Your Amish Questions Answered (Part 2)

We’ve got the second batch of answers to your questions on the Amish, courtesy of Merlyn Yoder in northern Indiana.

If you missed it, here are Merlyn’s replies to the first 17 questions. Below, you’ll find responses to 16 more.

Today’s questions cover everything from waking up early to celebrating Christmas to tracking the weather to former Amish clothing.

Thanks to everyone who asked a question, and a special thanks to Merlyn for his time and thoughtful answers.

Ask an Amish Person: Your Questions Answered (Part 2)

Char N: Can you explain the difference between a gma and a Freundschaft? Are either (or both) of those words interchangable with “Church District”? Also, what is a “dale”?

Merlyn: Gma, church district, and dale are synonyms. Gma can be used as “the church” in general, and also refers to church services as in “to have church.” Dale is more like a division where one “dale” grew too large and it was divided into two dale(s). Freundschaft is usually referring to relatives, as in extended family.

Sherry: On television, the Amish are portrayed as foul-mouthed, disobedient individuals that are in complete rebellion of their old life of being Amish. Is there a “wild side” to the Amish that I have missed all these years?

Merlyn: I do not watch TV so I do not know how “wild” these actors are. There is a small percentage who go way out of bounds. But for true members to be in such scenarios should be impossible. Remember, the entertainment industry loves shocking and distorted material.

Diane W: Whenever I read about the Amish I hear that their children get up at 4 or 5 am to help with the milking or other chores. I think this a good thing for them to work hard at an early age. My question is: How can these children get up so early and still function happily all day?

Merlyn: Children are given more responsibilities as they age and thus required to get up earlier as time goes on. Amish 13-year-olds can also be attached to sleeping. Even having a few pets to feed can help with motivation to get going.

Veronica: What do you believe the top 5 things we can do in the English world that you Amish do to save money and lower our financial responsibility?

Merlyn: A few things that you have and we don’t are cable bills, internet, higher phone bills, auto insurance, life insurance, and much higher health insurance. We have our own health care plan. Yet I don’t see how you could function without most of these. In buying groceries we may get more case lots for a better unit price. Believe me we are also trying to cut costs!

Abe: How much attention do you pay to how outsiders view the Amish? I remember how much my identity as Amish was based on the way we were seen by “English.” Is there less expected out of Amish people now?

Merlyn: I think we as a people are still concerned about public opinion, especially when an Amish mug shot appears in the paper. But ultimately what does God think of us?

Polly: Do Amish celebrate Christmas?

Merlyn: Yes, we observe Christmas. There are multiple family gatherings to attend–such as immediate family, Mom’s side, Dad’s side, sometimes cousins, sometimes close friends. There is almost always a large meal, socializing, and often some singing (German and English). Gift exchanges are common. But no Santa Claus!

Mike Sparks: With the heavy influence of the current modern world on young people (Cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), what do you attribute as the most telling reason Amish young folks are retaining their culture and not being pulled away to the modern world around them?

Merlyn: I think that as children grow and observe satisfaction and contentment shown by the parents, grandparents, and general neighborhood, a somewhat intangible desire is formed. Some but not all experiment with the items mentioned. For each baptism, many, many prayers are answered. May all the glory be to the Lord.

Gary Griffith:  I live in a heavily Amish populated area and would like to start a business serving the Amish community. Any suggestions?

Merlyn: The first thing that comes to mind is a taxi service or delivery service. Advice–charge a fair wage and absolutely learn to say no.

Karen G: How do the Amish keep track of the weather when there is no TV or radio? It seems the weather is getting more violent as the years go on. Do the Amish know what to look for when it comes to the weather especially during planting and haying time?

Merlyn: Trust me, weather is one of the most talked-about subjects. Many of us read the newspaper. If a delivery man or the milkman comes, weather will be a topic. Also at the feed mill, in town, etc.

Joanne: A Mennonite widow has the passion to remarry and share her God given gifts with an Amish man. Can she remarry and be accepted into his Amish community?

Merlyn: Yes I believe that is possible.

Deb: Do you know of any Amish businesses that make and sell tables for the kitchen? Looking to buy direct from someone, not from one of the retail businesses.

Merlyn: There is a smaller shop 40-50 miles southwest closer to Bremen. His phone number is 574-773-7930 (ex. 3) and he knows wood.

Linda Laird: Is High German considered to be the actual German language from Germany itself and the Low German the dialect that the Amish speak?

