How to Speak Pennsylvania Dutch 2022


There are between 250,000 and 290,000 Amish living in the United States today, and there have been Amish settlements in America since the early 18th century. Famous for living according to a strict Ordnung, or code of conduct, that includes avoiding the use of electricity, telephones, and automobiles, most Amish live in closely knit communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, although communities can also be found in other states and in Canada. Because so many Amish initially settled in Pennsylvania, they and their language are often referred to as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Despite its name, this language is actually a hybrid of English and German -- the word “Dutch” is a corruption of the word “Deutsch,” the German word for “German.” Most academic sources refer to the language as"Pennsylvania German."


Part 1 of 3:Understanding the Basics

1Find some foundational materials to start your lessons. Unless you live near a large Amish community, you are unlikely to find a native speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch to tutor you. However, there are several good sources online and a few books that can get you started.

Hiwwe wie Driwwe (in Pennsylvania Dutch, “Over here as over there”) is a newspaper published in Pennsylvania Dutch. They have an extensive set of online lessons and a YouTube channel.

A good phonetic guide is available online at Omniglot, an online language encyclopedia.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Dialect Project has an online guide to grammar and pronunciation.

2Purchase a good book for study. There aren't many books devoted to Pennsylvania Dutch, but there are a few that are highly recommended by language scholars.

J. William Frey's book A Simple Grammar of Pennsylvania Dutch is considered the standard textbook. J. William Frey was a professor of Pennsylvania German culture and language at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, which maintains an archive of his work.

Elizabeth Wengerd's book Introduction to Pennsylvania German is published by Millersville University, one of the few universities in the country to have resources for Amish studies.

Steve Troyer's book The Amish Language for the English includes pronunciation rules, vocabulary, and common phrases. Troyer based his book on learning from his Amish parents. His website also includes a “word of the month.”

Lillian Stoltzfus's book Speaking Amish: A Beginner's Introduction to Pennsylvania German for Ages 10 to 100 includes lessons on vocabulary, grammar, and phonetics, and includes an audio CD. Stoltzfus was born into an Amish family and grew up speaking the dialect.

If you are already familiar with modern German, you will probably understand a great deal of the Pennsylvania Dutch written language because it shares about 85% of its vocabulary and grammar with German. The pronunciation, however, is quite different.

3Understand basic sentence construction. Pennsylvania Dutch sentence structure is very similar to modern German, which also shares many similarities with English. It's common to form sentences with a basic subject-verb-direct object structure, but because of the way words are conjugated, Amish speakers will probably be able to understand you even if you mess up.

4Make vocabulary flash cards. Keeping a set of a few flash cards with vocabulary on hand allows you to learn Pennsylvania Dutch no matter where you are: on the bus, waiting in line at the supermarket, or on your way to Amish country.

Unlike English, Pennsylvania Dutch uses multiple genders for nouns and changes verbs and adjectives according to number and person. In addition to the Pennsylvania Dutch resources listed above, a good German textbook can help you understand these rules.

5Begin with simple words. You probably won't be able to dive headfirst into a new language and begin speaking in complete sentences. Learning basic words for everyday objects and concepts is a good way to start. Once you have a solid vocabulary of nouns and verbs, you can begin to build sentences with them.

Since your primary interactions with Amish speakers may be in shops or restaurants, try starting out with some vocabulary related to those locations, such as: es Esse (the meal), der Kuche (the cookie), Gleeder (clothing), and es Hausrot (the furniture). You'll also need es Geld (the money) to pay for it all.

Some common verbs include brauche (need), kaaf (buy), denke (think), and wuhne (live). To say"I need,"you would say"Ich brauch."

If you visit an Amish bakery, you may want to ask for Faasnachtkuche (potato doughnuts) or Melassich Riwwelkuche (shoo-fly pie, a pie made with molasses). If you fancy an alcoholic drink, you could ask for die Kefferbrieh (literally,"beetle brew"-- but it doesn't actually contain beetles).

If you eat at an Amish restaurant, you may see Lattwaerig offered with es Brot: Lattwaerig is apple butter made from pureed apples, and is delicious spread on brot (bread). The Amish are famous for their bread, especially a type called"Amish Friendship Bread."Other menu items might include Grumbiere ("ground-bulbs,"aka potatoes), Aerbse (peas), and Temaets (tomatoes).

6Understand how to ask questions. You don't have to know a lot of grammar to learn how to start asking questions. As with English, the common word order in Pennsylvania Dutch is Subject -- Verb -- Direct Object (or other things). To ask a question, you just reverse the word order: Verb -- Subject -- Direct Object (or other things)?

For example, Ich kaaf en Esse means"I buy a meal,"but Kaaf ich en Esse? means"Can I buy a meal?"

Common question words (Froogewadde) incldue: Wie (how/what), Wu (where), Was (what), Wer (who), and Wie viel (how much).

7Learn a few common phrases and questions. You may want to learn a few phrases to help you start conversations with Amish speakers. Kannscht du Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch schwetzer? (Can you speak Pennsylvania Dutch?) is a good way to begin, as are Guder daag (Hello) and Mach's gut (Good-bye).

