I was born into a “New Order Amish” family, and learned to speak both Pennsylvania Dutch and English as a child. The Amish people are fluent speakers of both Pennsylvania Dutch and English. They also have a reading knowledge of High German, which is used in their church services in scripture reading, preaching and worship songs.
“Pennsylvania Dutch” is actually not “Dutch” at all, but rather, Pennsylvania Deutsch (or German). “Pennsylvania German developed in the eighteenth century as the result of the immigration of approximately 81,000 German-speakers from Central Europe, including Switzerland, to southeastern Pennsylvania. The vast majority (96 percent) of these immigrants were of the Lutheran or German Reformed faith; of the remaining 4 percent, roughly one-half were Mennonites and only a few hundred were Amish. Whatever varieties of German they spoke in Europe, the Amish assimilated to the language of the majority, Pennsylvania German, which resembles most closely the German dialects spoken in the southeastern Palatinate, near the city of Mannheim. The influence of English on Pennsylvania German is often overstated. Only 10 to 15 percent of Pennsylvania German vocabulary is English-derived; its core grammatical structures remain Palatine German.” Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College
Although I don’t speak much Dutch these days, there are a few phrases from my childhood that I still use on a regular basis, when speaking with my daughter. Here are the phrases, for your reading enjoyment! (Note: These words are not spelled technically, but phonetically instead so that you can pronounce them as written. Many thanks to my Daddy Jacob Dienner for his help!)
Kannscht du Deitsch schvetza? – Can you speak Dutch?
Gleh vennigh or gleh bissley – A little bit
Vie gehts? – How are you?
Sittsit unnah – Sit down
Vas is letz? What is wrong?
Vesh die patties – Wash your hands
Tzeit for essah – Time to eat
Vas denkscht? – What do you think?
Vas in der velt? – What in the world?
Gutte’ nacht – Good night
and my favorite…
Ich liebe dich – I love you
Tomorrow I’ll be wrapping up my 31 days of lessons from my Amish family. What a great journey this has been! Thanks so much for sharing the road with me. ~ Justina Dee