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Pennsylvania “Dutch”

by on March 3, 2013

Pennsylvania “Dutch” is not Dutch at all. It is actually German. Germany has dialects of German just like America has dialects of English. We brought these dialects of German with us from Germany. Here in America they were formed into what is today called Pennsylvania “Dutch.” There is also Ohio “Dutch” and Indiana “Dutch” with slightly different vocabulary and different pronunciations.  How did this dialect come to be called Dutch instead of German?

In the German language the word for German is Deutsch and the word for Dutch is Deitsch. The words got confused and people began calling it PA Deitsch. When that is translated back into English it becomes PA Dutch.

The Amish and all other Old Order Mennonite groups speak PA German (not high German).They refer to them selves as Deitsch (instead of Deutsch) and when they say it in English it comes out as Dutch. These Old Order groups use the High German Bible (Luther translation) and High German hymnals. But their sermons and conversations are all in “Dutch.”

There are currently no Brethren groups that use the “Dutch” language (some individuals know it). It has all been lost. In the early 1920’s the Church of the Brethren dropped most of its heritage (including the German language) in an attempt to merge with the “world” – ostensibly to “win” the world. It actually worked the other way. Even the Old German Baptist Brethren do not speak “Dutch.” The Old German Baptist Brethren do not speak German.

The Mennonites in Virginia gave up the German language after the Civil war. “English” people joined the MennoniteChurch as an answer to personal distress and loss. The Church did not expect these people to learn the German and the transition was made to English.

Actually the Pennsylvania German dialect is a language in process of change. It has become a folk language. Much of the language is now English. As new words arrive on the scene they are adopted as English (computer…).

It has also become very regional – meaning that people from Ohio use different words than people from PA. Most of the time it is possible for them to communicate together without much problem. Some areas use more English words than others. Another challenge is that it is not a written language. So, when people attempt to write it, it is difficult to read because there is no agreed-upon spelling. There is a Pennsylvania “Dutch” New Testament and several organizations are attempting to preserve the language.

A typical parting phrase among the Pennsylvania “Dutch” is Machts gut

(literally “make good”) meaning- do well, have a good day, behave in a wise manner….

The typical response is Du Au (meaning – you too).

Machts gut!

From → Brethren History

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