13 posts categorized "Pennsylvania Dutch Language"

January 18, 2009

Hiwwe wie Driwwe: A Pennsylvania German publication

Dr. Michael Werner passes on a link to the Pennsylvania German website Hiwwe wie Driwwe ('Over here as over there').  The site is coupled with a biannual newspaper of the same name, apparently the only regular Pennsylvania German language publication.

Pennsylvania German Road sign schule weeg

A bit of background on the dialect, from the Hiwwe wie Driwwe site:

In North America, one can still find a few speech islands, in which Pennsylvania German is spoken. Today, about 300,000 Americans and a few thousand Canadians speak that dialect, which came into existance in the 18. and early 19. century. As the German immigrants came to the “New World”, they mixed their dialects with English, which was the language mainly spoken in the English colonies. And after a few generations, there was only one German dialect: Pennsylvania German. That unique idiom resembles mostly the Palatine dialect, which is spoken in the Rhine Valley between the cities of Neustadt, Grünstadt and Mannheim.

Interesting to see a regular publication in Pennsylvania German.  In shops in Amish areas you do come across occasional books rendered in the dialect, but typically the Amish would write in English rather than using some rendition of their primarily spoken language.  You can read more on 'Deitsch' at the Pennsylvania German Wikipedia entry

Also from Wikipedia, have a look at comparisons of the Lord's Prayer, written in English, two different PA German wording systems, as well as two versions of Modern German:

English (BCP) Writing system 1 (English-based) Writing system 2 (German-based) Modern German (close translation) Modern German (standard wording)
Our Father who art in heaven, Unsah Faddah im Himmel, Unser Vadder im Himmel, Unser Vater im Himmel, Vater unser im Himmel,
Hallowed be thy name. dei nohma loss heilich sei, dei Naame loss heilich sei, Deinen Namen lass heilig sein, geheiligt werde dein Name,
Thy kingdom come. Dei Reich loss kumma. Dei Reich loss komme. Dein Reich lass kommen. Dein Reich komme.
Thy will be done, Dei villa loss gedu sei, Dei Wille loss gedu sei, Deinen Willen lass getan sein, Dein Wille geschehe,
on earth as in heaven. uf di eaht vi im Himmel. uff die Erd wie im Himmel. auf der Erde wie im Himmel. wie im Himmel, so auf Erden.
Give us this day our daily bread. Unsah tayklich broht gebb uns heit, Unser deeglich Brot gebb uns heit, Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute, Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute,
And forgive us our trespasses; Un fagebb unsah shulda, Un vergebb unser Schulde, Und vergib unsere Schulden, Und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
as we forgive those who tresspass against us. vi miah dee fagevva vo uns shuldich sinn. wie mir die vergewwe wu uns schuldich sinn. wie wir denen vergeben, die uns schuldig sind. wie auch wir vergeben unseren Schuldigern.
And lead us not into temptation Un fiah uns naett in di fasuchung, Un fiehr uns net in die Versuchung, Und führe uns nicht in die Versuchung, Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung,
but deliver us from evil. avvah hald uns fu'm eevila. awwer hald uns vum Iewile. aber halte uns vom Üblen [fern]. sondern erlöse uns von dem Bösen.
For thine is the kingdom, the power Fa dei is es Reich, di graft, Fer dei is es Reich, die Graft, Für Dein ist das Reich, die Kraft Denn Dein ist das Reich, und die Kraft
and the glory, For ever and ever. un di hallichkeit in ayvichkeit. un die Hallichkeit in Ewichkeit. und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit. und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit.
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Dr. Werner, who publishes and edits Hiwwe wie Driwwe and serves as president of the German-Pennsylvanian Association, says that among the newspaper's contributors are Amish individuals, and that around 10% of the paper's subscribers are plain households. 

Also: the difference between Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish.

March 03, 2008

Speaking 'Amish English'


A quick note on language...as we know the first language of the Amish is Pennsylvania Dutch.  Picking up English and learning it from Amish-raised teachers in school means that certain traits of speaking and accent get passed down the lines.