When introducing yourself, you can say Mei Naame iss ___, and then ask Was iss dei Naame? When introducing others, you can say Sei Naame iss __ (for males) and Ihr Naame iss __ (for females).

You can also ask Vie gehts? (How are you?) or Wie bischt du? (How's it going?) To say you're doing well, you can say Ich bin gut (I'm doing well) or if things aren't going so great, you can say Ich bin zimmlich schlecht (I'm not doing so well).

You'll definitely want to learn Tzeit for essah (Time to eat) if you visit an Amish restaurant or bakery. When asking people what they like to eat, use the question Gleichscht du ___? (Do you like __?) If you want to offer a short prayer before eating, you can say Ich saag dank am disch (I offer thanks at the table). Most Amish households pray silently before meals, though.

Ask someone Wie iss es Wedder? if you want to know what the weather is like. You might hear 'Sis schee (It's nice outside) or 'Sis schlecht (It's nasty outside) in response.

8Learn some Amish folk sayings. The Amish have quite a few idioms and sayings, many of which are used in day-to-day conversation. Learning these will help you exchange some words of wisdom with new friends.

Guut gewetzt iss halwer gemaeht means"Well whetted is half mown,"or"well begun is half done."This saying means that a good start to something is only half the project.

Wu Schmook iss, iss aa Feier means"Where there's smoke, there's fire,"a very common saying in English too.

Was mer net weess macht eem net heess means"What you don't know won't make you hot"-- in other words, what you don't know won't hurt you.

Part 2 of 3:Expanding Your Knowledge

1Check if there are classes available in your area. If you live in Pennsylvania, there are several places that offer Pennsylvania Dutch classes, including Pennsilfaanish Deitsch Friend Groups (the Amish equivalent of churches), some universities, and some public libraries. The Pennsylvania German Society maintains a list of places that offer lessons and classes.

2Read as much as you can in the language. There are not many printed sources in Pennsylvania Dutch, because it is primarily a spoken dialect, but there are some that will help you become a fluent reader.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Dialect Project includes a variety of short texts in the language, including jokes!

The German-Pennsylvanian Association maintains a website and blog that is mostly written in the language.

The Pennsylvania German Society publishes a journal, Der Reggeboge, that includes dialect pieces and columns.

The “Pennsylvania Dutch Blog” sometimes features pieces written in the dialect.

Pennsylvania native Brad Humble maintains a blog,"Brad Humble's Amish Country,"on Amish culture and language that includes a cookbook, dictionary, and list of phrases.

3Listen to spoken Pennsylvania Dutch. Because Pennsylvania Dutch is often pronounced quite differently from modern German, it's important to listen to native speakers and attend to their pronunciation.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison has collected a bunch of audio interviews with Amish speakers, with transcripts provided.

Hiwwe wie Driwwe has its own YouTube channel with videos in spoken Pennsylvania Dutch.

4Attend a college that has resources for Amish study. If you're really serious about learning more about Amish culture and language, there are some colleges and universities that can help you. Millersville University, Kutztown University, and Elizabethtown College (all located in Pennsylvania) all have centers for the study of Pennsylvania German culture and language.

Part 3 of 3:Practicing Your Skills

1Find someone to chat with you. The Amish often have a reputation for being reserved toward non-Amish, whom they call “English.” Nevertheless, the Amish Ordnung stresses values such as humility, simplicity, and community, and thus most Amish believe it is important to interact with friendliness to outsiders in order to demonstrate godliness. If you live near an Amish community, there are probably Amish-owned businesses where you can chat with locals in their language.

Bakeries and restaurants are very common businesses owned and operated by Amish. In addition to helping you practice your language skills, you're sure to find some delicious food at these places, as the Amish are famous for their baked goods.

Shops featuring Amish handcrafts, such as wood carvings, quilts, and furniture, are also very common in Amish areas.

Sometimes, Amish farms will have signs inviting visitors to take a tour or buy homemade goods. Feel free to stop by if you see a sign, but if you don't, respect the farmers' privacy.

2Join (or start) a language group. Thanks to the internet, it's easy to set up shared-interest groups. A “conversation group” or meet-up will allow you to meet others interested in the study of the language and practice your conversation skills.

Kutztown University maintains a conversation group that schedules its meetings on Meetup.com.

3Visit a cultural or heritage center. Tourism is a significant part of some Amish areas, particularly in Holmes County, Ohio, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania (the two largest Amish settlements in the world). In these areas there are several Amish cultural or heritage centers whose purpose is informing outsiders about Amish culture and faith.

Kutztown University in Pennsylvania maintains a Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center and museum. They offer events and a library in addition to other resources.

4Become a member of the Pennsylvania German Society. The Pennsylvania German Society is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to studying Pennsylvania Dutch culture and language. In addition to sponsoring or running several language classes in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, area, they offer a curated library, a journal, a dialect series, and other historical sources and documents.