Learning Pennsylvania Dutch Language

Amish boy

Learn Pennsylvania Dutch

Do you have any interest in learning Pennsylvania Dutch? Pennsylvania Dutch is the language the Amish speak. And it has been brought to my attention that there appears to be some interest in learning Pennsylvania Dutch, especially among people that love the Amish.

So I have been tossing the idea of creating YouTube videos to give a few lessons and teach a few basic Pennsylvania Dutch words and phrases. I’m in the process of trying to get that started on my YouTube channel at My Amish Heritage.

I’m not sure how in-depth I will be going with teaching the Amish language? Because as I contemplate teaching Pennsylvania Dutch, I realize just how difficult it will be. It is not a written language, and there are no grammar rules. Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect. It is a mixture of three languages: German, Dutch, and English.

Whenever I write Pennsylvania Dutch words, I simply spell them the way they sound to me in English. So I might spell the word differently than the next person. It can be challenging to read Pennsylvania Dutch too because we don’t all spell the words the same.

So, I’m not sure yet how many lessons I will be posting on YouTube? But I will give at least a few lessons on simple Pennsylvania Dutch phrases and words.

Learning Pennsylvania Dutch

I grew up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch, and it was my first language. I learned how to speak English before I started school, but I spoke Pennsylvania Dutch pretty much every single day of my life until I left home at age twenty-five.

My oldest daughter’s first language was Pennsylvania Dutch because I thought it was weird to talk to babies in English. But my husband and I never spoke Dutch to each other, and my daughter’s friends didn’t speak Dutch. So slowly over time, she started answering me in English. And sadly, we lost the Pennsylvania Dutch. It just happened without me thinking about it. When you’re not around people that speak the language, you lose it.

My kids are sad now that they don’t know the Pennsylvania Dutch language. And of course, when we get together with my family, our kids wish they could understand it. I could still teach it to them, but it is a lot harder to learn a language than it is to grow up with it.

And the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, is definitely true. I have not been speaking Pennsylvania Dutch very much for the last twenty years, so I am pretty rusty at it. I can understand it all perfectly. But when I try to speak it, I stumble around trying to find the right words.

Amish man

PA Dutch versus German

None of my kids can speak the Amish Dutch language. But my second daughter has been wanting to learn German. So she’s been taking some lessons on Duolingo. And it has been interesting to compare PA Dutch words with her German words. A lot of words are similar, and I know what the German word means. But we would pronounce the word a little differently in PA Dutch.

In our church, we used the German and English Bibles. It had German on the one side and English on the other. My dad made sure we learned the German alphabet. So, I could read German, although I stumbled around a lot. And I could not really understand what I was reading most of the time.

In our Sunday School classes, we took turns around the circle reading the Bible passage for the day. We had to read it in German. But to read the verse properly, I had to read it in English first so that I knew what it said. So I counted around the circle to see which was my verse to read so that I could figure out how to read it.

So obviously, I would not be able to carry a conversation with a German person. But I would be able to understand a few words because Pennsylvania Dutch has German words mixed in.

How to say Hello in Pennsylvania Dutch

“Hello” in PA Dutch is basically the same as in English. Because of the Dutch accent, it is said with a little more of a “Hallo” sound. And that is one reason why I thought that giving lessons on YouTube would be more beneficial than just writing the words. Because you probably won’t know how to pronounce the words without hearing the accent.

PA Dutch for “Hello, how are you?” is “Hallo, vie bisht du?” I believe in German ‘Vie” would be spelled with a “w” as in “Wie”. And some people may spell it like that in the PA Dutch. But it sounds like a “v” so that is how I would spell it.

Good Morning in Pennsylvania Dutch

“Good morning” is translated as “Gude Mariye”. Although we weren’t really that Dutchified. At our house, I think we always just said “Good Morning”.

Some Amish use more Dutch or German words for everything. But we used a lot more English words in our Pennsylvania Dutch.

Pennsylvania Dutch Words

Boy = bu

Girl = maedel

Mom = mam

Dad = dat

Grandfather = dauddy

Grandmother = mommy

Sister = shveshta

Brother = brueda

I = ich

You= dich or du

How to speak Amish

It would probably take a long time to become fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch. And you’d probably have to live with someone for a while that spoke the language.

