon is, therefore, no longer, a mystery although the trade that produced or otherwise used it died out over seventy years ago. Moreover, there are the contemporary testimonies of Berardo Fedele, a very young wool carder, the numerous demonstrations of Romolo Intini during various cultural events, both in Pietracamela and elsewhere, and even a “playful” use of jargon by some people from Pietracamela in different situations. Our research in Pietracamela from 2012 to 2017 allowed us to verify and expand the lexical corpora collected and, above all, to measure the vitality of the trignano trade jargon despite the loss of the historical context in which it was born.