The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christians that have close ties with Mennonite churches. They are known for their simple lifestyle and aversion to modern technology.
The Amish also highly prioritize their cultural practices and Amish children are taught to value simplicity, family, and self-sufficiency.
In this article, we will discuss the Amish language, its differences, and similarities with standard German, and other languages spoken by the Amish.
The Amish language- Pennsylvania Dutch
Pennsylvania Dutch, also commonly referred to as Pennsylvania German is the primary Amish language.
Pennsylvania Dutch is a German dialect spoken by several communities including German immigrants in Canada and the United States. This dialect contains several English or English-like words.
Origin of Pennsylvania Dutch
The roots of Pennsylvania Dutch can be traced back to the 1700s when German immigrants migrated to the United States of America.
Even after their arrival, many immigrants continued to use their German dialect for an extended period and passed it down to subsequent generations. Among these immigrants were members of Anabaptist communities, including the Amish.
The original Amish immigrants were predominantly Swiss or German and spoke a unique German dialect known as Palatinate German, which originated in central Europe.
Over time, Palatinate German underwent changes and eventually developed into Pennsylvania Dutch. Around 10-15% of Pennsylvania Dutch vocabulary consists of borrowed words from English.
These borrowed English words have been slightly modified to align with the grammatical and phonetic patterns of Pennsylvania Dutch.
Differences and similarities between Pennsylvania Dutch and Standard German
Although Pennsylvania Dutch is a German dialect, there are a few differences between it and German. For starters, Pennsylvania Dutch exhibits a wide array of consonants and vowels derived from earlier variations of the German language, such as the usage of "p" in place of "pf" or "v" instead of "b.".
The reason for this is that while standard German underwent a high German consonant shift, Palatinate German did not.
Another significant difference pertains to grammar. While both Pennsylvania Dutch and standard German employ three genders (feminine, neuter, and masculine), Pennsylvania Dutch adds another layer with three cases for personal pronouns: dative, nominative, and accusative.
Moreover, Pennsylvania Dutch uses two cases for nouns, namely the common case, which encompasses accusative and nominative, as well as the dative case.
Notably, Pennsylvania Dutch lacks the genitive case, and instead, the Amish community employs dative and possessive pronouns to indicate ownership.
Despite these variations, there are also similarities between standard German and Pennsylvania Dutch. For instance, the pronunciation shares commonalities.
Additionally, Pennsylvania Dutch retains a significant portion of vocabulary from older forms of the German language, resulting in numerous similarities, especially in basic words and everyday expressions, between Pennsylvania Dutch and contemporary German.
How many languages do the Amish speak?
Although the Amish primarily speak Pennsylvania Dutch for cultural and religious purposes, they also speak English.
The main reason for this is that there was need for them to communicate with people who live around them. Most Amish live in settlements in rural areas which are occupied by other English-speaking communities.
The Amish also leant English as a means to promote and preserve their culture. English allows them to share their culture with non-Amish people and effectively pass it down to future generations.
Language taught in schools.
The language used to teach Amish children in school is English. This allows them to communicate with people in the ‘outside world’ and stay informed of what goes on in the community and world at large.
The primary language for the Amish is Pennsylvania Dutch and to date, they use it for cultural and religious purposes.
The Amish also speak English which allows them to interact with people outside the community and promote their culture.