Merlyn: Complicated subject. I believe Germany itself has quite a few different dialects. I believe our High German would work, kind of, in some parts of Germany. What you refer to as Low German I take as meaning our everyday speech which is more a spoken language than a written one. Geographical separation causes our speech to evolve differently. It is always amusing to listen to a visitor’s dialect.

Celi: Is it possible to do a tour to the Amish community?

Merlyn: Tourism is a large industry among the greater-sized Amish settlements. Perhaps this website can help you.

Christine Cherepon: Although plot lines are fictionalized, how authentic is information about Amish life in most of the Amish novels? Which authors are recommended by Amish readers of Amish fiction? Finally, why aren’t novels considered too worldly for the Amish?

Merlyn:  I don’t do novels. I should, as I think a mind stays more creative when stretched. I would defend upbuilding novels. But can you imagine what a task it would be to screen a whole library to create a forbidden book list? The reader must use discretion. (Ed. note: Christine, you might find further info in these posts on Amish fiction authenticity and readers, or in the book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher). 

Sandy: How do the Amish view someone who is English, or no longer Amish, dressing as though they are Amish? This seems to be a trend with some of the shunned Lancaster ex-Amish. How is it handled with the children? Not to mention it confuses us English thinking someone is Amish, but they are really not anymore.

Merlyn: It is always disturbing to me when someone makes a decision to leave. From a neutral viewpoint this may be a transitional phase. Hopefully they will stay with a plain church. I imagine it would be confusing to children if they are old enough to grasp the situation. Sadly, two generations later there is no resemblance of any Amish background.

Alex: Are you aware of all the terrorists acts in the world and what do you think about it?

Merlyn: I see this stuff in the newspaper and my heart goes out to the victims. Yet my mind remains calloused as it is almost daily news and it is so far away.

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    1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      what an insightful posting today, a lovely way to start the week!
      I’ve got a question for Erik or other knowledgeable participants, how do you pronounce “Gma”? it looks simple, but probably is not, I am thinking its like the female name “Gemma”, but I could be wrong, am I?

      1. Mary Yoder

        Ask an Amish Person

        “gma” is pronounced ‘ga-may. But hurry over the first a, just a fast g-may I guess.

        1. Terry Berger

          It comes from the High German word Gemeinde which means congregation.


      2. Amish girl - Rebecca

        SHOM, here’s how I would pronounce it, but it varies like say PA and IN say it different and we’re like in between. Gma (a hard G, then the M sound, then a flat long A)

      3. I also thought Merlyn did a nice job on these questions.

        I will defer to the native speakers here on the pronunciation question. I do remember someone describing it to me as the “g” being barely perceptible so it was almost but not quite like just “may” (I guess something like Mary describes it here). That might have been a Lancaster person if I recall correctly, as Rebecca says there are differences in pronunciation by region.

        1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

          thanks to everyone

          Thanks to everyone who helped to answer my after the fact question. I appreciate it!

          Reading Amish America as long as I have I’ve seen the word appear on occasion, and have always been curious about the most common way of pronouncing it.

          As the grandson of immigrants (Ukrainian) I am fascinated by other peoples’ words and their uses, because I have no connection to the language of my granny or grandpa, but that was at least partly deliberate on on the part of my grandpa (“we’re in Canada now, we ought to speak English” my Dad said his Dad said, although grandpa never really dropped an accent, and learned to speak English suprisingly well for a man who had less in school education than the average Amish kid – but that was doable 100-110 years ago) I cannot speak a lick of my ancestral language, except for the odd food words and admittedly I have trouble with that.

          Again, thank you, and ‘di’borj’ah’ as I was told once at an uncle’s wedding…

    2. Mary Yoder

      Ask an Amish Person

      Merlyn did an excellent job in answering those questions. I am an avid reader, so maybe I can help with what is acceptable for us to read in novels. Linda Byler, (Linda is Amish) Suzanne Fisher, Wanda Brunstetter, Kate Lloyd, Amy Clipson, and quite a few more I can’t remember. Beverly Lewis is a good writer but she raises my hackles too often with her form of The Bann.
      I love to read true stories as well, but a clean novel is very good reading and gives us many scenarios.
      when I have the grandchildren, I make up stories as I go and tell them all kinds of happenings, at times it even hits on a situation one of them was in, like my character might have a habit of making fun, etc. Just last week, my 5 yr old grandaughter was telling me a story I made up a year ago. If you don’t think that was humbling and makes me really think about this.

      1. Amish girl - Rebecca

        Ervin Stutzman for historical Amish stories. Try Pathway Publishers for upbuilding short stories and true stories.

