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.
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
- The Amish language is used at home and day-to-day life.
- In church they use Hochdeitsch or high German.
- While the English language is taught for business purposes and to interact with outsiders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
120 thoughts on “Language of the Amish – Speak Pennsylvania Dutch”
The Amish definitely speak the language differently that the non-Anabaptist Pennsylvania Dutch, but I do understand it. It is interesting to see how English words enter the tongue and get “dutchified.”
I will be doing a paper on how the English “happen” replaced its Teutonic equivalents, “gschehna” and “bassiera” in Pennsylvania German.
A study of the Pennsylvania Dutch is not complete without mentioning the role of religion. I have yet to meet kinder, gentler folks than the Amish and Mennonites.
Their method of maintaining the language, that is, talking nothing but it to the kids till first grade, is very wise and successful. Thus it becomes the beloved Muttersprache that they will never forget.
I would like to learn the Amish language, Do you have any suggestions on this? I have a dear Amish friend but she lives about 5 hours away so that is really not an option. Any other ideas? Thank you so much for any help you can give. Moni
My grandparents were Pennsylvania Dutch speaking, although not Amish. In the past a lot of non-Amish people spoke the language too. I am learning it myself, and I’ll admit that since I speak “standard” German it isn’t that hard. I’d say the differences between PA Dutch and standard German are about like those between standard English and Scottish English, although like any regional language, PA Dutch has a lot of English words esp. for things uniquely American and many everyday expressions like “of course”, “for sure”, etc. are used as well. A good source might be the PA Dutch newspaper Hiwwe wie Driwwe. If you google it, you’ll find it. It has a section called “Alle saade Waade” which tells stories line by line in PA Dutch and English and that can be a good way to start. I guess you’d more correctly call PA Dutch a dialect (of German) rather than an actual language because it is intelligible to speakers of standard German (if they speak slowly) esp. those from Rhineland-Pfalz and it even has similarities with other southern German dialects. Hiwwe wie Driwwe on its online site also has mini-lessons in the dialect as well. Hiwwe wie Driwwe translates to “over here like over there” and recalls the close ties between the PA Dutch and Rhineland-Pfalz dialects. Most of the ancestors of the PA Dutch came from Rhineland-Pfalz.
Thank you Moni for telling of that newspaper, I have very good Amish friends in Middlebury In. And they really like me taking an interest in their culture. My dream is to move out there soon.
The book costs $2.95 and it’s called the Amish language for the English.
I’ve also learned “guudguckich” (good-looking) and “Siessherz” (sweetheart), both “dutchified” English expressions. And perhaps the most famous of all, “Grundsow” or “Grundsau”, groundhog. The PA Dutch apparently invented Groundhog Day, although I think that back in Rheinland-Pfalz it was a badger rather than a groundhog. We don’t have badgers in PA but there are tons of groundhogs, so a groundhog was a logical choice. They do have groundhogs (Murmeltiere) in other German-speaking regions, though, but perhaps not in Rheinland-Pfalz. I’ve heard the expression “ich hab wie ein Murmeltier gepennt” (I slept like a log, literally “like a groundhog”), so I guess groundhogs are known more for sleeping than for seeing their shadows and predicting spring in the parts of the German-speaking world where they do have them.
How similar is the language of the Amish to Afrikaans? are they mutually understandable?
I will ask my resident Amish expert today, but I think they are like English and Dutch. Close but no cigar.
I don’t have a fluent knowledge of Afrikaans but I can understand the Amish dialogue from “Witness” and also bit of border dialects like Alsatian and some Swiss German.
what are Amish Words
Date of Death
Date of Marriage
Danki means thank you.
1. Dad in PA Dutch = Dawdie however most Amish reserve Dawdie for Grandfather and just say Datt for Dad
2. Children in PA Dutch = Kinnah (a child is a kind)
3. Marriage in PA Dutch = hochtzich
4. Date of Death in PA Dutch = we wouldn’t say this, we would say day in place of date as follows: dawk vunn doht, avvah sei starvah dawk for his death date/day
5. Date of Marriage = here again German would be used for recording this date, however if translating into PA Dutch one may say it as follows: die hochtzich dawk which means the marriage day
6. Parents in PA Dutch = Eldra
7. Grandparents in PA Dutch = Gross Eldra but the Amish use the term Dawdiss for grandparents
8. thank you in PA Dutch depends on the usage of the person, family, region Etc. however most Amish except for the Swiss Amish will say something that sounds like Dengyay (deng-yay)
What is the difference in the Swiss Amish language. You indicate a difference, so I am curious. My decendants are from Switzerland and settled in the Bainbridge, PA area.
Please don’t make the mistake to call the language “Dutch” as it is not: Dutch means: from the Netherlands or the language, spoken in the Netherlands.