I keep seeing people asking if they could join the Amish. You would have to learn their language because they speak Pennsylvania Dutch all the time, and their sermons are all preached in PA Dutch and German. So, you would have to be very dedicated and give up all your modern conveniences. I would encourage anyone that thinks they want to join the Amish to check out the conservative Mennonites first. It would be a lot easier to join the Beachy Amish/Mennonites. They speak English, and they have a lot of the same values as the Amish.

Amish buggies

Watch my YouTube video to learn to speak Pennsylvania Dutch

So I have created my first ever YouTube video to teach you how to speak PA Dutch. Click on this link (Learn Pennsylvania Dutch lesson # 1), and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (little bell icon) on my video, so that you get notified whenever I upload another lesson.

And I just discovered that Amazon sells a “Pennsylvania German” book that looks like it may have some spelling and grammar rules for this language. I may have to buy one of these for myself, to help in teaching the language because I have never seen any grammar rules.

Some years ago, I got to see a New Testament that some Amish people translated into PA Dutch. I don’t know how many people actually use it, but I found it rather interesting. And maybe they have been trying to make it into a written language.

Although the translation was done by Amish from Ohio, so some of the Dutch is a little different from what I speak. As there are differences in the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by Amish from different areas. Whenever an Amish person from Ohio speaks really fast, I have a difficult time understanding them. Because they have a bit of a different accent and they roll their R’s. Plus sometimes they have different words for the same thing.

So as you can tell, learning the Pennsylvania Dutch language would be an interesting challenge. But I will be giving a few lessons to teach you some common words and phrases. If you are interested in learning Pennsylvania Dutch, please leave a comment below or in my video. Because how many lessons I give may depend on how much interest there is in learning the language.

More posts about the Amish that you may enjoy reading…

Difference between Amish and Mennonites

Questions and Answers about the Amish

Another YouTube video

I am adding another YouTube link that I found interesting about the Pennsylvania Dutch language. It has some interesting history about the language. Germans Can’t Speak Pennsylvania Dutch

Feel free to share!

22 thoughts on “Learning Pennsylvania Dutch Language

  1. I’ve always found Pennsylvania Deutsch to very interesting. I’ve picked up a few words over the years. Most Amish/Mennonite communities speak some form of “High German”. The problem is there are 4 different dialects, 5 if you count Yiddish. You may find a few that speak “Middle German.” These languages are very old and most are mutually intelligible. Modern German is based mostly on Low German/Saxon. Old High German is not mutually intelligible with the new Low German/Saxon based German. So no, you won’t be able to understand our Pennsylvania friends if you learn German. The only words that I have managed to retain are all food words. I love to eat. Gude Mariye – Guten Morgen- Good Morning, Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch – Pennsylvania Deutsch – Pennsylvania German, Faustnaut – Fasnacht – Fat Tuesday doughnut (literally means “barrel night”), Lattwaerrig – Apfel butter – Apple butter, Hinkel – Huhn – Chicken, Mattsait – Abendessen – Dinner/Supper

  2. Hello Anna,
    This is such a wonderful site. Congrats to you for keeping this traditional language alive. I am translating the phrase “Remember When Tomorrow Came” into every language that is spoken in New York for a large public art project. According to the last census there are 315 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch living in the NYC Metro region. We would like them to be represented. Is there anyway you could help us by translating the phrase “Remember when tomorrow came”
    It is a poetic statement that leaves some room for interpretation .
    Thank you!
    Lauren

    1. This is kind’ve a tricky one to translate. And keep in mind that we spell the words how they sound to us, and not all communities use the exact same words. So I don’t know if this will make sense to Amish in New York, especiallysince it’snot a common phrase? But here’s my best efforts. “Meinsht von da mauyre kumha?”

      1. I’m a native German from a small town about an hour from France, and my minds blown just how much Pennsylvania Dutch resembles the dialect I grew up with. Mind you that Germans from an hour North of where I grew up couldn’t understand the “platt Deitsch” (dialect) 😉

        1. And, being part Jewish, much of it, is VERY close to Yiddish – sometimes, even closer than straight-up German!!! And, structurally??? As a student of languages? The truth is, speaking English? We’re, like 3 steps from speaking German!!! Uncanny!!

