Language of the Amish – Speak Pennsylvania Dutch

The Amish of America speak a hybrid dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German. It is a Germanic language with a good amount of English mixed in.

If you sit and listen to two Amish speaking, you may be surprised that what seems like every fifth or tenth or twentieth word is actually English. Occasionally you find you can sort of follow along as they speak.

PA Dutch is a largely unwritten language. When the Amish write notes and letters to one another, they usually use English.

Hello in Amish
Amish farmers saying hello in PA Dutch. You can almost understand it because of the similarity to English.

But the typical Amish child will not speak much or any English until he or she reaches school age. PA Dutch is the first language they learn as toddlers, and the language that most Amish are most comfortable conversing in. Once in school, the teacher, who is almost always Amish, teaches the children English, and all lessons are held using English as a base language.
In fact, many if not most Amish are actually trilingual, because in addition to English and ‘Dutch’, they speak and understand High German, which is the language their Bibles are written in and the language typically used in their church services.

Amish language MP3 program by an Amish family in Southern Pennsylvania

Oh, by the way there is an Amish language learning program coming soon, by the Amish for you. I will let you know when ready. Sign up below and I will let you know when complete.

The Amish are not the only ones who have been known to speak PA German, though they are the largest group. Speakers of the dialect, including Mennonites and non-Amish, have been found historically in the southeastern region of Pennsylvania, as well as in the Shenandoah valley region stretching south through Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
The three languages of the Amish

  1.     The Amish language is used at home and day-to-day life.
  2.     In church they use Hochdeitsch or high German.
  3.     While the English language is taught for business purposes and to interact with outsiders.
Anabaptist ladies talking
Do not assume you will see Anabaptists only in Ohio and Lancaster county.

Amish linguistic tree

One of the things I like about the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch, spoken by 281,675 people. Actually close to 400,000 if you define it broader. The linguistic tree looks something like this:

Indo-European -> Germanic -> West Germanic -> High German -> West Central German -> Pennsylvania German.

The actual PADutch word for their own language is Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, although some Mennonites speakers actually speak, Plautdietsch or Low German. It is also similar to Alemannic German a dialect on the Rhine and even Switzerland.

Mennonites girls conversation
You see plain people related to the Amish everywhere and can strike up a conversation if you know some of their phrases

Palatinate German which is spoken by 2.4 million South West Germans in Europe is linguistically related to the Amish language and they are mutually understandable, but at times challenging. A lot of people forget that, Europe is all about dialects, like American is about regional accents.

Of course it is not really directly related to Dutch, rather it is a folk rendering of the German endonym ‘Deitsch’ which of course sounds like Deutsch, which is the modern German word for their own people. You can see how the word changed historically in English once it got into American English-speaking conversations through the years.

The Amish language has evolved over 300 years in America. There are even regional variations between the Ohio and Lancaster county speakers.

Amish on vacation
There is even a community in Sarasota, Florida.

How does PA Dutch sound like?

It sounds l German English. When listening the English speaker can almost understand it without any knowledge if spoken in a plain context.

You can listen here: the sound of Pennsylvania Dutch

When the Amish speak English they have a ‘Dutchfied’ accent and sometimes hard to understand if you are not accustomed to this accent. I think it sounds quite nice.

Hutterite speakers
You can use meeting and greeting phrases in the market when transacting and you might even get some leverage but more important rapport.

Amish immigration waves and vocabulary

The Amish came in two waves. The 17th and early 18th century and the middle of the 19th century.

Both groups came from Southern Germany, Eastern France and Switzerland. However, the timing of the immigration is key.

The first wave settled in Pennsylvania. The second wave settled in Ohio and Indiana. The difference is the second wave came with German vocabulary rich in industrial and technology words. While the first wave that settle in Pennsylvania use load words in English to describe things like electricity and telephone. Therefore you have a divergence in the Amish lexicon in America.

The Written language

Not really a written language but people do write it. There is actually an Amish publisher called Pathway Publishing Company and bulletin newspapers.

