What Language Do Amish Speak

In this blog, we will discuss. what language do Amish speak

Before going into the details of the language of the Amish people, it is important to know about this dynasty. Amish people also known as old Order Amish, are one group of traditionalist Christian church fellows having mixed origins of Swiss German and Alsatian.

They have close ties with the Mennonite churches. Amish people are famous for their simple lifestyle, plain dresses, and Christian pacifism. They are also quite slow and not much eager to adopt modern technology, its uses, and conveniences.

They believe in not interrupting family time, not replacing face-to-face sessions, and in maintaining self-sufficiency. Additionally, they are the people who have great value for a simple rural life and believe in humility, and submission to God’s will.

Origin of Amish people

Amish church was started back then when there was a schism in Switzerland between a group of Swiss and Alsatian Mennonite Anabaptists back in 1693. Jakob Ammann was leading it. Jakob was an Anabaptist leader and also the namesake responsible for the Amish religious movement.

People who followed Ammann got the title of Amish. Later during the second half of the 19th century, Amish people were divided into two further classes. These were Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites.

The Amish Mennonites do not refrain from using the modern-day amenities. They use motor cars. However, Old Order Amish were much into their traditional culture. People who quote Amish people today, refer to Old Order Amish people, though there are many more other subgroups of the Amish dynasty.

During the early 18th century, a lot of Amish and Mennonites immigrated to Pennsylvania for a number of reasons.

Language of Amish people – Pennsylvania Dutch

Amish people with their groups of New Order Amish, Old Order Amish, and Old beachy Amish with old order Mennonites speak Pennsylvania Dutch. Though, Old Order Amish use two different Alemannic dialects in Adams and Allen counties of Indiana.

As of 2021 around 350,000 Old Order Amish live in the United States and about 6,000 live in Canada. This is a population that is growing rapidly.

Pennsylvania Dutch which is also referred to as Pennsylvania German in literature. It is a variety of West Central German which Old Order Amish speak and Old Order Mennonites too. A lot of other descendants of German immigrants in the United States and Canada also speak it.

According to the survey, there are more than 300,000 native speakers of Pennysylvania Dutch in the United States and Canada.

The German dialect of Pennsylvania dutch is the traditional dialect of Pennsylvania and that is because the descendants of late 17th and early 18th century immigrants moved to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina primarily from the areas of Southern Germany.

These immigrants also belonged to eastern France and parts of Switzerland other than Germany.

Why it is Pennsylvania Dutch?

The term Pennsylvania Dutch is used to refer to Amish and is related to the Old Order group, however, it does not imply the connection of ties to any particular religious group.

It is important to take note that the word ‘Dutch’ does not refer to any Dutch language or people as people may misconceive by reading the name.

It rather is a corruption of endonym, which refers to a group of people belonging to a particular group Deitsch. So the terms Dutch, Deitsch, and Diets all come from the descendants of the proto-Germanic word ‘piudiskaz’ which stands for the ‘popular’.

Different Dialects of the Language 

The speakers of this dialectic are now mainly resided in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and a few other Midwestern states of the United States. Amish people speaking the same dialects are also based in Ontario Canada.

As per the historians, this dialect has also been in practice in a lot of other Canadian regions before it went obsolete and faded. The practice of Pennsylvania Dutch as a street language went on being declined in urban areas of Pennsylvania including Allentown, and Lancaster.

This mainly happened during the arrival of the 20th century. However, in rural areas, it went on spreading til world war II. Therefore, the use of language has been limited and declined.

The communities of Older Amish people and Old Order Mennonite have always preserved their language and dialect and consequently, the people of both groups make up the majority who speak the Pennsylvania language as their language.

Connection of Pennsylvania Dutch with Europe

As mentioned earlier the speakers and ancestors of the Pennsylvania Dutch belonged to a lot of southwest parts of the German-speaking region in Europe and they were mainly based in Palatinate which is a historical region of Germany.

It includes the Electoral Palatinate, a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the people spoke Rhine Franconian which is a dialect chain of west-central German, Palatine particularly, and also spoke Alemannic dialects a little less.

Moreover, it is also reported that when the first generations and settlers arrived these dialects were merged. The mixture of both dialects resulted in a dialect leveling that was quite close to the eastern dialects of Palatinate, particularly in the rural dialects around Mannheim.

Moreover, Pennsylvania Dutch is basically derived from Palatinate German and spoken by the 2400,000 Germans in a region that is identical to historical Palatinate and called as Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region.

A lot of similarities are there between the German dialect which is still in practice in southwestern Germany and Pennsylvania Dutch. The conversation gets limited when people of Palatinate come across Pennsylvania Dutch speakers due to differences in the languages.

Pennsylvania Dutch Vs Standard German

This language doesn’t filter much of the diverse origin from the parts of the upper Rhine river, however, talks about the strong immigrant group from Palatine.

Pennsylvania Dutch, as perceived by many is not a corrupt variant of Standard German because it was originally developed as a written standard based on a number of spoken German dialects.

It all started in quite a long process during the time of classical middle high German. Pennsylvania dutch on the other hand reflects the independent development of Palatine German, particularly from a region that is Vorderpfals in German.

Pennsylvania Dutch has numerous consonants and vowels from older forms of the German language such as “p” instead of “pf” or “v” instead of “b”. This is because Pennsylvania Dutch has its roots connected and derived from Palatinate German and it did not undergo a High German consonant shift to the same extent as standard German did.

The interactions and correspondences between Standard German and Pennysylvania happen within a degree of regularity.

