Most active Pennsylvania Dutch speakers today are members of conservative Anabaptist communities, mainly Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. These groups maintain reading knowledge of the High German of the Bible and other religious texts used in church and at home. Very few are able to speak or understand the modern standard German language. This Mennonite Dutchman took an exceptional interest in German and learned to read books and periodicals from Germany and Switzerland, especially ones dealing with agriculture. In this clip, his German interviewer attempts to converse with him in High German, with only limited success.
Dialect: PA Mennonite, Pennsylvania Dutch
Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Translation: Have you ever spoken [German] with anyone?
Of course I speak with Germans whenever I get the chance. That’s not very often.
How often, perhaps, in a year?
Oh, maybe two or three times.
And for how long then?
No, I mean for how long [do you generally speak] with Germans.
Oh, only for a while, only for a few hours. I’ve never had any schooling [in German].
And pronunciation, where did you learn that?
Yes, pronunciation, how do you know it’s pronounced “obwohl,” I heard you say “obwohl.”
I know that from reading, what I’ve learned of High German is from reading magazines and newspapers, or in the Holy Scriptures, the old song books. That’s everything I have.
So you learned pretty much everything on your own. …
Uh, how’s that?
Yes, so you pretty much learned everything yourself. You never had instruction in German.
No, never formal instruction.
That’s amazing, because there’s a big difference between Pennsylvania German and High German.
Because when one uses Pennsylvania German one uses a whole lot of English words, though people don’t necessarily recognize that so many English words have come into the language.
For us, English is easier. We always read in English, all the farmers’ magazines are in English, all the new machinery, everything is, how do you say it, described in English. With German, one has no contact with German.
And for that reason English becomes more and more powerful.
Right, yes, yes, gradually there’s more and more English.