York College professor Charles A. Kauffman has a nice article just out in the York Daily Record on the Pennsylvania Dutch language. I pulled five excerpts answering questions on the language – including examples of Pennsylvania Dutch phrases, and what exactly is meant by “Dutchified” English.
I’ve also included three videos, giving examples of Pennsylvania Dutch and Dutchified English by native speakers.
1. Why “Dutch”?
Although the dialects clearly came from German spoken in the Rhineland-Palatinate region (in German, Rheinland-Pfalz) of present-day southwest Germany, as well as the Alsace of France and Switzerland, the immigrants mainly sailed from Dutch-speaking Holland on Dutch ships.
When these regions were once a patchwork of duchies, states, and kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire the Germanic people were referred to as ‘dietsc’ from Old Dutch or ‘diutsch’ from Middle High German. While the myth persists that the word Dutch in Pennsylvania Dutch is a corruption or mispronunciation of the word Deitsch ‘German,’ a likely explanation holds that to the English in the 18th and 19th centuries, anyone from the German-speaking regions was called Dutch.
Yet, even today, despite the fact scholars prefer to call them German, many farmers and folk from the Dutch heartland prefer to call their own language and themselves Dutch. Hence the widespread references to Dutch and Dutchmen.
2. What are some examples of Pennsylvania Dutch?
At home it was common to hear my mother say – Kum sitz a bissel un essen. ‘Come sit a little and eat,’ Sei nix so rutschig! ‘Don’t be so fidgety!’ and Redd up your room!
Hearing Pennsylvania Dutch and using some of the colorful expressions has as equally a feel-good experience as does enjoying such foods as bottboi ‘pot pie,’ lattwarick un schmierkaese ‘apple butter and cottage cheese,’ and Melassichriwwelkuche ‘shoe-fly pie.’
3. How many speak it?
Today, Pennsylvania Dutch is spoken by over 300,000 in such states as Maryland, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada. The highest concentration of speakers is in Pennsylvania in Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Lehigh Counties.
4. Is the language growing or dwindling?
In its 300 year history, Pennsylvania Dutch was once spoken by a half million speakers. By some estimates the language is gradually losing speakers, whereas others show it’s gaining speakers. The disparity comes in part from the U.S. Census which previously asked what language an individual speaks. Some wrote German and others wrote Dutch.
5. What is “Dutchified” English?
The latter “Dutchified” form employs German pronunciation of English plus grammatical constructions that give rise to such expressions as Throw the cow over the fence some hay; Outen the lights; and, Eat yourself full.
People growing up in counties where Dutch is or was prominent, use many of these expressions and pronunciation (for example, accent on the word ‘years’ in ‘My sister is 10 YEARS old’) without knowing the influence of Pennsylvania Dutch on English of the region.
Lillian Geisler Kauffman frequently used the expression ‘The hurrieder I go the behinder I get.’ And when her summer vacation was ending, she always said, ‘Ach, my off is all!