I rather enjoy hearing a good thick 'Amish English' accent.  Sitting with Abe and Rachel in their farm home, I appreciated both the conversation as well as the almost musical quality to the language I was hearing. The Amish often pronounce words in unusual ways.  This post from last year goes into it in more detail. 

Unusual turns of speech get passed down as well.  No 'thees' and 'thous', but Abe, like other Lancaster Amish, often uses the phrase 'it spited me', meaning something angered me or caused me regret.  After returning home after being out awhile one morning, Abe said 'it wondered me' when I'd get back.  Abe addresses his siblings as 'Brother Paul' and 'Brother Eli'. 

Little Lizzie over at Daniel's gave me instructions using the less-often-used-in-colloquial-speech 'you may' rather than the more common 'you can'.  'You may sweep up the manure now, Erik.'

The Lancaster 'Amish English' accent and phraseology is a bit different from that of Holmes County or northern Indiana.  If I were better at describing the way things sound I'd take a crack at it.   I'll just say it's got more of an upward lilt on the vowels.

One of my Lancaster buddies who has a business tells me that Amish on the farm tend to have thicker English accents than guys like him who are out dealing with the public a lot more.  Makes sense, and I'd have to say that in my experience I've seen that to be true. 

On getting home to Ma and Pa in NC, I caught myself speaking in a bit of an 'Amish English' accent.  Could have been all the shoofly pie.  Actually I'd say it was mostly unintentional but I have to admit enjoyable. 

After a week spent chatting with Amish all day long, it sort of stuck with me.  Unfortunately, it wore off after about a day, and I returned to my mongrel semi-Southern/international neutral/Polish mix, whatever that actually is. 

(Today's photos courtesy of Laurie Frey.  Thanks Laurie and keep them coming!)

February 14, 2008

Getting my kicks in Lancaster County, PA


Well, despite the inclement weather, I managed to get up to Lancaster County and to my friends 'Daniel' and 'Mary', where I'll be staying the next few days.  The last hour-and-a-half or so, from the PA line onward, was pretty hairy, as snow and ice accumulation made driving tricky. 

I pulled in late Tuesday night to Daniel's, happy and relieved to see the kitchen gas-lamp still burning.  Daniel sat at the table, playing with the youngest child, a 14-month old girl.  The rest of the tribe, save Mary, were already fast asleep. 

Daniel set me up in the basement, which sounds cold, but is probably the warmest spot in the house--that's where the coal oven resides.  Before hitting the hay, Daniel pointed out the large reserves of canned food the family had been going through that winter. 


Pickled cauliflower, beets, 'snitz', canned meat, and all sorts of home-grown treats lined a full wall of the basement.  Being February, a good chunk of the eatin' had been knocked out already, as evidenced by numerous empty Mason jars, but quite a bit remained.  Good, because I planned to be hungry.

Yesterday morning (Wednesday) my jobs were:  udder-cleaner and silage-sweeper.  I learned that some cows don't like me--or at least cows that haven't gotten a chance to know me, don't like me. 

More than a couple took kicks at my hands as I attempted to 'strip' them.

That sounds more exciting than it is--it's actually something like priming the pump, before the mechanical-suction milkers get put on.  A squeeze or two to get the milk going.  Or actually, I think it's more a pull.  Or maybe a combination of the two.  Daniel's son 'Tim' explained that cows are often a bit jumpy if they don't know you so well.  Well, I aim to make friends this week.  I will learn to strip you, cows.Lancaster_two_horse_buggy

Today I graduated to manure-sweeping duty, and also got to pass out food to all the hungry cows.  It was nice making them happy.  Some were impatient and tried to steal from the bin. 

While sweeping up manure, members of Daniel's family offered up encouragement.  'It's looking good Erik!', 'You're doing a good job!'  This significantly helped my self-esteem, and for that I am grateful.  If all else fails, at least I know I can sweep manure to a satisfactory level.

Daniel's 8-year-old son 'Elmer' and 12-year-old daughter 'Lizzie' then commandeered me to help out with their respective tasks, feeding the chickens and pigeons, and distributing milk-substitute to the calves. 