The IPA or the International Phonetic Alphabet is useless. I taught languages for years and never used it once. It is archaic and for academics and only adds to the confusion. Better is simply get an mp3 of the words. Phonetically Pennsylvania Dutch is like English and you can sound out the words. This is because one thousand years ago Old German and Old English were basically the same language. I know this is a simplification but English is a Germanic language.

What does Pennsylvania German grammar look like?

There are four cases where nouns and pronouns change. If you do not know what a case is (because they are not prevalent in English) consider this example. ‘She’ is my girlfriend. I date ‘her’. Note how the pronoun ‘she’ changes to ‘her’ because it changes the context or case which it is use. In this sentence it chances from the nominative to the accusative.

Well in a case base language all nouns and pronouns could take different forms. However, these changes, like in German are pretty regular.

One importance I would underline in Pennsylvania German is the robust grammar around plurals.

What if you spoke Amish

Can you imagine the surprise of an Amish person if an Englisher starts to speak Pennsylvania Dutch in the market. I experienced this when I was in Poland and would start to speak Polish on the street to people. Since few foreigners spoke their language I was welcomed and seen as maybe not one of them but accepted in a positive different way.

If you spoke even a few words and phrases of the Amish language, then you would have  a rapport and insight into their culture beyond an average tourist to Amishland.

Why learn the Amish language?

You could use the language:

  •     In the market or in a local Amish shop.
  •     At the Inn in Amishland.
  •     A cordial rapport when, for example talking about the weather.
  •     If you are reading Amish fiction and the author sprinkles in these Pennsylvania Dutch words.
  •     To exercises your brain in a unique way, better than crossword puzzles or Sudoku.
  •     Confidence builder, even if you are not good with languages there are so many free vocabulary words because of its proximity to English, you will make progress.
  •     Practically you could go to Germany and use it with Millions in parts where there is dialect similarity. Perhaps you might sound to the Germans or Swiss, like a you were speaking in an old fashion way, like Shakespearean English, would sound to us, but you could be understood. I think it would be marvelous.
  •     If you wanted to write a letter to an Amish person for a rapport (although it is primarily a spoken language)..
  •     If you wanted to take on a more serious interest in Amish ways.
  •     If you have ever thought of joining the Amish.
  •     For the pleasure of it.

There are other reasons, but I personally and trying to learn a little. It is an interesting part of our culture and I am a native of Pennsylvania.

Etymology of the word Amish

The Amish come from the Anabaptist movement, which ‘means to be baptized again’. And Amish come from Jakob Ammann a Swiss brethren Mennonite leader.

Is the Amish language is becoming diluted away?
On one hand, the Amish community is the fastest growing subculture in the Americas. On the other hand, it is being diluted with English with younger generation. Bilingualism is the norm. The good news is it is not and endanger language, rather it is evolving. With the sparse use of technology you have a unique linguistic laboratory.

External linguistic Amish resources

  • Erik Wesner is an expert on the Amish..  Erik even has a real live Amish man sometimes answering questions, I think he has a computer hidden in his barn or something, really. Go here Pennsylvania Dutch in Amish land.

Let me know if you need more information on the language and I will be creating an MP3 program soon that teaches it and it will be professional.

117 Replies to “Language of the Amish – Speak Pennsylvania Dutch”

  1. Softer than German, little like Jewish, short words. Interesting.

  2. The amish language is a beautiful lnaguage. My family is amish and I know bits and pieces of it. It is so easy to catch on to and understand.

  3. I want to learn Amish can I? Which is the eastiest way? I do not know any Amish. I want to become Amish if possible. Do Amish still let teens have an running wild teen year? I would go to live with Amish and have a English running wild teen year. I’m 14. Gut.(I know just two words they speak gut for good and jah for yeah or yes.)

  4. I grew up in Southern Germany and I could understand quite a lot of what the Amish lady was talking about in the listening sample. It’s more German than Dutch so why is it called Pennsylvania Dutch? It’s a very interesting language with a very interesting history.

