Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - The long and short of inscriptions

Information on a tombstone can be presented a few different ways. One of the simplest ways is as a name and two dates, sometimes just the years.  For example, the inscription for my wife's second great uncle, Albert Labiak, is done in this style.

In other cases, you have inscriptions in regular prose with complete sentences, as in the case of the inscription for my 7th great grandmother, Ruth (Denison) Kingsbury (image on Find A Grave):

Here Lies the Body of
Mrs. Ruth Kingsbury
wife to Deacon Joseph
Kingsbury she Departed 
This Life May 6 1779
 Ætat 93

She left five Children
61 Gran Children 132
Great Gran Children
15 Great Gran Gran 

However, this style is not very common in English, especially for more recent inscriptions.

A more common way of composing tombstone inscriptions in English involves a kind of abbreviated style of writing.  It is an example of economics influencing language; the effort and expense of inscribing a tombstone favors brevity.  Instead of full sentences with a subject and a verb, past participles are used. This style is used on the tombstone of my 3rd great grandparents, George and Prudence (Martin) Savage:

One reason that it useful to recognize these different styles is that understanding the language of tombstones in English can help you approach tombstones in other languages.  Over the next couple weeks I will show how particular styles are favored in different languages.

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