It is “Deutsch” which mean: from Deutschland (or Germany) or the language, spoken in Germany.
The language is known by the Amish & all who speak it on the North American Continent as Dutch. To say that this is incorrect indicates little first hand knowledge or contact with the actual native speakers of the language. The educated technical term is however Pennsylvania Dutch or German depending on who you are speaking to. In Dutch this would be said as: Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch.
You are correct that it is not the same as the Dutch language spoken in the Netherlands “Holland”, the reason for this is that their tongue is from what is considered low German while our Dutch comes from High German.
The web-links page at http://www.plainnewlife.org has many good links that deal with the languages spoken by the Amish
I think that is correct. My grandfather was Dutch and my Grandmother was Mennonite from Switzerland and later Alsace after they were run out of Switzerland. Grandmother spoke low German and grandfather spoke high German. One thing I remember about my Gramma (my Grandfather died before I was born) was that she never ever spoke an ill word about anyone ever during her life. She was the lovliest person I ever knew. She read her Bible every day. When my Father teased her about her boyfriend “Whirley” when she was 88 years old I remember her laughing so hard at that. When she died in 1969 we all cried so hard because we knew a saint had passed. People are just not like that anymore.
Maybe I got it backwards I can’t remember now but one spoke low and one spoke high!
To mention Afrikaans in relation to Amish:
Afrikaans is from origine a language from the Dutch (from The Netherlands) and not from the Germans (Deutsch) so it has some similar or almost similar words but is different again just as the language in the Netherlands is different from the language in Germany.
I know how it is to be Amish i live around them. my grandma drives them around.
I am becoming amish in one year and I need to learn that language fast.
It is really a spoken language more than a written language and that is the problem with learning the Amish language. That is the bad news, the good news is it is no harder than German. It has nice grammatical structure and logic. It is similar to English in that both English and Amish are Germanic languages so it will not be hard to learn. Maybe a year or two in the community.
While English and German are both Germanic, about 60 % of English words today are actually French. But not the same with German. And older English is made up of very simple words which German is not. English became a very sophisticated Germanic language with the French influence. Amish don’t use these Latin words as we do in English. Our English language lost a lot of its originality and is not like German much at all today either. German is much more sophisticated than older English.
It is called The Amish language for the English. I mailed for it, It has over 500 of the most commonly used words in the Amish language,also phrases,counting and telling time. I don’t know if I can post it leagaly, but u can contact me.
I am so sorry, just found your blog/forum last week. So I am sorry for the late response to this issue.
As I am originally german, I read about the Pennsylvennia people or Amish-People. What I could find out is, the german part of their language sounds like that slang which is spoken in an area called “Phälzer Wald”. Here is the wikipedia explication about this very beautiful area:
If you hobby is wandering in lots of woods with lonesome little sources (hand in hand with a lovely girl) or if you want to see some relicts from the WWII deep in the woods, this is your place. It is situated in the South-West of Germany, the french border is next to it and bigger cities are Ludwigshafen.
I think, I would understand the Amish without any problem. But if you learned german in the school, you might have a problem to talk to them if they don’t talk in english. Like I said, they are using a slang, not the proper German we do speak.
I don’t agree so much with the Amish’s way of life, which seems to be very traditional and sticking on a level we lived in the 19th century. But ok, everyone should become happy with its own cup of tea…
@Soon To Be Amish
>>>PA German – Nouns
PA German – Verbs
PA German – Verbs (with conjugations)
I see this set of cards that you did up. Is there any way to get audio with them?
Is there are way to have them sound the words.
They’re the nicest, period. Softspoken, well mannered and very proud people they are. God bless these ladies.
There’s nothing thats really “peculiar” about the Amish language, it’s simply an old dialect that was spoken in Germany in the 1800s and was brought with the Amish when they settled here. It’s also interesting to note that even though Dutch settlers were mixed among them (among Swiss and others), the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” over the years became a corruption of the original term which was “Pennsylvania Deutsch”.
Indeed Pennsylvania Dutch is German and not Dutch (Netherlands). I would say by way of comparison that Dutch and German are about as similar to one another as Spanish and Portuguese are to each other. In other words if you know one you will probably be able to read a lot of things in the other but not understand the spoken language. Someone who knows it please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Afrikaans evolved in South Africa from the Dutch colonists (Boers, Voortrekkers) and by isolation from the Netherlands over time became standardized as a separate language. I think someone from the Netherlands and someone from South Africa who speaks Afrikaans can communicate, but probably have to speak slowly. And if you know German you can figure out a lot of written words and phrases in Afrikaans like you can in Dutch.