  5. @ Kerstin: Your right it is closer to German than Dutch; however, the confusion started when English speakers started to say ‘Deutsch’, which means German of course in German, and to English speakers it was transformed to the word ‘Dutch’. My friend Eric is one of the world experts on the Amish and his site is above.

  6. I am doing a book report on a book written by Beverly Lewis called The Parting. So far it is really good. I know some PA dutch and can understand it for the most part. I love learning about their culture!!!: )

  7. @Bridget I have not herd of any Amish language CDs. However, I am sure there are some Amish language resources. And I teach languages, its very hard sometimes for a husband or wife to teach their other half a language, for various reasons. However, I was thinking of making one. I think if you can use a digital recorder, record and learn about 2000 Amish words. Or even just make flashcards, a low tech but effective way.

  8. Is there a CD or tape to learn Pa Dutch. My husband is Pa. Dutch and can speak but, I would like to learn. He is not a good teacher.

  9. I just started dating a man who grew up Amish. He and his cusion are always speaking in the Amish language and won’t tell anyone what they are saying. I would like to learn so I can suprise them and just jump in the conversation! Can you help me? Thanks a million!

  10. The Lancaster County Mennonite Historical Society has PA Dutch Language Books and tapes. Unfortunately, they do not accept mail orders. Their library and bookstore are located on Route 30 east of Lancaster.

    By the way, the term Pennsylvania Dutch comes from the term that was used by the English colonial government of Pennsylvania in the 1700s, not the fact that they spoke Deitsch. The English divided the inhabitants of the Rhein into two categories – the low Dutch (primarily today’s Hollanders) and the high Dutch (primarily the Germans of today.) Germany didn’t exist in the 1700s – it was a collection of over 400 independent states of various sizes – and the English used the term “high Dutch” to describe this collection of states.

  11. i would like to learn how to speak pa dutch, i have friends who are amish and would like to beable to speak in pa dutch when i talk to them although they speak english well i would like to learn how to have a conversation with them in pa dutch

  12. my question was is there a book or something out there to help you learn i have picked up a few words listening to them talk and asking questions but i want to learn more.

  13. I also would like to learn amish. I will move to amish country soon, and would like to understand what they say.

  14. I have many people interested in the Amish language. I have though of creating a program for the Amish language like I am doing with other languages, either a visual association software program or and mp3 language program. I am doing both with other languages, so the code and structure could be adapted to Amish. But this is just a far off dream at this juncture. What you need to do is get a word list. Maybe the 2-3 thousand most common words and the most important 300 verbs as verbs are the soul of any language. And you need to learn your first thousand or so words in Amish like I did with the Polish language. Then things will get easy as you can understand and piece things together, even with little grammar. Do it the Amish way, with flashcards or translating the bible. There is an Amish family in Poland that learned Polish mostly with the bible. Its a universally available book with all the words you will ever need to function in the world, except words like palmtop or cell phone, but I do not think you will find too many of those things in Amish land anyway.

  15. I lived in germany for a few years and I’ve always found dutch verry simmilar to german and seem to understand the gist of a conversation in duch.
    I think if you learned duch you would have a reasonable understanding of Amish.

  16. @Brad I have thought of creating a program for Amish but until that far flung time I would recommend start with flashcards or an Amish Bible. Many people have learned languages with the Bible when there was nothing else available. In fact there is an Amish family here in Poland and they learned Polish this way.

  17. I would like to learn amish but i am i suppost to do that if i have no clue where to find a book or cd or whatever?

  18. I am originally from Rüdesheim, Germany. I have heard “Pennsylvania Dutch” and i have been able to understand it, it’s just got a strange pronunciation. I also speak fluent Dutch, and “Pennsylvania Dutch” is more German than Dutch. I think it’s an interesting dialect, and i too would love to learn it =)

    Gruß/Groetje
    James

  19. @ James Your right the Amish language is more German than Dutch, its because the Americans originally confused “Deutsch” with Dutch so “Pennsylvania Dutch” is more a German language.