The youngest calf, a snow-white fellow just a week old, needed some encouragement.  We had to chase that little guy down and force his head into the bucket.  He really resisted, but once we got it in there, he gulped milk like that was what he'd really wanted to do all along.  Funny approach to eating.  Lizzie, who seems to make a pretty good boss, paid me with a Valentine's Kit-Kat bar after breakfast, saying I did a good job.


After some errands with Daniel, we headed back home and somehow I ended up plastered on the couch for an unplanned hour-and-a-half nap.  The 4am-and-up schedule takes a few days' getting used to.

On rising, I stumbled upstairs to find Mary and 'Bena', the oldest daughter, at work at the kitchen table.  Bena was writing a letter to a friend that had missed a social event the day before. 

Mary was busy at work with her prayer-covering.  She had earlier ironed it, and was now doing what she called petza--pinching, she explained.  This petza process, which requires a pick-like metal tool, apparently helps to maintain the Lancaster prayer-covering's distinctive heart-shape.

'This is probably something new for you,' said Mary.

'I've never worn one of those...yet,'  I replied.

Mary seemed to get a kick out of that. 

August 14, 2007

The freshman class

'A hog farmer and a teacher!!'

Hog farms are few and far between in Lancaster dairyland, and hog farmers who deal with Amish 'ninth-graders' on a regular basis even fewer.

Perhaps that's why 'Ephraim' nearly shouted at me in glee when describing his odd occupational mix.  He's been handling vocational school duties for his area for twenty years now.  You can tell he enjoys it.

During the three or so hours he spends each week with the students, he instructs them in German vocabulary, arithmetic, and health--including mental health, he noted--among other topics.


Pennsylvania requires students to go to school to age 15, a year later than in many other states with significant Amish populations.  Hence the ninth-grade setup, held over a 36-week period in Ephraim's basement.  Local youth from around the area attend.

I can see why Ephraim (pronounced 'eef-rum') enjoys the task.  He originally took over mid-term for another teacher in the late 80's.  'Teenagers, you know.  The other one sort of got run off.'

Ephraim apparently has no problem handling it.  At 57, he has fully grown and married children, on down to a spunky one-year old.  And an obvious zest for life.   Hope I can say the same at 57.

July 16, 2007

Lancaster County: Bilingual signage


July 11, 2007

Three Lancaster observations

After three weeks in the county, three more observations from Lancaster:

Hair--men's hairstyles here seem to range from the very short and close cropped to the much more Swartzentruber-esque bob.  Women's hair is arranged a bit differently than midwestern Amish curled in tightly at the sides--almost too tight--but more on that later.

Mennonites--the Old Order Mennonite population is significant here, with many 'buggy Mennonites' populating the northeastern chunk of the county.  The Amish tend to be found most heavily in the center, eastern and southeastern parts of the county, though church districts can be found spread out to the north and west, and with quite a few in neighboring Chester County.  Amish buggies here are grey, Mennonite ones black.  Another way to tell them apart:  Mennonite homes have bikes out front, while the Amish here only allow scooters.

One Amish farmer explained to me how the Amish and Old Order Mennonites cooperate on schooling, teaching their children together in the same one-room schoolhouses.  He described it as a bit of give-and-take between the two groups but that it generally worked well.

Accent--the typical Lancaster English accent is somewhat different than that of Holmes or Lagrange Counties, having a hollow, lilting ring to it--if that description makes any sense.  Again, as I talk to more and more Amish (conversations with Amish make up 95% of the speaking I do any given day), I find myself inadvertently mimicking it.

July 08, 2007

Family Time

If you knock on a random door in any of a number of Amish communities across the country, there's a decent chance the home might contain a set of books called the Family Bible Library. 

Originally published in 1971, it is a perennial hit among the Amish, who appreciate the vivid illustrations, easy-to-understand text, and solid scriptural reference.


I'm selling these among the Lancaster Amish this year, as I have in other communities in years past, and it has been a hit here as well.  I happened to get what I believe was my most enthusiastic reception ever yesterday, when one mother nearly shouted when I pulled out a sample book of the set.  'I wish my mother could see this', she said.  'It brings back so many memories'.

