How to speak the Amish language

September 30, 2009 | Category: Amish, Amish language, Travel | Posted by: Sarah

Since I started working at the Visitors Bureau, many people have asked me how to speak the Amish language. I’ve recently picked up 2 books called “How to speak Dutchified English” by Gary Gates & “Quaint Idioms & Expressions of the PA Germans” by A. Monroe Aurand, Jr. I’d like to start sharing some of the word pronounciation & expressions that are in this book with you. These are great nuggets of the Amish culture for your enjoyment!

DAIRSENT: Not allowed to. “I DAIRSENT smoke in school.”

MEPPY: Perhaps. “MEPPY I will, and MEPPY I won’t.”

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51 Comments

  1. CHARLES JACQUOT
    on October 8th, 2009
    1

    IS THERE A ARMISH NEWS PAPER AND IF THERE IS HOW DO WHERE DO I SEND TO GET ONE I THINK THE AMISH ARE GRATE THANKS FOR ANY INFO i CAN RECIVE

  2. John Schucker
    on November 7th, 2009
    2

    A couple of things. There’s a Pennsylfanisch Dietsch newspaper, check Wikipedia under “pennsylvania German”, it’s in the external links. I’m pretty sure the name is “Hiwwe Wie Driwwe”.

    I grew up in Schuylkill County, well, technically Dauphin and Schuylkill since I lived in Williamstown and Tower City. The book “how to Speak Dutchified English” has nothing to do with the Amish whatsoever. Actually the Amish, and other Mennonite groups, were a small subset of the population that spoke Dietsch. Both of my grandparents on my dad’s side spoke it, but mostly when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about. Apparently anti-German sentiment from world war II is the generally accepted reason for parents to have quit teaching their children Dietsch.

    Anyway, Dutchified English is just that, English that has some Dietsch borrowings and word order. I used to say “outten the light” all the time, until I got to college and everybody else wondered what in the world I was talking about. Laundry was a rare word, it was always “wash’ as in “I’m doing the wash, you got any?” Similarly, my mom never told me to vacuum. She told me to sweep or run the sweeper. My grandfather, not Amish at all, used to regularly switch his v’s and w’s, the radio had a wolume, my grandparents owned an Electrolux wacuum, etc. Our absolute favorite though was, without question, Walley Wiew, A.K.A. Valley View, a nearby town, (Wally Woo).

    I think the only Dietsch I ever managed to learn was “guck mal!”, “look wunst!” Well, other than the one about catching the black fly when it sits still, but I won’t even atempt to write that out. However, my grandmother regularly told me my hair was strublie, from some Dietsch word but I forget what it is, and she cracked me and my sister up when she told us “you’re like a couple of bopagoys!” She never did tell us what it meant but later I found out it means parrot. Her other expression for somebody talking too much was “my God, you were vaccinated with a victrola needle!”

  3. Margit Walter
    on December 8th, 2009
    3

    Hello John, I’m writing from Germany so sorry for my English, maybe the word strublie comes from the German word strubbelig or strubblig and means you have uncombed hair.

    Season’s Greetings from Germany to Lancaster County – I’ve met three times and happily will come back soon.

  4. Sue c
    on March 1st, 2010
    4

    After tracing my ancestry, I found my family origionated from Vipperow,Mecklen Schwerin, Germany and moved to York County Pa.,then to Bedford County Pa, then to W. Va.Many of the sayings and superstitions, are similar to Amish but they were Luthern and Methodist.We read up,wash, sweep, and don’t lick (beat) an animal.You never work on Sunday,ever and you read the bible. I respect the Amish for retaining their culture with all the modern temptations and handing down the language to their children. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we all helped our neighbors and family like they do?

  5. Heidi Fetterolf Hunchberger
    on October 29th, 2010
    5

    Response to John Schucker: I am originally from Walley Woo…..and schrublie means your hair was all messed up… – we got called a Schruble Cupt (I have no idea how to spell these words) but my mom would say this on a Saturday night when she made us sit and get rollers put in our hair so we wouldn’t be “Schruble Cupts” to go to church on Sunday morning….My parents – may they rest in peace -Jack and Marian Fetterolf (Fetterolfs Meat Market) spoke PA Dutch at home when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying, too…. which made us listen more attentively and this is the only way we picked up the little bits of the language we did! The Citizen Standard weekly newspaper has a PA Dutch column in it.

  6. Renee Verbanec
    on July 14th, 2011
    6

    Where can you find books for pa dutch books for kids.

  7. Billie Youngman
    on March 16th, 2012
    7

    John – i love you’re Grandma’s saying about the victrola needle – that’s awesome and to completely funny ;)

  8. Gregory VanDaley
    on March 25th, 2012
    8

    I’m from Pottsville and I think the Amish and the Mennonites slang words are awesome every day I hear someone speaking about doing wash or over the moutain through the walley It’s great I’m actually Dutch and German so it’s awesome to see what ur ancestors started years ago!!!!!!!

  9. tiffany porter
    on April 26th, 2012
    9

    what does girl and boy mean in amish?

  10. charles francis
    on August 4th, 2012
    10

    I speak Nederlands and Afrikaans that I learnt when working in South Africa. When ever I hear recording of spoken pa dutch I can understand about 50% of what is being said, but at times the dialect is confusing.