  20. @John Thank you for the reply. You have a point. That is one theory about the origin of Amish language. But consider John Hostetler Hostetler, (1993), Amish Society, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, p. 241(1993) he gives the origin of “Dutch” as a corruption or a “folk-rendering” of the term “Deitsch”. So there are theories not facts about this. But basically the Amish were and are speakers of Pennsylvania German and are Germans. It is a German language. About language learning with Flashcards. I used this method mostly to learn Polish which is 10 times harder than German. I think every method is good when you are involved in it. But flashcards are one of the best because it is systematic, gives feedback, tests and retests your memory as most memory problems are recall not storage. There are many ways to learn a language. You have to find what works for you. I have taught languages for years in Europe and flashcards work.

  21. Mark Biernat: I rarely respond to open threads on the internet, but cannot simply let this fly. No no no… PA Dutch is not from “Deutsch” — not only was there no “Deutsch” or “Deutschland” at the time the immigrants came over, but “Dutch” was the common word for anyone coming from middle Europe in the 18th century. Check out the FIRST entry in the Oxford English Dictionary under “Dutch”.

    The language is not more German than Dutch, as it pre-dates what we would consider a modern, standard German language.

    Also, there are many many resources for learning PA Dutch. The Lancaster County Mennonite Historical Society has some, but so does Masthof Publishing As a language teacher and researcher, I highly doubt the effectiveness of simply using flashcards.

  22. John, I will have to consult an expert on the Amish I know, he runs this blog amishamerica.com I will let you know what he says, he is very objective.

    1. I have been living in Pennsylvania for two years. my husband and I have ran into a lot of Amish people and they are friendly. towards us. I want to learn more Pennsylvania Dutch Language. do you have any questions feel free to ask.

      1. Hi Melissa,

        I’m not Amish but I am Pennsylvania Dutch and many family members of my grandparents’ generation spoke the language (much to my dad’s chagrin, who when he was growing up said he wished they’d speak English!) and that’s why I’m learning it. My grandmother could speak it too. For me it isn’t too hard because I already know German and have lived in Germany and been exposed to the Frankish dialect. Although Frankish is closer to the Bavarian dialects there are still a lot of similarities, like the term “Sau” to refer to a pig in general (not just a female one) rather than the standard German term “Schwein”. Fellow Pennsylvanian Doug Madenford has prepared a lot of helpful material and in his videos he speaks very clearly. His PA Dutch blog is Nau loss mich yuscht eppes saage! and has lots of links as well.

  23. Mark, thanks for the reply. Remember, though, that Hostetler was a sociologist / anthropologist and NOT a linguist. Refer to the work of Lois Huffines and Mark Louden for more clearer pictures on the languages of the Anabaptists. Also, Hostetler’s point is actually pointed out as incorrect in the critical collection of essays written by him — “Writing the Amish: The Worlds of John Hostetler” edited by David Weaver-Zercher (2005: footnote i. on page 194).

  24. I’m Dutch, lived most of my life in the Netherlands and am also fluent in German. Listening to the fragment of the female speaker interviewed by Wolfgang W. Moelleken I must say that there is a lot of resemblance with the German language. Since the German and Dutch languages are related it is obvious that Amish language will resemble the Dutch language a very little bit, but when I hear this fragment there’s not one Dutch word in it and – say – 90 per cent of present day German.
    Hartelijke groeten (Dutch), herzliche Gruesse (German) Jeroen

  25. I’m so amazed that my reaction doesn’t show – was it an inconvenient truth to the webmaster ?
    Jeroen

  26. I’m really sorry about the latter comment: in the meantime it shows and I’m so curious to know what linguists have to say. I think that in order to judge influences you have to know both Dutch and German (yes, Deutsch !) very well . Is it possible that the Amish language isn’t just one language and that local influences of Dutch or German may vary ? Of is the audio fragment really rerpresentative of all spoken Amish ?
    Jeroen