Many Amish adults fondly recall using these and other Bible story books during childhood.  I look at Bible story sets like this and others as fulfilling a role for the Amish that television now does for the modern family.  It's a focal point for family time, an activity to share during down time, at the end of the day or on the weekend. 

I realize that's a crass comparison--I doubt there's the same amount of spiritual benefit in the television diet of the typical American family--yet I mean it in the sense of families coming together.  Work, church meals, reading--it's one of those things the Amish do collectively as a form of recreation just as we go to the ballgame or check out Spider-Man 3 on family night out at the cinema.


I feel very fortunate to be able to do this job again this summer.  It has given me a chance to see a cross-section of Amish America and to gain friends and acquaintances whom I'd otherwise have never had. 

At the same time it can be difficult.  The Amish get a lot of salespeople--some unscrupulous and pushy--and in turn some of the Amish can be rude, just like any other people.  When I sell, I am extremely laid-back and non-pushy.  I have a policy of always treating 'no's' the same as the 'yes's'--with courtesy and good humor--but it can still be tough. 

But I feel good knowing that people appreciate what I'm doing.  That more than makes up for the refusals and long hours.  That and everything I get to see and learn.  (A little example--this week I've been on more dairies than in any other community I've visited--Lancaster has a higher percentage of them--and now I know how to pick out a Hereford cow and how many pounds of milk a milk truck can hold--62,000 in this particular case.  And I've begun to perfect what I call 'running the gauntlet'--making it from one end of the barn to the other, in between two rows of 4 dozen cows being milked--all of whom happen to have the wrong end pointed in your direction.  Yea, I've already taken a couple of indirect hits but that's what the Handi-wipes in my truck are for).


It's especially worthwhile when you run into the reaction that I did yesterday.  To know that families often pass the sets down to the next generation, and just seeing kids' reactions when I bring the books back at the end of the summer is almost worth it by itself.


Vivid recollection

Along the way I've also noticed that some of the Amish have uncanny memories.  The Amish as a whole tend to make careful markings of events and happenings, often inscribing names and dates in books and on gifts upon receiving them.  Amish genealogies are extensive and well-documented.  Amish homes often have framed embroidered hangings noting marriage dates and listing birthdays of all the children in a family.

Last summer in Elkhart County, Indiana, I ran into a bishop who had purchased the Family Bible Library set around 36 years ago, in what was likely the first year it was published.

He recalled the day the student salesperson who sold it to him delivered it--a delivery date which happened to fall just after the date of the funeral of one of his sons.  The bishop recounted how the kid was moved to tears when learning of the boy's passing. 

A few other Indiana Amish uncannily recalled the name of another student who'd sold them sets back in the early 80's--without having to think twice about it.  All of them seemed to remember him fondly, as an animated, funny fellow.  The guy must have made an impression--I can hardly remember the name of three people I met last week.

Yea, I've definitely got a cool job--this past week I visited a 'non-puppy mill'--a couple English bulldog moms and seven of the cutest and happiest-looking (and at $1450 a pop, most expensive) pups you've ever seen, stuffed myself with homemade Amish pizza twice, and learned 'boy it's really hot' and 'come eat' in PA Dutch.  And I got a few Amish guys speaking some Polish in return.

After a few more weeks of this, I will be returning to Holmes County, Ohio, for an entirely different experience, to work in an Amish shop.

July 06, 2007

Pennsylvania Dutch versus Amish

Creative Commons

Here in the heavily touristed areas of Lancaster County you see 'Dutch' or 'Amish' attached to just about anything with something to sell--'Jakey's Amish BBQ', 'Amish Paradise Homestays', 'Dutch Delights', etc.

Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish are often taken as synonyms, but they aren't exactly one and the same.

Pennsylvania Dutch refers to both the people that settled in William Penn's 'holy experiment' as well as the dialect they spoke and which some continue to speak today.  The people and the dialect are also known as Pennsylvania German.

