Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Sciaccaluga family vault

I recently visited New Orleans and had a chance to explore St. Louis Cemetery #1. Although the city is best known for its French heritage, the city has long been home to a wide variety of communities, including Italians, Irish and Germans. Walking through the cemetery, you'll find that most of the inscriptions are in French and English, but this masks a much richer heritage, which is told by the names you encounter. Not surprisingly many immigrants chose to use the language of the larger community, which was first French and later English. There are even a good number of inscriptions in French for people with clearly British names.

Among the vaults was one inscribed with Italian, the vault of the Sciaccaluga family. The earliest inscriptions are in Italian with last set of inscriptions in English. I want to concentrate on two of the Italian inscriptions:

Filomena Cuneo,
Sposa di G. Sciaccaluga
Nativa di Genova, Italia
Morta il 25 Aprile 1897
Di Anni 53

Guiseppe Sciaccaluga
Nativo di Genova
Morto Decmb. 18 1914
Di Anni 80

The inscription is very easy to understand:

Filomena Cuneo,
Wife of G. Sciaccaluga
Native of Genoa, Italy
Died April 25, 1897
Aged 53

Giuseppe Sciaccaluga
Native of Genoa
Died Dec. 18, 1914
Aged 80

There are a few interesting things in these inscriptions. Notice the differences between the two inscriptions. As in other Romance languages, Italian has grammatical gender. Both nativa "native" and morta "dead" end with -a for Filomena, but nativo and morto end with an -o for Giuseppe. In this case -a is the feminine ending and -o is the masculine ending.

Perhaps, less obvious is that the husband's name is spelled strangelly. Giuseppe is spelled "Guiseppe", the "i" and "u" are reversed. There are also differences in how the date is presented and the abbreviation used for December is unexpected. In Italian, the word for December is dicembre, so it is odd that the abbreviation used is "Decb.". It seems likely that the inscription was done by someone who did not know Italian and perhaps at this date there was no one in the family to guide the inscriber properly.

It is always good to keep in mind that a language might get a little mangled in the wrong hands and that knowledge of a language tends to decline in an immigrant family over time.

No comments:

Post a Comment