  27. John My friend writes: He (that is you john) may have a point on the central Euro immigrants at the time all being called Dutch, but Nolt, who wrote what has been considered the definitive Amish history (A History of the Amish p 72) here only mentions Germans:

    ‘While some Germans who rode this immigrant wave had no religious affiliation, the vast majority were Lutheran or Reformed, with smaller numbers of Catholics, Moravians, and various Pietist and Anabaptist groups. English onlookers quickly labeled all these German newcomers “Pennsylvania Dutch”

    “These Pennsylvania Dutch (or Pennsylvania German) settlers soon developed a common dialect-also known as Pennsylvania Dutch-which along with their other customs…”

    Note on the same page also talks about ‘70,000 German-speaking immigrants came through the port of Philadelphia’

    the Amish themselves nowadays call their language ‘Deitsch’. Kraybill and Nolt I believe more commonly refer to the language as ‘Pennsylvania German’ So is it German or isn’t it? Was the term Dutch as used by people naming the newcomers ‘Dutch’ meant to refer to them as ‘Dutch’ as in people from Holland? Or was it their corruption of Deutsch that became the name of the people, and then the dialect? I dunno. Whatever it is, I think it’s safe to say that the dialect is more German than anything else.

    As for the term Pennsylvania ‘Dutch’ being a corruption of Deitsch, if that idea has been definitively proven wrong, it is still being propagated to some degree by scholars even in recent times, including in Messiah College professor Richard A. Stevick in 2007’s Growing up Amish: The Teenage Years, where he refers to it in the text: ‘All wear plain clothes…and speak in ‘Dutch’; and in the footnotes connected to the word ‘Dutch’ thus: ‘Dutch’ is a corruption of the word Deutsch, the German word for German. Their spoken dialect should actually be called Pennsylvania German’

    So Stevick also seems to favor PA German rather than PA Dutch, but he seems to give the same explanation for the word Dutch being a corruption of Deutsch.

    Stevick however is a psychology prof and not a linguist.

  28. futher… just spoke with Stephen Scott here at the center, he is a researcher who has written about 5 books on the Amish. He says there is some controversy over the origin. He showed me a religious book from 1756 here at the center that prominently uses the words ‘High Dutch’ on the title page and he said that they definitely mean High German. I don’t know how that fits in with the discussion. He also mentioned an article where it was discussed, called Rainbow I believe, a Pennsylvania German society publication. I am not totally familiar with it. But it sounds like there is some controversy surrounding it from what Steve said and I simply don’t know if that has been put to rest.

  29. Please reference the work of Louden — the foremost expert on PA Dutch language and Germanic linguist at UW-Madison:

  30. John, Again thanks for your comments but you wrote “The language is not more German than Dutch”.

    However, I still think it is more German than Dutch…”So Stevick also seems to favor PA German rather than PA Dutch, but he seems to give the same explanation for the word Dutch being a corruption of Deutsch.
    The reference above is one man’s view in, if you have read my above posts there is no exact agreement with all the experts.

  31. thanks Mark for your thorough research… I’m afraid some confusion may have entered the argument, though. I am not claiming that PA Dutch is closer to Dutch than German and I am not claiming that the immigrants were from the Netherlands.

    That PA Dutch is a German-related language is NOT disputed… of course it’s a language formed from a levelling of several southwestern GERMAN dialects in colonial America in the 18th century. It has many characteristics of those dialects including diminutive formation, lack of front rounded vowels, etc.

    The origin of the word “Dutch” to apply to these people and their language is clear to me — from the original usage of the word “Dutch” — I’m afraid that plenty have been subjugated to the touristy publications attempting to make sense of the PA Dutch vs. PA German confusion.

    many thanks again.

  32. right… but that’s not where my comment stops. I am referring to the idea that it’s somehow a “German dialect” — PA Dutch predates any notion of a “Standard German” in the modern usage. A comparison between the Standard German or Standard Dutch just seems fruitless… as the language has developed in a different direction from standard German.

