Fascinating Fact Friday – The Amish and Their Language

Hello, AmishReaders! We hope you’ve had a great week. A Pocket Guide to Amish Life by Mindy Starns Clark has another fascinating fact for us this Friday.

The Amish and Their Language

Amish life involves three different languages: Pennsylvania Dutch, English, and High German.

Pennsylvania Dutch is the primary language of the Amish, spoken at home, in sermons at church, and among other Amish. Though other religious groups also spoke this German-derived American language in the past, the Amish and the Old Order Mennonites maintain it to the present day.

A common misconception about Pennsylvania Dutch is that it is a variant of the Dutch language. This isn’t true. The German word for German is Deutsch, which sounds a lot like Dutch, and one theory holds that over the years, the term for Pennsylvania German, or Pennsylvania Deutsch, began to be pronounced Pennsylvania Dutch.

In Indiana, a few Amish communities use a Swiss dialect for their primary language rather than Pennsylvania Dutch.

English is the language of commerce, literacy, and the outside world.

The Amish are fluent in English and use the language when speaking with non-Amish friends, conducting business outside of the community, and functioning in other non-Amish settings. The Amish are taught to speak, read, and write English in school, and most continue to use it when writing throughout their lives.

Though many Amish speak English without any telltale accent, there are some giveaways when they talk, particularly among those who do not converse often with outsiders. Certain words and terms receive unusual pronunciations and uniquely Amish phraseology. There are many charming Amish English idioms, such as “The cookies are all but the milk is yet,” which means “The cookies are all gone but some milk is still left.”

High German is used in Amish worship services and spiritual texts. It is the language of respect for God and heritage. Most Amish become familiar with the language not through formal instruction but rather from years of exposure during Sunday worship and when reading the classics of the Amish faith that are in High German, including the Ausbund (Amish hymnal), Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht (a prayer book used in many Amish households), and The Luther Bible.

The Amish value High German as an important symbol of their spiritual heritage.

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