In one of the many Amish-related books I’ve read, in the past 4+ years, I came across a lovely expression meaning, “So willingly done.” If I could remember which book that was in, or which author wrote it, I would be talking to my Kindle, right now. Are you familiar with such an expression?
Also, while many of the books include a glossary, none includes any clues as to pronunciation. Is “Daed” pronounced like our “Dad”? There are many expressions I would like to know, for sure, how to pronounce, so I could stop getting hung up on them, while I’m reading!
Vicki, I will have the answers to your question, but if you can not believe it for a few months, when I go to Amishland. So if you can be patient I will have the answer.
Mark, thank you, but I’m sure I can find it sooner than that, if I really want to find it badly enough! 🙂 I remember enough of the story that I’ll know it, when I find it. Thank you, though, and enjoy your trip to Amishland.
Mark, have you been to Amishland, yet? I don’t even remember when we had the exchange just above, but I wonder whether you have been, and what you learned.
The reason I thought “daed” might be pronounced like our “dad” is that I have some meager familiarity with the International Phonetic Alphabet, and it seems to me that the “ae” combination is that vowel sound in “dad.” That alphabet is my only clue to pronunciation, and I may be way off.
Vicki, your thinking about the proninciation of “daed” makes sense, but I still hope we can get a truly definitive answer. I am reading fascinating novels by Cindy Woodsmall and encounter the word daed often. It feel compelled to satisfy my curiosity about this word. Glad I found this site.
If I remember correctly, it’s like “Day’d”. I grew up speaking “Dumb Dutch” (as my father called it), and as soon as we started school age, we were banned from using it, unless we were on the farm.
Now that I live in the SW, far from home, with chil’ens of my own, I am hungering for a taste of the homeland. Glad to find websites dedicated to preserving my native tongue!
I have been thinking about learning a language for some time and as I live in very close proximity to some Amish families and have started to get to know a very nice amish blacksmith; I thought what better language to learn! We already have a common language in we both work with horses and he is very well spoken in English. I would still like to build even more of a rapport not only with him but also with more people in his community. I want to be as professional and as respectful to these polite and quiet group of people as I can and I thought the effort to learn would be a great way to start.
So I saw in the original post that you were working on a MP3/audio for learning this? I am more of a visual/audio person when learning then being able to pick things up from books…
Sorry if the link/information to find it is mixed in the posts adn I missed it.
Thanks for your time!
I am also hung up on the pronunciation of Daed which I encounter while reading. Is it like “dodd” or more like “dade”?
Please can someone help, I am looking for help with the translation for the following
if anyone could help: “you need not call the devil – he will come
without calling” I understand that Amish Dutch has
differences to Dutch I know so I really need a genuine real
translation if anyone could help me please?? Thank You
There is a large sports facility in the Lancaster area called Spooky Nook. I asked some of the “locals” what Spooky Nook meant/why that name and they mostly just laughed it off and said “it was the name of the road it was built on and as for the “real/slang meaning” I would have to look it up.”
I finally got someone to tell me that it was Amish Slang for an Amish woman’s private?
The first cartoon shows two Amish farmes speaking modern Dutch (Hoe gaat het? Dank u), i.e. the language spoken in the Netherlands. I doubt very much PA Dutch sounds like that as this variety did NOT originate in the Netherlands. Something along the lines of “Wie bischt du?” for “How are you?” is far more likely.
Excellent catch Maria, PA Dutch is different from Dutch of course, that was something my wife drew for fun. I am actually working on a program that will teach PA Dutch. I am doing the technical aspect and my friend Erik Wesner from Amish America is doing the Amish Aspect. It will be done with real native speakers.
Kannschte PA-Deitsch schwetze? Ich bin am lanne die Muddersprooch meiner Voreldere zu schwetze. Die Web-Poschts vun Hiwwe wie Driwwe un Doug Madenford un annere Leit uff Facebook duhn mir en latt helfe. Mei Grosseldere un annere Familiendeile seller Generation henn PA-Deitsch g’schwetzt awwer mein Dad cordial leider yuscht some Saetze g’lannt.
@Jack Speese: I know your question wasn’t directed at me, but I just wanted to say that this is really fascinating. My native language is German, and even though I’ve had very little exposure to dialects from the south-west of Germany, I can understand everything you wrote perfectly. I stumbled over “en latt”, though, which is presumably an Anglicism and means “a lot”, right? The only other word I didn’t understand was “seller” – does it perhaps mean something like “of the same” (Standard German: derselben)?