  33. @John White, again great comment on the Amish language, I am going to have to go back and research this some more. I personally have thought of extending my software to include the Amish language, and if I ever did I would have to do I would have to do a greater etymology of the Amish language, as I am doing with Slavic languages. Your comments are great.

  34. my dads ,dad grew up amish and he got out of the tradition at 18 and he has over 1/2 of the population in iowa that are amish and i am related but the never talk to us because they do not consider us our are family amish any more and they fell they have no reason to either.

  35. I grew up in a part of Germany that is called Saarland. The Amish speak mostly like we do. It is a dialect nobody else in Germany really understands, mostly the people who grew up there or lived there for a long time. My grandparents sounded even more like the amish, just without the english influence naturally. Since then our dialect has changed somewhat. It is fun for me to go there, because it is the only opportunity for me to hear the language I grew up with outside of my home. My husband and I still speak our dialect.

  36. I think there is a lot that can be learned through the Amish and their way of living; which is why I would like to live with an Amish family for four months. Would I be welcomed into their culture? How could I go about this, if it is even possible? Any recommendations?

    1. You want to go to Amish land. I would recommend it. I would write the the Author of this blog. He is a friend of mine and has spend a lot of time in Amish land and writing a book on the Amish.

  37. Are there different amish dialects? In other words can a amish person from WI converse without any problem with one from PA?

    1. Yes there are different Amish language accents but I do not think Amish language dialects. All Amish can understand each other. That is a good question.

  38. When i grow a little older i want to become Amish. It is possible to convert, and i willingly would. To convert is hard and it does not happen much but it has been done. I want to join around the time of my Numschspring ( i think that is how you spell it) my running around years. i really dont like technology, and i think dresses are better than jeans

    1. I think yes. And my friend has an Amish blog and even has an ask an Amish man post if you want to ask an Amish person directly. -> amishamerica.com

  39. Hello,Here are some Amish phrases: ‘webishstew’ means how are you in Amish , ‘aot-ly-goot’ ,means good and you .

  40. we-bish-stew , flok-stey, bolly fra , coum de riva de no bit , aot-lygoot , footz , dami-oshla thats some good and bad amish words its for you to find out what ones are good and what ones are bad

  41. PG does vary by region and even from county to county. Not a problem for
    native speakers, but could be challenging for students as we are. Prior to the
    mid 19th century it was only a spoken language. Because of this many old order
    speakers have never seen their mother tongue in written form. Even though
    there is a rich cultural heritage on paper if one is willing to seek it out. One of my
    favorites:

    Die Maeri hot en lemmel ghatt,
    Sei woll waar weiss wie schnee,
    Un wu die Maeri heigange iss
    Des lamm waar schuur zu geh
    Es iss emol mit noch der schul
    Sei gschpichde datt zu mache
    Noh hen die kinner in der schul
    Aafange laut zu lache

    The language is obfuscated with a rich heritage of english loan words which make
    it easy for an english speaker to study once they get pronunciation down. Words
    such as meishtah (master) or a personal favorite; feiya-shtekka (torch)

    Because it was only a spoken language there has evolved two written forms. One
    is based on german pronunciation rules and one is english phonetic. Both seem
    to be holding their own, mainly because the Bible League published Es Nei Teshtament using english phonetic rules.

