The Pennsylvania Deitsch dialect (which is called “Penn Dutch,” though it has no relationship to Holland) originated in the Palatinate area of Germany over four hundred years ago and was brought to Pennsylvania in the seventeen hundreds with a wave of immigrants: Lutherans, Mennonites, Moravians, Amish, German Brethren, and German Reformed. Penn Dutch was, and is, an oral language; even today, people from different states can understand one another since the language has remained close to its origins.
“Most of what they [German immigrants] knew, they brought here from the Old World,” explains C. Richard Beam, retired full professor of German at Millersville University. “The further back you go, the richer the language.”
Today, only the Old Order Amish and the Old Order Mennonites have retained Deitsch as their first language. Beam worries that the language has been watered down and diluted over this last century, as the external culture has crowded out its rich heritage. Raised in Pennsylvania, Beam says that all four of his grandparents spoke Deitsch as their first language. “We spent time with aunts and uncles and grandparents. That led to a richness of the culture, a preservation of the language. This was prior to radio and television.” Beam is now 85 years old. “There’s a saying I was raised with:
Every time the sheep bleats, it loseth a mouthful.
That applies directly to the culture today.” The dialect is losing words, he says. “Language doesn’t stand still.”
If you are interested in learning more about Penn Dutch, stop by my blog on Wednesdays for a new Penn Dutch proverb and its meaning.
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Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction, and a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. The Search won a 2012 Carol Award. The Waiting was a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. The Choice was a finalist for a 2011 Carol Award. The Letters is a finalist for a Christian Retailing 2014 Best Award. Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011). Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She travels back east a couple of times each year for research.
Suzanne’s latest release, The Imposter, is now available!