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Pennsylvania German language

Pennsylvania German
Pennsylvania Dutch
Deitsch, Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch
Native to US, Canada
Region Pennsylvania; Ohio; Indiana; Ontario; and elsewhere
Native speakers
unknown (Lua error in Module:Math at line 495: attempt to index field 'ParserFunctions' (a nil value). cited 1995 – 2010 census)[1]
to Lua error in Module:Math at line 495: attempt to index field 'ParserFunctions' (a nil value). (2012)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pdc
Glottolog penn1240[3]
Linguasphere 52-ACB-he
Blue: The counties with the highest proportion of Pennsylvania German speakers.
Red: The counties with the highest number of Pennsylvania German speakers.
Purple: The counties with both the highest proportion and highest number of Pennsylvania German speakers.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Pennsylvania German (Deitsch, Pennsylvania Deitsch, Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, Hinterwäldler Deutsch, usually called Pennsylvania Dutch) is a variety of West Central German spoken by the Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the United States and Canada, closely related to the Alsatian language. There are possibly more than 300,000 native speakers in North America.

It has traditionally been the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch, descendants of late 17th- and early 18th-century immigrants to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina from southern Germany, eastern France (Alsace and Lorraine) and Switzerland. Although for many, the term 'Pennsylvania Dutch' is often taken to refer to the Old Order Amish and related groups exclusively, the term should not imply a connection to any particular religious group.

In this context, the word "Dutch" does not refer to the Dutch people or their descendants. Instead it is probably left over from an archaic sense of the English word "Dutch"; compare German Deutsch ('German'), Dutch Duits ('German'), Diets ('Dutch'), which once referred to any people speaking a non-peripheral continental West Germanic language on the European mainland.[4] Alternatively, some sources give the origin of "Dutch" in this case as a corruption or a "folk-rendering" of the Pennsylvania German endonym "Deitsch".[5]

Speakers of the language today are primarily found in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and other Midwestern States of the United States and in Ontario in Canada. Historically, the dialect was also spoken in several other regions where its use has either largely or entirely faded. The use of Pennsylvania German as a street language in urban areas of Pennsylvania (such as Allentown, Reading, Lancaster and York) was declining by the arrival of the 20th century, while in more rural areas it continued in widespread use through the World War II era. Since that time, its use has greatly declined. The exception to this decline is in the context of the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities, and presently the members of these two groups make up the majority of Pennsylvania German speakers (see Survival below).

Some other North and South American Mennonites of Dutch and Prussian origin speak what is actually a Low German dialect, referred to as Plautdietsch, which is quite different from Pennsylvania German.

European origins

Area where Rhine Franconian is spoken. 1 Hessian, 2 Palatinate German 3 Lorraine Franconian

The ancestors of Pennsylvania German speakers came from various parts of the southwest corner of the German-speaking region of Europe, mainly the Palatinate, but also including the Electorate of the Palatinate (German Kurpfalz), the Duchy of Baden, Swabia, Württemberg, Alsace (German Elsass), and Switzerland. Most of them spoke Rhine Franconian, especially Palatinan and to a lesser degree Alemannic dialects, and it is believed that in the first generations after the settlers arrived these dialects merged.[citation needed] The result of that dialect levelling was a dialect very close to the eastern dialects of Palatinian, especially the rural dialects around Mannheim/Ludwigshafen.

Modern Palatine German

When individuals from the Palatinate (Pfalz) region of Germany encounter Pennsylvania German speakers today, conversation is often possible to a limited degree. There are many similarities between the German dialect that is still spoken in this small part of southwestern Germany and Pennsylvania German. There are approximately 2,400,000 Germans in Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region (a region almost identical to the historical Palatinate) speaking Palatinate German, the specific German dialect from which the "Pennsylvania German" is mainly derived.[6]

Writing in Pennsylvania German

Pennsylvania German has primarily been a spoken language throughout its history, with very few of its speakers making much of an attempt to read or write it. Writing in Pennsylvania German can be a difficult task, and there is no spelling standard for the language whatsoever. There are currently two primary, competing models which numerous orthographic (i.e., spelling) systems have been based upon by individuals attempting to write in the Pennsylvania German language. One 'school' tends to follow the rules of American English orthography, the other the rules of Standard German orthography. The choice of writing system is not meant to imply any difference in pronunciation. For comparison, a translation into Pennsylvania German, using two different spelling systems, of the Lord's Prayer, as found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, is presented below. The text in the second column illustrates a system based on American English orthography. The text in the third column uses, on the other hand, a system based on Standard German. The English original is found in the first column, and a Standard German version appears in the fifth column. (Note: The German version(s) of the Lord's Prayer most likely to have been used by Pennsylvania Germans would have been derived in most cases from Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament.)

