Swiss Amish

You may have heard the term “Swiss Amish” used to describe certain Amish groups.  The term “Swiss” refers to a separate ethnicity within Old Order society, in contrast to Pennsylvania German-ethnicity Amish (the majority of Amish today).

Swiss Amish have specific customs and cultural markers.  I first encountered Swiss Amish in the Allen County, Indiana settlement, and immediately noticed distinguishing characteristics.

Even someone without a deep knowledge of the Amish can notice some differences between Swiss and Pennsylvania German-ethnicity Amish.  For example, Swiss Amish drive only open-top carriages (bring an umbrella), and Swiss surnames tend to be specific to Swiss Amish communities.  There are other differences as well.

Customs of Swiss Amish include:

  • Yodeling-Swiss Amish are the only Amish to maintain this European practice
  • Wooden grave markers-Swiss Amish mark the graves of their dead with simple wood markers rather than using grave stones
  • Different dialect-Swiss Amish speak a dialect which differs from the Pennsylvania German spoken by most Amish

Read more on the culture, customs and history of the Swiss Amish.

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    1. Amy

      I had not known about all the distinguishing characteristics of th Swiss Amish before reading this. I am just getting acquainted with a woman, originally from Allen county, who left her Amish community so she “wouldn’t have to marry a dairy farmer”. It will be interesting to learn her heritage & how this fits in. I really appreciate having the other sources clearly posted at the end for further reading! Thanks

    2. Thanks Amy! I can highly recommend both of the Nolt/Meyers books I listed. Great examinations of Indiana Amish in general, and the Swiss communities. Patchwork is the lighter read of the two and a good intro, with Plain Diversity going into more depth.

    3. Sharon

      Thank you for sharing this information on the Swiss Amish. It was truly delightful to see several Indiana towns, Berne–near my Father’s hometown of Ft. Wayne and Milroy–drive through often on my way to horse shows in New Castle and have stopped in a harness maker’s shop a time or two, mentioned.

    4. Mark

      What a coincidence. I’am reading Steven Nolt’s “A History Of The Amish” and just last night read a small section on the Swiss Amish.

      Thanks Erik for the more indept information.

    5. Erik, thank you for this post. I have only ever heard of the Swiss Amish. Do you know whether the mainstream Amish and the Swiss Amish can understand one another when they speak their respective dialects?

      In 2006, my husband and I stayed at a village inn in Trub, Switzerland, where some Amish apparently came from. We were there on a Saturday night, when the farmers in the area came to the inn and yodeled. It was a real slice of that life. That same day, we had taken an afternoon nap and woke up to the sound of bells. We opened the window, and there were sheep grazing on the hillsides, with bells around their necks. This was summer… I imagine Switzerland is not so idyllic in winter.

      Amazing that these Amish have kept these traditions down through so many generations…

      Thanks again for this post. Now I want to visit a Swiss Amish community and hear their dialect and hear them yodel.

    6. Hi Saloma, you know Nolt and Meyers talk about that, and according to them it seems it is easier for Swiss to deal with PA German than the other way around.

      If you click on the Swiss Amish link in the post above, and go to the AOE entry, there is much more detail on the Swiss Amish and specifically on your language question.

      I’d be happy to hear a good robust yodel myself 😉

    7. Thanks, Erik. I did read the AOE on Swiss Amish, and I find it very intriguing. The part about the Swiss Amish not often intermarrying with PA German Amish — do we know if that is by their choice, is it because they don’t mingle with other Amish in general, so the chances are slim?

      Next time I am in Indiana, I will definitely need to go through Swiss Amish country, now that I know where they are.

      Thanks again for writing about the Swiss Amish. I love learning new things about them I never knew.

      Did you hear any yodeling when you visited the Swiss Amish? I wonder if they yodel as a group, or if they do it individually, just suddenly belting out a yodel?


    8. Intermarriage between different Amish groups

      Hi Saloma, as I understand, Swiss and non-Swiss circles do not intersect as frequently for a number of reasons which can range from cultural differences and language to differences in Ordnung. For instance Allen County is not too far from other northern Indiana settlements like Elkhart-Lagrange but interaction between the two is not as great as you might suppose (though not non-existent). Since there is less natural ‘mingling’ or being back-and-forth for these various reason it would be expected that there are fewer marriages as well.

      Probably similar to why there are not many marriages between Lancaster and Holmes County, for instance (though here you don’t really have the same language issue as you would between Swiss/non-Swiss). These are of course the 2 largest settlements but in that case you have geography as well as differences in Ordnung and some cultural differences as well. You do get the occasional Lancaster-Holmes marriage but it is not as common as one might think at first for these 2 large communities.

      Unfortunately, I can’t recall ever hearing yodeling in person. Would enjoy it I’m sure–and learning how to yodel would be even better.

    9. Hello, Eric.
      It might be a bit of misnomer to call the Pennsylvania Dutch speaking-Amish as “German.” While some might have originated in Germany, the majority do probably come from Switzerland. They are from families that migrated out of Swiss territory into the Palatinate and lived there for a couple generations before coming to America. This is the traditional view.
      At the recent Anabaptist Identity conference here in Lancaster County, one of the speakers mentioned an upcoming book that may change the historical perspective of the Amish/Mennonite “split.” According to this new book, supposedly it is about 1000 pages and well documented, the “split” occurred from an influx of about 300 new family names into the Swiss Brethren churches that happened in a sort of mini-revival in the late 1600s. Many of the Amish in northern Indiana are descendants of this new influx. When these newcomers came into the churches, they challenged the sleepiness of the “old-timers” and that is supposedly what the schism was all about. I forget the author’s name (a Yoder, if I recall right), but it was a well-known Beachy Amish minister who has spent the last decade looking into source documents and such. The book is due out in a few months.
      Back to the “Swiss” Amish, they are the descendents of the Amish that never really left Switzerland or left later than the earlier migration had. Their dialect has a few French words mixed in, as well as a sound that I cant even make. A friend at Berne, Indiana once asked me if I could say a certain word, which he proceeded to say. It sounded something like a person making a big hocker of spit from deep in his throat. 🙂
      I had to acknowledge my linguistic inability on that one!

    10. Tayler Johnson

      I don’t thnk that the Amish should hav eto pay for a license plate because they did not have to buy there car they made it and it ain’t even a car. It’s just anouther way I think the states are just wanting money from peole. They did not have them during the 1800’s and they should not have them now.. 🙂

    11. Tayler Johnson

      I don’t think that the Amish should have to pay for a license plate because they did not have to buy there car they made it and it ain’t even a car. It’s just anouther way I think the states are just wanting money from peole. They did not have them during the 1800’s and they should not have them now.. 🙂

    12. Kaylee

      well i think this should be prohibited. And tayler johnson has a good point and is awesome.

    13. Taylor johnson….I Love yuh! Your sitting rite nxt to meh nd kaylee yuh big dumby!!! HAHAHAHA…I love peggy….ohhh thts my daughter!!

    14. Tayler Johnson

      Awesome commment Kaylee i love you lol 🙂

    15. Tayler Johnson

      I love this website… Bc you can express your thoughts and feelings…

    16. Tayler Johnson

      I was just doing some research on why some people think the buggies should be banned. In a paper it said a boy was drivind drunk and would not stop the buggy for an officer.http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2010/07/19/Amish-boy-crashes-horse-and-buggy-in-chase/UPI-62291279582299/. Go to this website to check more out 😉