    Unsah Faddah im Himmel, dei nohma loss heilich sei. Dei Reich loss kumma. Dei villa loss gedu sei, uf di eaht vi im Himmel. Unsah tayklich broht gebb uns heit. Un fagebb unsah shulda, vi miah dee fagevva vo uns shuldich sinn. Un fiah uns naett in di fasuchung, avvah hald uns fu’m eevila. Fa dei is es Reich, di graft, un di hallichkeit in ayvichkeit. Amen. Mattheus 6:9-13

    We are studying the language using both forms and two teachers. Alice Spayd
    from Lebonon PA teaches PG classes and has a high german pronuciation. Anna Dee Olson, former amish from Missouri has a distinctly different pronunciation.
    The former would pronounce zwei like english “die” the later would pronounce the zwei like “day”

  42. This discussion is all very interesting. I grew up Amish in Lancaster County PA then later lived in Germany for three years. I became fluent in speaking German largely because the root sounds were familiar to me. My observation is that “PA Dutch” consists of four things; German spoken in German, English spoken in English, German words (spellings) spoken in English, and English words (spellings) spoken in German. Perhaps there is a scholarly name for all that but I prefer to keep it simple. The most fun I can have is to see the look on an Amish childs face when someone who looks “English” speaks “Dutch” to them. Priceless!!

  43. LILO: don’t bother to learn amish – they won’t use it when speaking to foreigners. my mother tongue being lower alemannic i understood every word. but they kept answering to me in english.

  44. this is quite a lively discussion. I grew up hearing Pa. Dutch spoken by my grandmother and her brother in S.E. Pa. (upperMontgomery County). I’m 56 now. We were discouraged from speaking it. I would like to refer the interested to Richard Druckenbrod and his columns in Pa. Dutch that appeared for many years in the Allentown Pa. paper, The Morning Call, where I worked for many years. He was not Amish but United Church of Christ and a minister. He made the distinction between the Fancy Dutch (Lutherans and UCC and some Schwenkfelders) and Plain Dutch (Mennonites, Brethren, and Amish of various orders.) The Amish people I knew in Berks and Lancaster counties had a language much influenced by the Swiss area from which they came with even a little Alsatian mixed in. The Fancy Dutch Pa. Dutch was much more corrupted German/English. It actually sounded different in the Allentown area (where it could be still heard being spoken on public buses in the 1970s when I was in college) than where I grew up. Pa. Dutch was banned from being spoken and taught in public schools during my mother’s generation.

  45. My family and I are in the process of joining the Amish church. (Don’t ask why I am posting a message on an Internet board…it’s complicated.) As such, we are learning PA German. I learned hoch-Deutsch from my grand parents when I was young.

    It’s clear how there are some general rules of thumb on how PA Dutch evolved in comparison to modern German. The hardening of the “t” and “g” sounds in PA Dutch; e.g. the modern German “tag” (tahk) = “dawg” or “daag” in PA German. As previously pointed out, PA German is not a written language so there are variations in spelling that approximate the sounds. The Buffington-Barba method is commonly used for transliteration of the dialect.

    However, I have to agree with John White on the futility of comparing PA Dutch/German with modern day Germanic languages from their originating countries. (Even Nederlander Dutch evolved from “German” going WAY back.)

    The Mennonites and Amish immigrated here back in the 1700s from the Palatinate Region. From that point forward, PA Dutch and modern German in that region of Europe emerged as completely separate languages. PA German adopted “American” English words as time went on, etc.

    For that matter, look at dialects in general. German spoken in Strasbourg is just as different from German spoken in Berlin as American English spoken in Maine is from American English spoken in Louisiana.

    Look at British English compared to American English. There is another apt comparison. Once the colonist came to America, the languages began following divergent paths. Put someone from Venice Beach, California in the room with someone from Whitechapel, England and they would probably have some difficulty communicating even though they are both speaking “English”.

    1. Soon to be Amish, thank you very much for the comment, I think you are a much better position to comment on the language of the Amish than I. Also remember to check out my friend’s site AmishAmerica he is writing some books on the Amish (is site is under construction).

  46. My wife & I are having a disscussion about an old verbage I remember to be Pa Dutch/Amisk, “THROW PAPA DOWN THE STAIRS HIS HAT”. Meaning Throw Papa’s hat down the stairs”.
    Our discussion has to do with its origin.
    I recall seeing this on novelty wall hangings in the Pa Amish country back in the late 50″s & early 60’s.
    Can some one help solve the discussion??

