Are the Amish German?
The Amish people have a distinct cultural identity, borne out of centuries of tradition. They also have a unique language, and while some of you may think you can identify it, it continues to mystify most people.
Are the Amish German? Are they Dutch? A lot of the confusion surrounding the Amish and other sects is due to a misunderstanding of their history. So let’s take a look at the heritage and language development of this fascinating community, and uncover the facts.
What this article covers:
Are the Amish German or Dutch?
It’s impossible to truly define Amish heritage without settling on whether the Amish are Dutch or German.
When they arrived in America, escaping religious persecution in their native countries, most of the Amish settled in Pennsylvania.
In time, this group of people with their unique customs and language became known to many as the Pennsylvania Dutch. But where does this moniker stem from, and why?
The “Dutch” Mystery
When asked “What language does the Amish speak?”, many of you, without hesitation, will say Pennsylvania Dutch.
The reason for the first part is clear, as most of these Swiss German emigrants chose to settle in Pennsylvania. There is still a large Amish community in this state. However, the reason for the last part is not as obvious.
It may be a mistranslation of the word “Deutsch”, which is what the Amish called their Germanic language. Other early American settlers may have confused this with the word Dutch, and so the name Pennsylvania Dutch was born.
Pennsylvania Dutch is the language that Amish communities use in their day-to-day lives. Whether at work on the farm or while weaving one of their handmade wicker picnic baskets, they converse with each other in this language.
Even the children, at play in the garden with their traditional Amish dolls, chatter in Pennsylvania Dutch. Although Pennsylvania German would probably be a more accurate description of their language.
Can the Amish Understand German?
Yes, the Amish understand German. In fact, it’s their mother tongue. However, it’s a bit different from the modern German dialects spoken in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland today.
The early Amish settlers hailed from German-speaking countries and their language adopted other traits over time. So, while it is very similar to southeastern Palatine German dialects, about 10% of its vocabulary is influenced by English.
Do Amish Speak And Understand English?
Amish children learn to read and write in English, so they all grow up able to understand it fairly well. In most communities, their fluency is helped by speaking it at all times during school.
This helps them to communicate with non-Amish people as they grow older when selling their traditional crafts like their gorgeous handwoven Easter baskets.
What Language Do Amish Speak in Church?
The Amish law and culture is centered around their deep devotion to their faith.
Church life and Bible reading are a big part of Amish life, so the language used for most religious practices is Old High German. This is the language their Bible is printed in, and it is usually used for reading verses out in church as well.
The remainder of an Amish church service, which is always held in a community member’s home or barn, is sometimes conducted in Pennsylvania Dutch.
Old High German vs Modern German
As with English, modern German spoken today differs from its original form, but they are still essentially the same, and thus the Amish understand German.
Their dialect is closely linked to the Old High German of their distant past.
The Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch as many outsiders know them, are Germanic people. Most of the earliest Amish arrivals came from the Swiss/Alsace region and brought their traditions and mother tongue with them.
Generations of living apart from other communities have kept their heritage intact. Therefore the Amish can indeed be said to be primarily Swiss German people.
But as one of the earliest waves of immigration to the New World, they are a part of the great melting pot that is America.
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