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A Very Brief Introduction to the Pennsylvania German Language

   Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch in English, is a dialect of High German that is related to dialects spoken in the ancestral home of the Pennsylvania Germans in the Rhineland-Palatinate and also contains some elements of other southwestern German and Swiss dialects. Although there are variants of the dialect even within Pennsylvania, native speakers from different regions have no trouble conversing with each other. No one is quite certain when the various dialects spoken in Europe coalesced into what we now know as Pennsylvania German, but the first self-conscious attempts at writing in the dialect occur in the 1830s and '40s.

   While many 19th and early 20th century writers predicted the end of the language in a generation or two, Pennsylvania German was commonly used in everyday speech in rural southeastern Pennsylvania into the 1950s. A variety of factors have led to the decline in use of the dialect, but there are those who continue to promote its use. The Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites still use Pennsylvania German as their everyday language. Grundsau Lodsches and other organizations sponsor classes to teach the dialect to people of all ages. They also hold Versammlinge, large gatherings at which only the dialect is spoken, and several churches hold annual services in Pennsylvania German. Some local newspapers in Pennsylvania and Ohio publish columns written in the dialect, and two radio programs are still on the airwaves, one of them on the Internet (see our Links page).

   The Pennsylvania German Society also supports efforts to preserve the language, both in spoken and written form. For those wishing to learn the dialect, consider taking one of the classes listed below. To see some of the best of Pennsylvania German literature, please read Earl Haag's ("Der Alt Professor") weekly dialect column and English translation on this page. The Society has long published oral traditional and written literary material in the dialect, and we offer a number of publications in the dialect for sale, including Eugene Stine's Pennsylvania German Dictionary, which includes both Pennsylvania German to English and English to Pennsylvania German sections. For these titles, please see our Publications page. Also, most issues of Der Reggeboge, the Society's journal, contain a dialect piece.


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updated 4/1/2020 TJG