        1. Here are a couple of author interviews/posts that were mentioned above:

          Suzanne Fisher:

          Ervin Stutzman:

          There’s also another pair of writers who’ve told the Jacob Hochstetler story, Bob Hostetler and J.M. Hochstetler:

    3. Terry Berger

      RE: Ask an Amish person

      Is it fair to think that those ‘ex’ members who still dress plainly may have joined another affiliated group like the New Order? My own experience with people who have left most plain churches, the Amish included is that the plain garb is the first thing to go unless they joined another similar group. Any other thoughts?


    4. Nicholas

      Low German and High German

      Linda Laird, the German language has many different dialects. Low German, or Plaatdeustch, is but one. It is spoken northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands, that is the lowlands and flat sea coasts of the North German Plain (not so much in Berlin, though. They use a form of High German. High German, or Hoch Deustch, is what is taught in schools today in a standardized form. It has more speakers thatn Low German. The Amish and Mennonite dialects are descended from Alsatian and Swiss German, modified by 2 centuries on North American soil. The Old Colony Mennonites, and other Russian Mennonites, use a form of Low German. Hutterite German is part of High German. Hope this helps.

      Mom is a German teacher, by the way. The German Baptist Brethren used to use a form of German similar to the Amish, but most can’t understand any now.

      1. Amish girl - Rebecca

        The dialect we speak in Holmes County is Schwabish. If we have visitors from around Stuttgard in Southern Germany they can understand us very well. People even 20 miles from there might not be able to understand it, It’s a local dialect. It is a Pfalzisch (Palatinate) dialect. Then also, each individual Amish community has their own ways of pronouncing certain words and we’ve added a lot of English words and made up some of our own over the years.

        1. A couple of weeks ago I met someone from the Palatinate region. He said he was watching some kind of video, not sure which, in which Amish were speaking, and some of the words he heard instantly grabbed his attention as being specific to their dialect. He was pretty surprised to hear them.

          1. Nicholas

            Eric, my historical studies revealed that most of the Pennsylvania German ethnicity Amish moved from Switzerland to the Palatinate before coming to America. This was prior to the Amish-Mennonite division of 1693-94. Jakob Amman, the Elder behind the origins of the Amish, was part of a Palatinate congregation. So what this man was saying makes perfect sense.

            Dale, thanks for the input.

            Rebecca, when I was in school at a university (still uncommon amongst the German Baptist Brethren) I took several German classes. One of my fellow students had been to Schwabia, and had hosted an exchange student from there. The teacher said he had a Schäbisch accent. The one thing I remember from that was his pronunciation of the final -ig of a word was very soft. Thus hungrig (pronounced HOON-grig in High German) sounded like HOON-grish. I have been influenced more by Swiss German and Yiddish, where the final -ig is much harder, resulting in HOON-grik (more Swiss and standard Yiddish) and HIN-grik (Polish Yiddish, the more widely used dialect). Most of my German speaking friends are actually from Germany, or are of Swiss Amish background. I do have difficulty understanding Holmes County Dutch and the Elkhart-Lagrange dialects.

      2. Dale

        High German

        High German and Low German are geographic designations and have nothing to do with the quality the dialect spoken.
        Pennsylvania German is considered a high German dialect,because it shares similarities with other German dialects spoken in southern Germany and Switzerland, where the land is high and mountainous. Low German dialects are spoken in northern Germany where the land is flat.

        I am not a spammer, I am a Pennsylvania Dutchman, this information can be verified by the German department of Kutztown University, Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

    5. Diane W

      Thankyou for your thoughtful answer. It’s hard to find older wiser believers that understand our homeschooling rural lifestyle. They always wonder why we want such a hard life? I have always respected the Amish way, and have always wanted to sit down and have a good talk with one of you. Blessings~ Diane W

    6. Your Amish Questions Answered (Part 2)

      It’s an awesome paragraph in favor of all the internet people; they will take advantage from it I am sure.

    7. Your Amish Questions Answered (Part 2)

      Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the issues.
      It was really informative. Your website is useful.
      Thank you for sharing!

    8. Amish doing things to your property when the husband passes away so that they can buyt the person living on the property. Very vicious . How to handle this.

      Amish family trying to mess with my land . My husband passed away and immediately they cut wood off my land. Beside them I am 80 years old and they have lied about me and have lied that I contacted them by phone to do this and clean out my sheds.

      1. Sorry to hear that Mary, have you alerted authorities?