English (BCP) Writing system 1
Writing system 2
Modern Palatinate German Modern German
(close translation)
Modern German
(standard wording)
Our Father who art in heaven, Unsah Faddah im Himmel, Unser Vadder im Himmel, Unser Vadder im Himmel Unser Vater im Himmel, Vater Unser im Himmel,
Hallowed be thy name. dei nohma loss heilich sei, dei Naame loss heilich sei, Dei Name sell heilich sei, Deinen Namen lass heilig sein, geheiligt werde dein Name,
Thy kingdom come. Dei Reich loss kumma. Dei Reich loss komme. Dei Reich sell kumme, Dein Reich lass kommen. Dein Reich komme.
Thy will be done, Dei villa loss gedu sei, Dei Wille loss gedu sei, Dei Wille sell gschehe Deinen Willen lass getan sein, Dein Wille geschehe,
on earth as it is in heaven. uf di eaht vi im Himmel. uff die Erd wie im Himmel. uf de Erd wie im Himmel. auf der Erde wie im Himmel. wie im Himmel, so auf Erden.
Give us this day our daily bread. Unsah tayklich broht gebb uns heit, Unser deeglich Brot gebb uns heit, Geb uns heit das Brot, was mer de Daach brauchen, Unser täglich Brot gib uns heute, Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute,
And forgive us our trespasses; Un fagebb unsah shulda, Un vergebb unser Schulde, Un vergeb uns unser Schuld Und vergib unsere Schulden, Und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
as we forgive those who trespass against us. vi miah dee fagevva vo uns shuldich sinn. wie mir die vergewwe wu uns schuldich sinn. wie mir denne vergewwe, wo an uns schuldich worre sin. wie wir denen vergeben, die uns schuldig sind. wie auch wir vergeben unseren Schuldigern.
And lead us not into temptation Un fiah uns naett in di fasuchung, Un fiehr uns net in die Versuchung, Un fiehr uns nit in Versuchung, Und führe uns nicht in die Versuchung, Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung,
but deliver us from evil. avvah hald uns fu'm eevila. awwer hald uns vum ewile. awwer rett uns vum Beese. aber halte uns vom Üblen [fern]. sondern erlöse uns von dem Bösen.
For thine is the kingdom, the power Fa dei is es Reich, di graft, Fer dei is es Reich, die Graft, Dir gheert jo es Reich, die Kraft, Denn Dein ist das Reich, die Kraft Denn Dein ist das Reich, und die Kraft
and the glory, For ever and ever. un di hallichkeit in ayvichkeit. un die Hallichkeit in Ewichkeit. un die Herrlichkeit in Ewichkeit. und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit. und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit.
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Pennsylvania German publications

Since 1997, the Pennsylvania German newspaper Hiwwe wie Driwwe [7] allows dialect authors (of whom there are still about 100) to publish Pennsylvania German poetry and prose. Hiwwe wie Driwwe is published by Michael Werner twice a year (2,400 copies per issue) - since 2013 in cooperation with the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University.

In 2014, Jehovah's Witnesses began to publish literature in Pennsylvania German on their website under the category Bichah un Brochures fa di Bivvel Shtodya. [8]

Comparison with Standard German

Pennsylvania German reflects the origins of the early speakers from the regions along the upper Rhine River in the Rhineland, Württemberg, Baden, Switzerland and the Elsass/Alsace. Pennsylvania German sounds much like the Swabian and Alemannic dialects of these regions. Alemannic (German Alemannisch) is very much alive in the Swiss form of German.

Much of Pennsylvania German's difference from Standard German can be summarized as consisting of a simplified grammatical structure, several vowel and consonant shifts that occur with a fair degree of regularity, as well as a variety of lexical differences. The influence of American English upon grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation is also significant.