  47. I am no expert. My wife and I just picked up the Alice Spayd PA German (PG) disks from the Mennonite Historical Society in Lancaster as well as the workbook for the class that is starting on September 17th. I listen to it each morning on the way in to work. I am starting to be able to follow the conversations here:
    csumc.wisc.edu/AmericanLanguages/search_clip_type.php?clip_type=PennDutch

    Funny thing is, there is one clip where the interviewer is German and he is asking the other man questions in hoch-Deutsch (HD). The man is answering in HD also. I can understand that perfectly. But the PG is still a bit difficult. Most of it has to do with pronunciation. Like “Don” above was saying, even within the PG dialect there is a wide range of variation in pronunciation (The “die” vs. “day” sounds.)

    From the sound clips at that link above, listen to how many English words the Amish lady from Nappannee throws into the conversation “seventy seven to seventy nine”, “supposed to”, “five through eight”, “Devotions”, “Reading”, “Writing”, “History” (note her pronunciation of “History”), etc.

    This article and the ensuing discussion has been great. I think you made some great points, Mark. I am a big fan of flash cards. In fact I have been working on several PA German flashcard decks for iFlipr (an iPhone flashcard program: iflipr.com). I am a bit hung-up on some of the verb conjugations. The nouns are “done” meaning there is a set of 231 words with their articles and plural endings. Look for “PA German – Nouns”. Some have pictures. Most do not. I will share the verbs deck when I sort-out the conjugations.

    Reading the Bible is another good suggestion. Although, the Amish actually use Die Heillige Schrift and Ausbund, both of which are in HD. It would be REALLY helpful if someone wrote a Rosetta Stone module for PG.

  48. So, for those who are interested, I added three flashcard decks to iFlipr.com:

    PA German – Nouns
    PA German – Verbs
    PA German – Verbs (with conjugations)

    These have 232, 95, and 43 cards respectively. Someone needs to verify my work to ensure proper conjugations, articles, etc. As time permits, I will post other parts of speech (Adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.)

    Machst gut!

    1. You are correct that Jewish people speak Hebrew. There is no language called “Jewish.” Jewish people also speak a dialect they call “Yiddish.” It actually sounds like the “Pennsylvania Dutch” language and if you can understand one, then you can also understand the other one. The Amish/Mennonites and Jewish people lived in Europe in close proximity and they really spoke the same dialect to converse.

      1. I think PA Dutch and Yiddish do have a lot in common. I have a phrase a day Yiddish calendar and the phrases are written out phonetically and I can understand most of them, even sometimes figure out the words of Hebrew or non-German origin from the context. Although Yiddish is generally written in Hebrew letters, I imagine that as far as the spoken language goes, if they both speak slowly and clearly that a Yiddish speaker and a PA Dutch (or other German dialect) speaker could communicate.

  49. I am 14…I am not Amish, but i am willing to see what it is like to be or become Amish. I read a book and its called Summer Hill secrets. I forgot who it is by, but its a wonderful book! About a young 15 year old girl who is growing up in the Amish Community. Her neighbors, The Zook Family are Amish. I read it and i loved it! I went down to southern IL and i went through the Amish commuinty. Tell ya the truth, I like there way of life. Somtimes, i think it is better to live the life as “plain people” Is it possible for a 14 year old girl to become Amish? Even if her parents arent? Or when i am older, will i beable to marry into the Amish church? all of the questions i have with hardly any answers..i need help!

    1. Katie, Amish life is great. I think it is an ideal in some ways. However, when I was young I wanted to be a Trappist monk (basically). Now I have a family and moved to Europe and very happy. If you really do have a calling to this, my friend is an author on a couple of Amish books (coming out) and really one of the experts in the world on the Amish. He is fact has or had a post about ‘ask an Amish man’, where you can ask an Amish guy directly questions. amishamerica.com He is rebuilding his site, so it might be a mess now, but contact him via e-mail or blog his name is Erik Wesner.

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