Where Did The Amish Speaking In Pennsylvania Dutch Originate From?
Jakob Ammann started the Amish church and way of life in Switzerland around 1693. In the late 19th century, the Amish church split again to form the Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites. The first Old Order Amish people to arrive in the United States showed up around the 1730s. This arrival of the Old Order Amish followers in the United States was partly due to escape the religious persecution that the Amish Anabaptist people faced in Europe at that time, but also because of land offers.
Now keep in mind that not ALL of the Amish Anabaptist people came directly from Europe or surrounding countries to the United States. Many Old Order Amish people escaped religious persecution by fleeing to other parts of the world, where they picked up different dialects of languages. One example of this is found with Jakob Ammann. In his early life, he was born in Switzerland but later moved to the northeast part of France to escape persecution. These two moves can show many differences in the various languages even the founder of the Amish religion probably could speak. In Switzerland, there are four languages spoken to this day: Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Throughout history, if you study the Amish Anabaptist church, you will find that in the present day, due to many differences in religious viewpoints, there are many subgroups of Amish cultures and church districts. Most Amish and Amish subgroups speak Pennsylvania Dutch in their daily life, Old High German in their religious services, and English to almost everyone for general conversation. But, the entire Amish population of the United States does NOT always use the same Pennsylvania Dutch dialects as they came to be known when speaking. Because different members of the Amish groups and subgroups found refuge in other countries before eventually moving to the United States, these different subgroups of Amish people brought with them their own different words, sayings, and ways of constructing words in their Pennsylvania Dutch language, which gave us a beautiful mixture of languages that form how some sub-groups of Amish communities speak.
What Are The Different Dialects Found In The Pennsylvania Dutch Language?
Now because of separations in the Amish church throughout history and the movement of the Amish people due to these diverse beginnings. We now have a few different Amish communities that speak in what the English refers to as Pennsylvania Dutch. This goes back to when German immigrants came to Pennsylvania and told the English they were Deutsch or Hoch Deutsch. This translated to "Dutch" or "High Dutch." However, those immigrants were from Switzerland and had gone to other countries before landing in North America, so the language they spoke contained hints of German, English, and possibly some French mixed into their language. To be more exact, the different Amish communities speak in three different dialects: Pennsylvania German or Dutch, Alsatian German, or Bernese German. Most Amish learn standard high German to understand the Bible in their religious services. But, a great example of the Amish Swiss-derived German is the Swiss Amish community in Indiana. Speaking in their Swiss-derived German is much different than an Amish person speaking only in Pennsylvania Dutch.
To explain the difference between Alsatian German and Swiss-derived German is more complex than it might seem. At first glance, many words or phrases appear to be the same but many times have different meanings. But, one other factor to remember is that with both dialects, Amish speakers have also added sayings from the English language, giving us a great mixture of broken Swiss German and English or Pennsylvania Dutch and English. This mixture of both languages is quite interesting compared to the modern Dutch speakers in European countries.
A Good Example Of The Differences In Amish Dialects
- In Modern German: Good Morning would be pronounced Guten Morgen
- In Pennsylvania Dutch: Good Morning would be pronounced Guder Mariye
- In Swiss Dutch: Good Morning would be pronounced Goede Morgen
The Different Uses Of Phrases In The Amish Dialects
In daily life, the Pennsylvania Dutch and Swiss German speakers from the different Amish communities and the Dutch-German speakers from Germany would construct their sentence structure in many different ways. For example, in Pennsylvania Dutch, someone might say "Guder Daag," which translates in English to Good Day instead of saying good morning. In Germany, the German-Dutch speaker might say "Was geht," which translates to "What's Up" in English instead of "Good morning" when first greeting friends in the morning.
Of course, you have to keep in mind that the Amish throughout the United States will speak in an old proper form of Dutch dialect, compared to the modern speakers in Dutch-speaking countries in the present day who use slang that the Pennsylvania Dutch speakers do not use in general conversation. It's almost as if the Pennsylvania Dutch language is a look into the past much like the entire Amish culture. Another great example of this might be in a conversation where a Dutch speaker from the Netherlands is commenting on how great something is, such as a situation or object, or used condescendingly; most likely, you will hear, "leuk man" or /luk/ which translates to nice man!!! You don't hear our Amish speakers saying "nice man" in America to show dismay or support for anything. It would be more correct to say that our Pennsylvania Dutch speakers would probably use a phrase such as "Das Wundert Mich," which translates to it wonders me, or it makes me wonder in English.
When asked about different Amish dialects, an Amish man explained them this way.
"I've met people from other parts of the world that speak Dutch. They have traveled here to see the Amish way of life and visit our community. I can understand SOME of what they're saying when they speak, but it's like they're speaking a foreign language; I can't understand all of what they're trying to tell me!" (*edited for clarity and conciseness)
Another Amish man said to think of it like this. The differences between Pennsylvania Dutch and modern Dutch speakers would be like saying if someone from the extreme Southern United States was speaking to someone from the uppermost Northern United States. They understand each other, but they sound different when pronouncing their words. He also told me that his wife's family had some Swiss Amish roots from Indiana, and when his wife's family spoke in Pennsylvania Dutch, even he could not understand all of what they were saying!!!
Phrases To Know And Use In Pennsylvania Dutch
Now that you know a little more about the Pennsylvania Dutch language from its beginnings and the different varieties of the Pennsylvania Dutch languages you might hear spoken in and around different Amish communities. Below are a few phrases to help you out when traveling to an Amish community that speaks Pennsylvania Dutch.
Phrases In Pennsylvania Dutch You Should Learn
- Wie bischt du heit? - How are you today?/ Greetings
- Guder Daag - Good Day / Can be used any time of day to say hello
- Was iss dei Naame? - What's your name? / Good to start a conversation
- Was iss die price? - What's the price? / Good to know for purchasing in an Amish store
- Iss a schtore bel? - Is a store near? / If you need to find a gas station
- A baadschtubb? - A bathroom? / In case of emergency
- Denki - Thank You / Being polite
- Gern gschehne - Your Welcome / Being polite
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Yes, a few online dictionaries will show translations between English and Pennsylvania Dutch languages.
Yes, most Amish people will teach you a few words in Pennsylvania Dutch when they're not busy.
Many times if you travel to Amish country, you will find younger Amish children watching the stores or around stores and Amish businesses. Often the younger Amish children need to speak more English. (*In Amish culture, the Amish usually only speak to their kids in Pennsylvania Dutch until they enter school.) So knowing a few phrases never hurts!!!
Many words and phrases will be the same in Pennsylvania Dutch as they are in Swiss Dutch and from Dutch speakers from European countries. But remember that not all words, phrases, and sayings are pronounced the same, and some phrases or words may sound the same but have very different meanings!!! (*Especially when comparing the Swiss Amish Dutch Communities found in Indiana and Ohio to the Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking groups from Pennsylvania.)