As in Standard German, Pennsylvania German uses three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter). Pronouns inflect for four cases, as in Standard German, but the nominative and accusative articles and adjective endings are the same, e.g., "der" in Pennsylvania German does not become "den", unlike in High German. As in other South German and West German dialects, the genitive is often replaced by a special construction using the dative and the possessive pronoun: "the man's dog" becomes "em Mann sei Hund" (literally: "to the man his dog"). In most regions, the dative has been gradually replaced by the accusative, so that "em Mann sei Hund" (the man's dog), for example, has frequently become "der Mann sei Hund". Adjectival endings exist, but are somewhat simplified compared to Standard German. As in all other South German dialects, the past tense is generally expressed using the perfect: "Ich bin ins Feld glaafe" (I ran into the field) rather than the simple past ("Ich lief ins Feld"). The use of the subjunctive, while it exists, is more limited than in Standard German.[citation needed]

Several Pennsylvania German grammars have been published over the years. A few examples are A Simple Grammar of Pennsylvania Dutch by J. William Frey, and Earl C. Haag's A Pennsylvania German Reader and Grammar.


The list below appears to use IPA symbols to represent sounds used in Standard German (to the left), with an arrow pointing to a sound found to at times be[clarification needed] its Pennsylvania German equivalent. Following each of these entries is an example of a related word from Standard German, once again with an arrow pointing to its modern Pennsylvania German counterpart.


  • /œ/ > /ɛ/ Example: Köpfe > Kepp
  • /øː/ > /eː/ Example: schön > schee
  • /ʏ/ > /ɪ/ Example: dünn > dinn
  • /yː/ > /iː/ Example: Kühe > Kieh
  • /aː/ > /oː/ (in some words): schlafen > schloofe
  • /aʊ/ from Middle High German /oʊ/> /ɔː/ Example: auch > aa
  • /aʊ/ from Middle High German /uː/ /aʊ/ > Example: Bauer > Bauer
  • /ɔɪ/ > /aɪ/ Example: neu > nei
  • /o/ > /ʌ/ Example: Bodde (floor) is thus pronounced somewhat like the American butter, but without the final r. In contrast, the first vowel of Budder (butter) rhymes with the American took
  • final /iː/ that corresponds with German /ə/ in that position is retained from Middle High German /yː/ > /iː/ (in some speakers only, and generally only with feminine and plural endings): eine gute Frau (Middle High German: eine gutiu Frouwe) > e guudi Fraa


  • /b/ > /v/ or /wː/, depending whether the preceding vowel is short or long (only when between vowels, not in initial or final position) (English: /b/ > /v/). Example: Kübel > Kiwwel
  • /ɡ/ > /j/ (mostly in some words following /r/ plus a vowel). Example: morgen > morje. For speakers with an Americanized r (/ɹ/) sound, the /j/ can disappear.
  • /ɡ/ often becomes silent between vowels. Example: sagen > saage. Since the letter g has been retained by so many past writers, this sound was presumably pronounced as a /ɣ/ before it disappeared.
  • /k/ > /ɡ/ (when followed by consonants such as /l/ and /ɹ/). Example: klein > glee
  • final /n/ generally disappears, including in infinitives. Example: [ˈva.ʃən] > [ˈva.ʃə]
  • /p/ > /b/ in many words. Example: [ˈpʰuːt.tsən] > [ˈbuːt.tsə]
  • /pf/ > /p/. Example: Pfarrer [ˈpfaː.rər] > Parrer [ˈpaː.rər]
  • final /r/ after a vowel is even more strongly vocalized than in modern High German, so that Budder is pronounced *Buddah. It often disappears entirely from both spelling and pronunciation, as in Herz > Haaz.
  • /r/ in all other positions was originally rolled (/r/), except for with some Amish, who tended to gutturalize it as in modern High German. Today most speakers have migrated to have an American /ɹ/, at least in part.
  • /s/ > /ʃ/ before /p/ or /t/, even at the end of a word. Example: bist > bischt
  • /s/ in all other locations is never voiced (always like the first s in the English Susie, never like the second)
  • /t/ > /d/, especially initially and when followed by /r/ or a vowel. Example: tot [ˈtʰoːd] > [ˈdoːt]; Butter > Budder
  • w is for many speakers a rounded sound midway between a German and English w. This does not apply to German /b/ sounds that become w and ww, which tend to be a true German w. Other speakers use a German w more consistently.
  • final /ts/ > /s/ with some speakers. Example: [ˈhoːlts] > [ˈhoːls]

In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there have been numerous other shifts that can make their Pennsylvania German particularly difficult for modern High German speakers to understand. A word beginning in gs generally becomes ts (which is more easily pronounced), so that German gesund > gsund > tsund and German gesagt > gsaat > tsaat. Likewise, German gescheid > gscheid > tscheid (as if it were English *chite). German zurück > zrick > tsrick (exactly as in American English trick). The softened w after guttural consonants has mixed with the guttural r of earlier generations and also turned into an American r, so that German gewesen > gwest > grest and German geschwind > gschwind > tschrind (spoken as *trint would be in American English). These changes in pronunciation, combined with the general disappearance of declensions as described above, result in a form of the language that has evolved considerably from its early Pennsylvania origins nearly 300 years ago.[citation needed]

