“Sis en Bu.”
“Sis en Maedel.”
You’d hear these words often enough in Amish homes, with their ever-expanding families.
These Pennsylvania Dutch phrases mean “It’s a boy” and “It’s a girl,” as noted in a recent article on the language, “Keeping the Pennsylvania Dutch language alive – and thriving.”
Is Pennsylvania Dutch alive and thriving? Well, it depends where you look.
Patrick Donmoyer and Douglas Madenford are two trying to keep the tongue going into the 21st century and beyond.
Donmoyer is director of Kutztown University’s Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, while Madenford might be described as an evangelist for the language.
Madenford grew up hearing Pennsylvania Dutch on a family farm. He says he speaks only PA Dutch to his preschool-aged children.
In the article, the two share the background of the language, and the story today.
5 Interesting Facts on the PA Dutch Language
Here are 5 interesting things from the article:
- 400,000 people speak Pennsylvania Dutch – Given that the current Amish population is over 300,000, the great majority of these speakers are Amish
- It’s getting rarer outside the Plain community – Some non-Plain speakers of PA Dutch remain. But the average age of “nonsectarian” speakers is 75, while for the Amish it is just 17
- Yet it’s the fastest-growing small-minority language in the US – Thanks to the sky-high Plain birthrate, PA Dutch is actually thriving
- PA Dutch speakers can communicate well in Germany – Despite the misleading name, PA Dutch is in fact a form of German. The article puts it this way: “In Germany, Pennsylvania Dutch speakers could get by in most of the country the same way someone from Vermont could function in Dublin or the Louisiana bayou.”
- Two World Wars hurt the language – After fighting two wars against Germany, the language fell out of favor. “It wasn’t in fashion to be speaking German in those times,” Madenford explains. “There was a real push and feeling that we really need to be more and more American in that post-World War II era, and the parents of baby boomers decided it wasn’t something we were going to teach our kids.”
What does it sound like?
If you’ve never heard Pennsylvania Dutch, here are a few samples for you. First, an Amishman conversing with a High German speaker:
Here’s a woman counting to 10 in Pennsylvania Dutch:
And if you understand German, here is a documentary on the language:
I’ve only managed to learn a few words and phrases in the language. Basically, so I can communicate with Amish friend’s children aged 6 and under.
Amish children typically begin learning English when they start first grade, though some of them pick it up sooner if they’re around it enough.