Thank you so much for your post! 🙂
“Sell” ist PA-Deutsch fuer “dieser/jener”, ich glaube, man sagt es auch in Tirol. Die Vorfahrer der PADeutschen kamen zwar ueberwiegend aus dem heutigen Rheinland-Pfalz aber auch aus anderen deutschsprachigen Gegenden (Meine Vorfahrer kamen zB mindestens teilweise aus der Schweiz), also ist PADeutsch eher aus einer Mischung mehrerer Dialekten entstanden, und natuerlich auch etwas Englisch wie “en latt” dabei, was “viel” bedeutet, wie Sie richtig erraten haben. Ich nehme an, Ihre Grosseltern haben einen Plattdeutschdialekt gesprochen, gell?
PS: Funnily enough, although my grandparents were Germans and lived in Germany, they spoke a language variety that is officially classified as a dialect of Dutch, i.e. the language spoken in the Netherlands, and not of German. They lived close to the border to the Netherlands in a kind of linguistic “transition zone” between Dutch and Low German. Like your father, my mother sadlly can’t speak this variety anymore. I really ought to take a leaf out of your book and start learning it one day! 🙂
If, for example, a pole is not exactly vertical, my dad will use the expression “it’s leaning toward funstance.” (And I don’t know the exact spelling of funstance.) He says it’s a PA Dutch word.
I googled this expression and found absolutely nothing. Does anyone know the meaning (or correct spelling) of this word?
This really is a fun sounding language! But I am studying it to use in the rites of my faith, URGLAAWE. Urglaawe means “original faith” and our focus is on the worship of the Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors. We honor Thor (Dunner) Odin (Woden) and Holle
as well as the other deities of the Germanic pantheon through the P.A. Deitsch lens.
Not proselytizing, I just thought that it would be of interest to all who are interested in the culture that we share, regardless of our respective faiths.
I don’t need to be told relating to a Christian religious group whose members settled in America chiefly in the 18th century and continue to live in a traditional way on farms.
Like saying what does Baptist mean? where did the word come from what did it mean? Is it a secret what Amish mean?
No secret. The word “Amish” derives from the name of their leader when the Amish originally became a distinct group within the Anabaptist movement. He was named Jakob Ammann.
The Wikipedia articles on “Amish” and on “Jacob Ammann” will tell you more.
I have many Amish friends who have children I want to learn to converse with prior to them going to school.
Well, Hoe gaat het? might be good Dutch, but it
is not Penn.Dutch, a German dialect. Amish would say”\:
Hi, Hello, Hallo, or even German: Wie geht’s, or Penn Dutch :
Wie bischt, even guta Dag ,,,but they don’t use Dutch….
Please correct, ya?
Thank You Means Danki
Dad Means Dat
Welcome Means Velkumm
I would like to learn a few words so I can communicate better when I volunteer at a dental clinic that serves Amish children. Like open, close, this will not hurt, etc. thanks!
The reason they call it Pennsylvania Dutch is because long ago Dutch was the designation for any Germanic language. If you look in old English dictionaries you will see this as one of the definitions. My family was Amish and we left when I was a young boy. The Amish dialect seems to keep absorbing more English so much so that many Amish can’t understand High German very well. Many of them can’t understand the Sunday sermons High German any more. That’s one of the reasons my parents left so the person who wrote this isn’t really correct when they say Amish are trilingual. Most of them aren’t any more.
There’s a lot of variety in all the communities and some are better than others.
“Hoe gaat het” is not Pennsylvania Germanl it is Netherlands Dutch or another dialect of Netherlands Dutch.
The correct Pennsylvania German would be, “Wie bischt du?” with the response of “Gut, Denki.”
My sister just got married. Her husband and his immediate family is not Amish any more but they do have cousins and such that are. They are living in Amish country and I am learning Pennsylvania Dutch for when I visit them. Anything will help. I really hope you get your MP3 going.
I am working on this constantly. In fact I quite my day job to work on this full-time. The most complex part is making sure the recordings of high calibre. It was recorded in Amishland and there are some natural background noises and charming imperfections which I am working on improving. It is a beautiful language and it will be worth the wait.
I am hoping to get the correct Amish translation for the following phrase please.
“You need not call the devil, he will come without calling”
Thanks in advance, what s great site.
I am looking for assistance in getting a tag line translated to PA Dutch. It is a requirement by The Office of Civil Rights that we use the top 15 languages in our state. Because we are located in Carlisle, PA, PA Dutch is in our top 15. I have not found anyone who is able to do this so I am hoping to get some assistance on here. Here is the tagline that I need translated.
Attention: If you speak Pennsylvania Dutch, language assistance services, free of charge, are available to you.
I appreciate any help anyone can provide.
Would it not bereally cool to publish A Yiddish-PA Deutsch dictionary.
The cartoon of the two men speaking is in Netherlands Dutch not PA Dutch. It should say “Wie geht’s?” “Gut, un du?”
Correct, I made it a long time ago. Few people would know that so I rolled with it. However, I need to change it to make it PA Dutch.