The English language has also a great influence on the language of the Amish people. It has its influence on vocabulary, and pronunciation as well. However, the influence of the English language on the Pennsylvania Dutch is relatively less as compared to Palatine German.

Grammar

There are three genders in the Pennsylvania Dutch just like Standard German. These are masculine, feminine, and neuter. Moreover, Pennsylvania has three cases for personal pronouns which are accusative, nominative, and dative. Furthermore, it has two cases for nouns which are the common case with accusative and nominative and dative case.

It is interesting to note that there is no genitive case in Pennsylvania Dutch. Once genitive case which was there in history has been now replaced by dative and now the possession is shown by special construction which happens using dative and possessive pronoun.

For example “It is em Mann sei Hund for man’s dog. However, going in literal translation it becomes ‘to the man his dog’). 

There are differences and variabilities in the sectarian and non-sectarian communities as we go through the studies. The practicing trend is about using the common case for nouns and the accusative case for pronouns instead of the dative. Therefore, em Mann sei Hund, for instance has become now der Mann sei Hund.

Dative Case in Pennsylvania Dutch

Amish people used to speak Pennsylvania Dutch, this is quite clear and obvious now. Dative case in Pennsylvania is used for expressing possession, marking objects of prepositions and also for marking indirect objects, and also to indicate the direct objects of particular verbs.

The same is described in standard German by using dative forms of personal pronouns and through certain inflection (which is a process in linguistic morphology in which a word is modified to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case voice, or object. ) of adjectives and other also involves in the modification of nouns. 

Dative is popularly used among the old generation in a non-sectarian speech in central Pennsylvania. It was more with the old generation who was fluent in Pennsylvania German whereas younger semi-speakers are not much inclined towards the dative.

However, the semi-speakers of the languages who are relatively younger tend not to use the dative. A lot of semi-speakers use English possessive –‘s.

Contradictorily Anabaptists based in central Pennsylvania had completely replaced dative with that of the accusative case. Meanwhile, members of the Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking community in Kalona are either Amish or Mennonite and showed strong age-related variation.

Pronunciation

It is important to note that sound correspondences do not imply that Pennsylvania Dutch pronunciation has any deviation from standard German pronunciation.

Consonants

The consonants are quite difficult for modern high German speakers. Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania there have been a number of shifts that make Pennsylvania Dutch tough for them. A word that gets started from gs generally becomes ts and more easily pronounced and so is German gesund>gsund>tsund and German gesagt>gsaat>tsaat.

Same goes for German geschied>gscheid>tscheid/tʃaɪt and German zuruck>zrick>tsrick/tʃaɪt. This shift is more common in German children who start learning to speak.

Interaction and Communication with the English Language

People of southern Germany, eastern France, and Switzerland who witnessed Pennsylvania’s Dutch culture blooming started soon to arrive in America in the late 17th and early 18th century before the Industrial Revolution started.

It was more like a second wave of immigration during mid 19th century which came from the regions but people started settling more frequently in Ohio, Indiana, and a few other parts of the Midwest.

Therefore, a lot of vocabulary which relates to electricity, machinery, and modern farming implements has been naturally borrowed from the English language.

This also gets challenging for the speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch who happen to earn from modern trade or from an industrial environment. As it could potentially decrease their connection with their mother tongue.

Examples of Words Taken from the English Language

A plethora of words has been adapted and borrowed for use in Pennsylvania Dutch from the generations of Pennsylvania German habitation of southeastern Pennsylvania. A few relatively common words which are taken from English are 

  • Bet(Ich bet, du kannscht Deitsch schwetze it means I bet you can speak Pennsylvania Dutch),
  • Depend (Es depend en winning, waer du borscht ‘it depends somewhat on who you are), 
  • Tschaepp is for a guy and tschumbe for jumping or simply ‘to jump’. 

Speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch use English for a lot of smaller numeric values for larger and more complicated numerical values such as $ 29,000.

It is also interesting to note that earlier generations of Amish people could easily and conveniently speak English and their accent was quite strong and distinct. It was an accent with Pennsylvania Dutch English and with the influence of English, it has been termed Dutchy or Dutchified English.

Moreover, a lot of features of Pennsylvania Dutch have diffused through Pennsylvania Dutch English to leave an impression on eastern and central Pennsylvania.

One significant example is the nonstandard handling of senses that is usually expressed with the present particles. In standard English, one would be saying “It needs fixing” however, the regional speakers who could be Amish people but don’t speak the language could produce it in a German variant which may go like “That needs fixed”

Written language

This language of Amish people has been popular as a spoken dialect throughout history. Only a few or rare speakers tried their hands at writing or reading it. It can be a tough task to write in the Pennsylvania language.

Also, there is no regular or defined spelling standard for this dialect. However, there are two primary competing models on which many orthographic (spelling) systems are based by the individuals who have made an attempt to write in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.

One group of them believes in following the rules of American English orthography and the other one is a follower of standard German orthography which Preston Barba and Buffington developed.

However, the choice of the writing system has nothing to do with the pronunciation and there is no difference in it.

Example: 

English (Traditional)

Our father who art in heaven

Writing system 1 (English based)

Unsah Faddah im Himmel,

Writing system 2 (German based)

Unser Vadder im Himmel,

Final words

Amish people are mainly divided into Old Order Amish and Mennonites. They are the people who immigrated from Switzerland, German,y and a lot of other European parts and now mainly resided in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and a few parts of Canada. They speak the Pennsylvania Dutch language. This language has an influence on English as well as the German language, however, is a totally different language.

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