  3. I’m PA Dutch on my dad’s side. My dad said that as a boy, his older relatives (including his mother/my grandmother) would speak it and he wished he could understand it. He only learned a sentence or two. I had German and French all through school and I “took to them” both. Several years ago, I started learning PA Dutch, mostly through Doug Madenford’s site, and I found it pretty easy because I know standard German and have been exposed to other southern/southwestern German dialects. PA Dutch has a lot in common with other southern and southwestern German dialects. For instance, saying Sau rather than standard German Schwein to mean a pig in general, using the form “daet” to express the conditional tense, using the form “em Mann sei Fraa” (the man’s wife), for example, to express the possessive, etc. So, PA Dutch doesn’t sound as strange if you’ve been exposed to other dialects. But you’re right, everyone who writes it spells it differently. Some writers follow standard German spelling, others use English spelling, and still others use a mixture. Sometimes the only way to get it is to read it out loud. But since it was the language of my ancestors, to me it’s worth the effort.

  4. Dihr liewe Leit, Liewe Anna,

    Gross Dank Fer Dei Deitsch class!

    The spelling system for Deitsch is called the Barba Buffington spelling system!

    At Masthof you will find plenty of books written in the dialect: http://www.masthof.com

    SCHWETZ MOL DEITSCH! AN INTRODUCTORY PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH COURSE (2ND EDITION)

    https://www.masthof.com/products/schwetz-mol-deitsch-an-introductory-pennsylvania-dutch-course

    Pennsylvania Dutch Dictionary online: https://www.padutchdictionary.com/

    I also recommend https://padutch101.com/

    and free online class https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwFkpcKWo4w

    Macht’s gut un viel Gschpass beim Lanne vum Deitsch

    Yuscht der Frank vun Brussels

    1. Biggest difference is that, region to region, it doesn’t translate – I’ve given a gut morgen to locals who are used to guder moriye… I mean, they get the gist and the meaning, but it’s like “Spanglish…” the English-Spanish mash-up that occurs in many border cities, or like Ebonics, the “AA” dialect that varies accross the US…

      STILL, it’s super-helpful to have a starting place!!! Within a multi-mile radius, all but one of my neighbors are Amish now (Wow, that’s been such a blessing!). To at least BEGIN with a phrase? It’s a point of contact, y’,now? They know I’m trying, and they can correct me!!! It’s so great to be able to approach people on their own terms, as a Student Chaplian!!! Seriously, no greater blessing than to approach and comfort a person in their own language – I live in the Seat of a local Native tribe – learning their language too, for the same reason! We are all brothers and sisters! We must learn to communicate!!

  5. Please do start lessons for us that so enjoy the Amish culture. I have a few Amish friends, if I can use that word. At least that’s how I view these ladies I know. We are more than acquaintances, but I don’t think they would consider someone English a friend in the way we do. It would be nice to be able to converse a little with them! This is something I have always wanted to learn. I do have some basic German knowledge, which may be slightly helpful. Thanks again! I can’t wait!

    1. I put a link in my post to my first lesson on YouTube. Check it out and subscribe so that you get notified of my next video. It should get published tomorrow.

  6. I would be very interested in learning the Pennsylvania Dutch language.
    My mother’s side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch,so growing up we visited alot of Dutch relatives in Western PA. New Wilmington

    1. The problem is that it’s never really been a written language, and there is no alphabet. Everyone spells the words the way they sound to them in English.

  7. I think that this is simply wonderful. When I lived back home in upstate NY, there was an Amish general store that I would buy all my baking goods from. I’d get flour and sugar in 50 pd cloth sacks. It was wonderful. My Amish neighbors would come in, and I would learn a few words at a time. I always typed words as they sounded too. I would love to learn more. Hi, how are you to my understanding is ” wi bish du” .

  8. Just as an FYI, Lillian Stoltzfus, the author of a great little book called Lydia’s Bonnet, has produced a book with an accompanying CD for those interested in Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s available from Masthof Book Store and Press: https://www.masthof.com/. I recently ordered it as we are planning our annual (until COVID) visit to Lancaster County and it might be fun to be able to speak a bit of the language! (We purchased Lydia’s Bonnet while in the area two years ago and have been thinking about ordering the CD/book since!)

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