Adoption of English vocabulary

The people from southern Germany, eastern France and Switzerland, from whom the Pennsylvania German culture and language sprang, started to arrive in America in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.[citation needed] To a more limited extent, this is also true of a second wave of immigration in the mid-19th century, which came from the same regions, but settled more frequently in Ohio, Indiana and other parts of the Midwest.[citation needed] Thus, an entire industrial vocabulary relating to electricity, machinery and modern farming implements has naturally been borrowed from the English. For Pennsylvania German speakers who work in a modern trade or in an industrial environment, this could potentially increase the challenge of maintaining their mother tongue.

Numerous English words have been borrowed and adapted for use in Pennsylvania German since the first generations of Pennsylvania German habitation of southeastern Pennsylvania. Examples of English loan words that are relatively common are "bet" (Ich bet, du kannscht Deitsch schwetze = I bet you can speak Pennsylvania German), "depend" (Es dependt en wennig, waer du bischt = it depends somewhat on who you are); "tschaepp" for "chap" or "guy"; and "tschumbe" for "to jump". Today, many speakers will use Pennsylvania German words for the smaller numerals and English for larger and more complicated numbers, like $27,599.

Pennsylvania Dutch English

Conversely, although many among the earlier generations of Pennsylvania Germans could speak English, they were known for speaking it with a strong and distinctive accent. Such Pennsylvania Dutch English can still sometimes be heard to this day. Although this more recently coined term is being used in the context of this and related articles to describe this Pennsylvania German-influenced English, it has traditionally been referred to as "Dutchy" or "Dutchified" English.


Despite claims of extinction in the near future, Pennsylvania German, which is now in its fourth century on North American soil, has seen its speakers multiply, numbering more than 250,000 in 2012. It has shifted its center to the West with approximately 160,000 speakers in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and other Midwest states.[2] There is even a small but growing number of Pennsylvania German speakers in Upper Barton Creek and Springfield in Belize among Old Order Mennonites of the Noah Hoover group.

While speakers without an Anabaptist background in general do not pass the language to their children today, the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites do so in the current generation and there are no signs that this practice will end in the future. Even though Amish and Old Order Mennonites were originally a minority group within the Pennsylvania German-speaking population, today they form the vast majority. According to sociologist John A. Hostetler, less than 10 percent of the original Pennsylvania German population was Amish or Mennonite.[citation needed]

File:PD Sticker s.gif
Pennsylvania German Sticker "We still speak the mother tongue"

There have been efforts to advance the use of the language. Kutztown University offers a complete minor program in Pennsylvania German Studies. The program includes two full semesters of the Pennsylvania German language. In the 2007–2008 school year, the classes were being taught by Professor Edward Quinter. In 2008–2009, Professor Robert Lusch served as the instructor.

Since 2005, Pennsylvania Germans have been working on a Pennsylvania German version of Wikipedia.

According to one scholar, "today, almost all Amish are functionally bilingual in Pennsylvania Dutch and English; however, domains of usage are sharply separated. Pennsylvania Dutch dominates in most in-group settings, such as the dinner table and preaching in church services. In contrast, English is used for most reading and writing. English is also the medium of instruction in schools and is used in business transactions and often, out of politeness, in situations involving interactions with non-Amish. Finally, the Amish read prayers and sing in Standard, or High, German (Hoch Deitsch) at church services. The distinctive use of three different languages serves as a powerful conveyor of Amish identity."[9] Although "the English language is being used in more and more situations," nonetheless Pennsylvania Dutch is "one of a handful of minority languages in the United States that is neither endangered nor supported by continual arrivals of immigrants."[10]

Speaker population

In Ontario, Canada, the Old Order Amish, most Old Order Mennonites, and smaller pockets of others (regardless of religious affiliation) speak Pennsylvania German. There are, however, far fewer speakers of Pennsylvania German in Canada than in the United States.

In the United States, most Old Order Amish and most "horse and buggy" Old Order Mennonite groups speak Pennsylvania German. There are, however, exceptions. There are several Old Order Amish communities (especially in Indiana) where Bernese German, a form of Swiss German and Alsatian, not Pennsylvania German, are spoken. Additionally, English has almost completely replaced Pennsylvania German among the Old Order Mennonites of Virginia. Other religious groups among whose members the Pennsylvania German language would have once been predominant, include: Lutheran and German Reformed congregations of Pennsylvania German background, Schwenkfelders, and the Schwarzenau Brethren or German Baptists. Until fairly recent times, the speaking of Pennsylvania German had absolutely no religious connotations.

