The Amish Cook from Oasis Newsfeatures

Preserving Pennsylvania Dutch

It's an irony that our nation engages in such fierce debate about immigrants learning English, but then when a language is on the verge of disappearing, efforts get underway to preserve it.  It's a natural human tendency to overact when there is the perception that the pendulum has swung too far one way and then when it swings too far the other, we try to move it back to the center.

Language provides one of the strongest traits of cultural distinction and separateness.  All one has to do is look to French Quebec to see how vital a language is to identity.  The Quebec provincial government rigorously enforces a "French only" lanuage policy.  The French language is the main trait differentiating Quebecers from other Canadians. The loss of French language has been a huge factor in speeding up the cultural assimilation of Louisiana's Cajuns.  Only in recent years has an effort been underway to bring back the language after years of government-approved efforts to stamp it out.  And look on a map about 100 miles south of Saint Louis and one sees dozens of towns with French names: Renault, Prairie du Rocher, Ste. Genevieve to name a few.  For generations French influence in the area held strong as the area clinged to its Louisiana Purchase roots.  As recently as 15 years ago French was still spoken among old-timers there.

"Pennsylvania Dutch", or more accurately "Pennsylvania German", is crucial to maintaining Amish cultural separateness. A loss of their language, in my opinion, poses more of a threat to their cultural uniqueness far more than cars and computers do.  While the language is still robust among the Amish, English words are seeping into their language more and more. And perhaps even more significant is that while I hear younger Amish speaking German, some of them are confused as to why they are speaking it.  So the attachment to the language may slowly wane over time.

I enjoy hearing the Amish, the Eichers in particular, speaking in German (unless I get the idea that they are talking about me:).  Most Amish children are bilingual, learning German at home first and then learning English. Pretty cool.  Since I spent my childhood in the Middle East, I was once fairly fluent in Arabic (when I was eight years old and we lived there my Mom would have me tell the cab drivers in Arabic where we wanted to go), but I long ago lost the ability to speak it.

Kutztown University, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, is doing its part to keep the Amish/PA German language alive.  It sounds like a pretty neat program.  To read more, click here.  A bit of meaningless trivia, today's featured article is offered by KDKA in Pittsburgh. KDKA enjoys the distinction of being the nation's first commercial radio station.


TomK's picture

Trying times

IMHO, both Amish and Mennonites are going to find a ever increasing "english" influence on their culture as more and more of them have to switch from agarian earnings to commercial earnings.

 Them tourists speak a strange language as it is....LOL