Because so many great Sicilian authors are male, terrific Sicilian women writers such as Silvana La Spina are all too often overlooked. Like her contemporaries — Andrea Camilleri, Santo Piazzese, Gaetano Savatteri, Domenico Cacòpardo, Piergiorgio Di Cara — she writes mysteries (and historical fiction) inspired by the work of Leonardo Sciascia. Unlike these authors, however, La Spina introduces the reader to Sicily as it is viewed and experienced by women. In her 2007 detective novel Uno sbirro femmina (A Woman Cop) published by Mondadori, Maria Laura Giangemi struggles to balance her non-traditional role as a police inspector in Catania against her socially accepted roles as mother and widow as she investigates the murder of a popular priest.
The language of Uno sbirro femmina reflects La Spina’s assertion that Italian literature is regional and not national in nature, as it is written in the regional Italian of Sicily with strong insertions from the Sicilian dialect. Although characters occasionally use regional Italian terms in their speech, the majority of the regionalisms appear in the narration and are used to describe Sicilian food such as “polpette di nannato (Sic. pulpette di nannatu; It. polpette di pesce neonato; Eng. meatballs of newborn fish),” and “mascolini (Sic. masculini; It. acciughe; Eng. anchovies);” the Mafia “cosche mafiose (It. cosche mafiose; Eng. mafia clans);” and physical states “un colorito giarnuso (Sic. nu culuritu giarnusu; It. un colorito giallastro; Eng. a yellowish coloring).”
Characters frequently utter short sentences either entirely or partially in dialect. These sentences are typically composed of simple nouns such as “nu parrinu (It. un prete; Eng. a priest)” and “nu mafiusu (It. un mafioso; Eng. a mobster);” descriptive adjectives such as “iarrusu (It. omosessuale; Eng, homosexual)” and “biunnu (It. biondo; Eng.blonde);” or question words such as “cu (It. chi; Eng. who)” and “unni (It. dove; Eng. where).” A few characters cite Sicilian proverbs, among them “Cu avi dinari e amicizia teni in culu ‘a giustizia (It. Chi ha denaro e amicizia tiene in culo la giustizia; Eng. He who has money and friendship holds justice in his ass, i.e., the palm of his hand).”
Notably, La Spina incorporates Latin and English into her representation of the language of Sicily in the novel. Latin is used rather predictably in relation to the Catholic Church and includes references to prayers such as “Pater noster (Our Father),” the liturgy “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord)” and the name of a Catholic youth center called “Ora pro nobis (Pray for Us).” English is employed primarily to reflect the influence of America on the Sicilian culture through the incorporation of song titles such as “Love Me Tender” and “Night and Day;” references to consumer products including “un pacchetto di Marlboro (a package of Marlboro [cigarettes]),” “dopobarba Calvin Klein (Calvin Klein aftershave);” and the organization “i boy scout (the boy scouts).” Ironically, however, English is also used to underscore the impact of China on the island with a reference to the prevalence of cheap goods that bear the label “Made in China.”
Another interesting feature of La Spina’s language is the appearance in a school paper written by Inspector Giangemi’s son of linguistic forms that originated in Italian chat rooms: “x (It. per; Eng. for),” “ke (It. che; Eng. that)” and “xké (It. perché; Eng. because).” (Note: In Italian, the letter “x” is pronounced “iks” except in multiplication tables where it is referred to as “per.”)
The Sicilian linguistic situation depicted by La Spina in Uno sbirro femmina reflects both the complexity and the malleability of language on the island and, by extension, throughout the Italian regions. While the language in the novel can generally be described as regional, the powerful linguistic influences of the Church as well as foreign and popular cultures are clearly present.
On Facebook: Silvana La Spina has a Facebook page, but it’s not well developed.