There are also attempts being made in a few communities to teach the language in a classroom setting; however, as every year passes by, fewer and fewer in these particular communities speak the language. There is still a weekly radio program in the dialect whose audience is made up mostly of these diverse groups, and many Lutheran and Reformed congregations in Pennsylvania that formerly used German have a yearly service in Pennsylvania German. Other non-native speakers of the language include those persons that regularly do business with native speakers.[citation needed]

Among them, the Old Order Amish population is probably around 227,000.[11] Additionally, the Old Order Mennonite population, a sizable percentage of which is Pennsylvania German-speaking, numbers several tens of thousands. There are also thousands of other Mennonites who speak the language, as well as thousands more older Pennsylvania German speakers of non-Amish and non-Mennonite background. The Grundsau Lodge, which is an organization in southeastern Pennsylvania of Pennsylvania German speakers, is said to have 6,000 members. Therefore, a fair estimate of the speaker population today might be approaching 300,000, although many, including some academic publications, may report much lower numbers, uninformed of those diverse speaker groups.[citation needed]

The number of Amish community members is not easy to estimate. In many cases, what is referred to as the Amish population represents only the baptized members of the community, which does not include younger members of the communities in their mid-twenties or younger. A better estimate is achieved on the basis of the number of gmayna (church districts) and the average size of each gmay or church district. Furthermore, while there are large communities of speakers in the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, there are smaller speaker groups found in and outside those states, and in Canada, scattered among English speakers.

There are no formal statistics on the size of the Amish population, and most who speak Pennsylvania German on the Canadian and U.S. censuses would report that they speak German, since it is the closest option available. Pennsylvania German was reported under ethnicity in the 2000 census.[12]


In Mario Pei's book Language for Everybody, a popular poem in the dialect is printed:

Heut is 's xäctly zwanzig Johr
Dass ich bin owwe naus;
Nau bin ich widder lewig z'rück
Und steh am Schulhaus an d'r Krick
Juscht nächst ans Daddy's Haus.

Freely translated (in the main by J. Cooper) as:

Today it's exactly twenty years
Since I went up and away;
Now I am back again, alive
And stand at the school by the creek
Just next to Grandpa's house.

See also

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  • Riograndenser Hunsrückisch - this a Brazilian German language centered in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul where it has an estimated couple millions of native speakers;[13] it belongs to the same dialect group as Pennsylvania German and is more or less mutually understandable. There are other German language variants in Brazil and in other South American countries, like Pomerano (belonging to the north Germanic or Pomeranian languages).


  1. ^ Pennsylvania German at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ a b Steven Hartman Keiser: Pennsylvania German in the American Midwest, 2012
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Pennsylvania German". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Weaver, Kyle R. (2006), Meet Don Yoder Dean of Folklife Scholars, Pennsylvania Heritage, vol. 32, no. 2, p.9–10
  5. ^ Hostetler, John A. (1993), Amish Society, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, p. 241
  6. ^ Buffington, Alfred F.; Preston A. Barba (1965) [1954]. A Pennsylvania German Grammar (Revised ed.). Allentown, PA, USA: Schlecter's. pp. 137–145. 
  7. ^ Werner, Michael (ed.) Hiwwe wie Driwwe.
  8. ^
  9. ^ An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community by Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell. The Johns Hopkins University Press: 2010. ISBN 0-8018-9398-4 pg 15-16
  10. ^ An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community by Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell. The Johns Hopkins University Press: 2010. ISBN 0-8018-9398-4 pg 15
  11. ^ Mark Scolforo (2008-08-20). "Amish population nearly doubles in 16 years". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  12. ^ US Census Bureau, Ancestry: 2000, Census 2000 Brief C2KBR-35
  13. ^ Ethnologue: A language of Brazil (ISO 639-3 hrx); Alternate Names: Hunsriker, Rio Grand Hunsriker; Population: 3,000,000 in Brazil. Ethnic population: 5,000,000; Location: Widespread with high concentrations in Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Paraná.

Further reading

  • Keiser, Steven Hartman. Pennsylvania German in the American Midwest (Duke University Press, 2012), 197 pp. online review

External links


Pennsylvania German

Further information

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