Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Amish Language

Do all Amish speak German ?

If the Amish were to travel to Germany they would have a really hard time trying to understand conversations. Church services and the Bible they use are German but other than that they speak in what is know as Pennsylvania Dutch although some people refer to that language simply as Amish, Deitch, or Pennsylvania German.

There are some Amish that speak with a more Swiss dialect and the two groups Swiss Amish and mainstream Amish can not understand each other and have to speak English if they want to have a conversation.

Pennsylvania Dutch is for the most part an unwritten language and each community has some words that leave other communities scratching their heads. Even families in the same communities often have a word or two that seems to belong exclusively to them. After LV and I got married there were words that we had to decide how we would pronounce since his family had been used to one way while mine had pronounced it differently. I changed quite a few pronunciations and thankfully some of his weirdest ones were changed as well.


  1. I'm enjoying these questions and answers. Thank you for another interesting post. Have a great day!

  2. We had the same changes to our speech to make when we married. My husband is from the US and I am from the UK. The two forms of English are quite different and we had some amusing misunderstandings at first. One thing we did notice that most Brits could understand what B said, but he was often mistified by their responses. We think this is because UK residents hear far more Americans speaking than the other way round, as a result of films and TV.
    Things got worse for B when we moved my mother in with us - she finds it impossible to drop her Yorkshire dialect words to suit him. Then there is the local Welsh variation of English, with pure Welsh dropped in, spoken by our neighbours here, and my son comes up from London, using his (appalling!!) London slang.
    Poor B, it's a wonder he hasn't fled back to Vermont!
    Merry Christmas to everybody!

  3. Where I grew up in PA, I am always surprised to understand a number of phrases in the Amish shops. So many seem to be a combination of German, maybe with a slightly different pronunciation, and English words. I remember being surprised to hear "Bist du ready, Mary?" in a fabric shop once. It reminds me of the "Germ-lish" my husband and I speak, because we both studied German but often have a hard time remembering words, so we mix it with English. We have a former Amish family in our home fellowship now, so it's neat to hear them speak to their little girl and try to figure out the language. I think I could understand more than I could speak back.

  4. The Amish group nearest me are a mix of a Swiss group and Holmes Co. and they speak in sentences that are a mix of both English and Deitch. At a wedding the preachers all did this, too, and we could follow along sometimes, espcially when they spoke of people or stories in the Bible.

  5. This is such an interesting series! I would love to hear more details about training children.
    My mom loves the German language so we grew up using German in our everyday language as well. We didn't speak much, but enough to confuse visitors to our home :) I find myself using some of the phrases with my own children now.

  6. Very interesting; mind you, I think it's the same with most communities when it comes to language.

  7. I grew up speaking German as a child - around the time the Earth's crust cooled, to hear my students talk - and listening to the Amish in Lancaster (I live north of Baltimore) is rather surreal, as some things I understand perfectly and then there's a whole block of words thrown in that mean nothing to me at all. Just as well, I suppose, as they aren't talking to me, anyway!

  8. LOL. Oh yes, good times here. My grandfather tends to group people according to just HOW PA Dutch they speak. "Uncle" Jim, for example, is full on PA Dutch, because anyone who doesn't know the language can't understand him at all! My mom and my aunt only use it when they get really frustrated, so they "aren't very" PA Dutch. LOL.


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