Among the Pennsylvania Dutch were Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic faithful as well as Anabaptists.  The dialect had gone into decline by the start of the 20th century.

red:  20 counties with highest number of speakers
blue:  20 counties with highest proportion of speakers
purple:  counts as both red and blue

Gnu free documentation license

Today, few outside the Old Order Amish and Mennonite community speak the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.  In some communities, there is a fear that even the Amish may be vulnerable to losing it, as English words intrude and younger generations rely increasingly on English.

Click to hear Amish and Mennonites speaking Pennsylvania Dutch!

June 28, 2007

Odds and ends from Lancaster County

A couple quick observations from Lancaster County:

I recalled today how Amish usually try to switch to English whenever English people are around.  I was talking to an Amish guy today and one of his friends walked up to ask for help working on the school playground.  Obviously the most comfortable tongue would be PA Dutch, but, seeing I was there, he chose to speak in English.  Kind of cool.

I also noticed some of the peculiar turns of phrase the Amish sometimes use.  When the guy I was talking to expressed his willingness to help out, he used the phrase 'just let yourself be heard'.  He actually used the same phrase three times.  I imagine it may be one of those quirky language things that come from a rough translation.

It's also funny to see Amish in their after-hours clothes.  I talked to one guy today who was wearing boxers and a t-shirt.  Yesterday another young Amish father, decked out in sports shorts and a tee, told me about how he loved skiing and snowboarding.

I guess everybody needs some time off sometimes.

June 25, 2007

New Order supper and a different sort of haystack

I had a chance to catch up with a couple more friends the Thursday before last--'Martin', a minister of the New Order Amish persuasion, his wife, 'Annie', and their neat kids.

My timing was perfect--suppertime!  A grinning Martin plunked me down in front of a 'haystack'--a potato-lettuce-chili-cheese- crumbled nachos concoction Annie had just prepared.  Yum.  (Yeah, I definitely had seconds).

As we dug into our haystacks, Martin eagerly questioned me about life in Poland.  Many Amish I know are fascinated to learn about faraway places.  I asked Martin if he'd ever flown, as unlike the Old Order, New Orders often allow air travel.  He actually hadn't.  Martin sticks pretty close to home, where he is involved in a produce and agriculture operation.

Martin explained that his congregation strongly encourages working at home.  It's okay if church members work out, but about 75% of their congregation has home-based occupation.  New Order Amish seem to have a strong tendency towards farming in particular, somewhat counter to the general Amish trend away from it. 


New Order Amish use the horse and buggy too, but are somewhat more liberal on the phone and electricity, often having it in the homes.  Dress is similar, with men's beards generally cropped a bit shorter and neater.

Sometimes Amish kids who are just learning English have a funny way of talking.  Martin's youngest boy is a good example.

He's a pretty excited kid, and quite outgoing, unusual for Amish children who usually sit silently when an outsider is around.  A number of times he jumped into the conversation Martin and Annie and I were having.

'We went fishing at 'Bill Miller's' and we saw a (switches to saying something in Dutch)...and then there was a turtle and he (Dutch again)...and then I yanked him off my finger!' 

This little guy didn't even break eye contact as he bounced between languages, just assuming I could understand both.  Martin patiently translated, filling in the gaps.

Getting into it

After knocking back a slice of Annie's homemade strawberry pie plus vanilla ice cream, Martin 'got into it' with me.  Another characteristic of New Order Amish is that they tend to lean a bit to the 'evangelizing' side, though compared to other evangelistic branches of Christianity, it's still pretty tame. 

I recalled that last time I was around we had a similar talk on the Anabaptists vs. the Catholics.  Martin likes to challenge me on my faith and I can appreciate that.  They are both very respectful of other religions, as Annie explained, 'don't get us wrong, we don't have anything against Catholics.  They can be very good people too.'

New Orders are also unusual in that they publish their beliefs in what you could call promotional literature.  Last time Martin gave me an explanatory tract on Amish belief.  Another New Order Amishman who recently completed a survey for me included two pamphlets in the envelope.


I don't consider the somewhat in-your-face approach to be self-righteous or off-putting.  I see it more as a reflection of the depth of their conviction, something to be admired. In any case, Martin enjoys ribbing me a bit.  I like to rib back.  I'll be stopping by again in September.

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