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!
Read it all here. You can also check out our interview with Mark Louden, author of Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language.
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Dutch or German?
Are any readers (besides me) old enough to remember when, in the USA, it was not cool to be German? The attitude toward anything German during world war two was negative to say the least. I recall posters showing snarling German (and Japanese) soldiers with babies impaled on their bayonet.
Germans were demonized to gin up enthusiasm for the first world war as well. After WW2 I personally met Germans passing for Dutch taking advantage of the fact a German accent sounds like a Dutch accent to the English speaker. Being a Dutch speaker, I caught them when they couldn’t speak Dutch. I always suspected Pennsylvania Dutch simply started calling themselves Pennsylvania Dutch because that sounded better during the war propaganda than Pennsylvania Germans or Pennsylvania Deutsch. I’d be interested in what other folks think about this.
Endlich (finally)! Similar thoughts to mine re: "Dutch/Deutsch"
I have been known as something of a “language maven” since my teenage years. The “Dutch” label has always struck me as incorrect, and you offer an explanation that seems quite plausible. I am inclined to accept it, and to invite further debate on the subject. Any others out there with similar (or different) ideas?
It’s actually not true that the language is in decline. It is true that there was once over 1 million speakers and so if you look at the situation today with 300,000 speakers there has been a decline. But you are talking about a period of time from 1900 to 2000 when this decline took place. That was all due to the fact that the “fancy Dutch” who learned the language when they were young, but never taught it to their kids, had reached their final years and started dying at increasing numbers until that flattened out as the peak number of them died between the 1960s-1990s. At the same time, starting in the mid-2000s, with the number of “fancy Dutch” deaths having already peaked, and the number of Amish and other groups growing fast, the Pennsylvania Dutch population started rebounding from 150,000-200,000 to 300,000-400,000 today. Almost all Pennsylvania Dutch speakers today are Amish or Mennonite. If they continue to grow the language may also grow.
Both Holmes Count and Adams county are likely to become majority speaking PA Dutch. Holmes County will may show as majority Dutch/German speaking with the new 2020 census. Adams county is likely 30-35% PA Dutch by now. If Holmes County is not majority PA Dutch speaking by now, I would be surprised. The last census in 2010 showed that Dutch/German speakers was around 45%.
To show some differences
Erik and readers,
I would know the phrase of come sit and eat as “Huch dahee ehmol und fresse.” It’s not a standardized language and can change from community or area to another.
Thanks for that Terry. In which area would it be spoken that way?
Sounds a lot like home !
I’m from Lauterbourg, Alsace and moved to the USA 20 years ago. After 10 years in the NYC area, we moved to PA. I saw a number of Alsatian and German town names (Colmar, Strasbourg, Mannheim)
I sometimes go to the Amish market in Newtown, and when my parents were visiting we spoke the Alsatian dialect from our hometown. This is when I discovered that the languages are very similar.
I found a piece of home here 😀