  11. mckinzie
    on September 27th, 2012
    11

    where can you find pa dutch books for kids

  12. verena
    on November 23rd, 2012
    12

    Hello, i am from South Germany so sorry for my bad english..

    @mckinzie, i don’t think that there are books in “pa dutch” because it is german just with a strong dialect and english influence…and everybody writes the dialect words drifferent…by the way this german is like 300 years ago and even some germans do not understand the amish german because now a days some words the amish still use, died in the geman language from today…

    well, for the others.. i picked now some of the “deitsch/deutsch/german” words i could find here and translate them into german and english..

    Newspaper “Hiwwe wie Driwwe” is south-german dialect and means in normal german “hier sowie dort”/ english “here and there”..you pronounce it in english like “he ve, ve, dre ve” (i=e)

    Strublie/Schruble Cupts is in normal german “Strubbelig”/”Strubbel Kopf” (google: “Struwwelpeter”) english: “disheveled”/”shock-headed” (kopf means head)

    bopagoys = german: Papageien english: Parrot as you correctly said :)

    well,..i hope i could help a bit :)

  13. destiny
    on December 7th, 2012
    13

    yes the newspaper is the budget i want to become Amish in either Ohio or Pennsylvania an old order or subgroup swartzentruber

  14. Jeffrey Dove
    on December 21st, 2012
    14

    My grandmother spoke PA dutch very well and always would say “Paper is content. You can write anything on it.” I would love to get the PA Dutch translation because I can only remember half. “Papier ist gadoolich”. I wish I cpould remember the second sentence. Sadly she is no longer around to ask.

  15. Birgit
    on December 22nd, 2012
    15

    Hello Jeffrey,
    I am born in north Germany and live now in NC. I found it fascinating that the Amish have their roots in Germany.
    Paper ist geduldig is translated Paper is patient
    With the creation of the school system the german children have to learn the book or als called high German “die Amts Sprache” government language. Germany has many variatiion or dialects the old german is called Platt Deutsch -> flat German
    My grandmother spoke it and in the north of Germany it is a mix between German Dansk and English.
    In the south it is hard to understand for some one from the north.

  16. Heather Hensley
    on January 2nd, 2013
    16

    My question is this… Has anyone ever heard of an English being baptised into an Amish Order? Old Order or New Order? Or into a Mennonite church/community?

  17. kda720
    on January 3rd, 2013
    17

    My fathers parents came to the us and settled in landcaster P.A. my dad was born there. I have a brother and my sisters children who she lived and raised in P.A wilkberry are sill there my sister married and devorce a lutherin man. My brother is divorced and has three children still there with him ass well. I lived in both wilkberry shortly with my sister. But mainly with my brother in scranton. I worked in dupont dinner. If amish come for one year to see if they want to return or stay with other than amish life. Can we have a year to see if someone like myself go to the amish living and see if we would rather live and become part of there community.?

  18. kda720
    on January 3rd, 2013
    18

    My fathers parents came to the us and settled in landcaster P.A. my dad was born there. I have a brother and my sisters children who she lived and raised in P.A wilkberry are sill there my sister married and devorce a lutherin man. My brother is divorced and has three children still there with him ass well. I lived in both wilkberry shortly with my sister. But mainly with my brother in scranton. I worked in dupont dinner. If amish come for one year to see if they want to return or stay with other than amish life. Can we have a year to see if someone like myself go to the amish living and see if we would rather live and become part of there community.?

  19. Amy
    on January 16th, 2013
    19

    Goot Morgan. PA Dutch for good morning. For you German speakers Guten Morgen.
    I grew up in Hershey Pa about 30 minutes from Lancaster PA. I learned Dutch from my Mom.
    There is no formal writing or spelling standard.

    @ Heather I have never heard of an English man or woman being baptized in to the Amish. You can be baptized Mennonite.

    The newspaper Hiwwe wie Driwwe is online
    http://hiwwewiedriwwe.wordpress.com

    Enjoya

  20. Bretz Kauffman
    on January 21st, 2013
    20

    My family arrived in Lancaster, PA in 1710 from Thun, Switzerland via Amsterdam. Most of my cousins still live there. My granparents spoke Deitsch around the house. My parents didn’t want me or my siblings ostracized by the kids in the public school we attended, so they never spoke Deitsch around us. I enlisted in the Army during Rumspringa thirty years ago and haven’t been back since. I met others in the service who had been raised Amish. While stationed in Germany I could understand much of the local dialect but they always gave me a funny look when I tried to have a conversation. I would like to pass on some of this heritage to my kids and grandchildren.

  21. Diane Kimmel
    on February 4th, 2013
    21

    Dear Brett,
    I am one of those children that have been listening to Deitsch also and would like to teach my grandchildren also but am having a hard time finding litature for our language. We live just north of you in Sch. Co. Would you be able to direct me to a site or store that would carry this material. I’m driving my mom nuts because she only can speak some but understands what is being said from listening to my grandparents talk when they didn’t want her or us “youngens” to know either? I do know some of the language but keep getting mixed up with high German words, thats what my mom says to me anyway. Can you or anyone in this help?

  22. Diane Kimmel
    on February 4th, 2013
    22

    I’m sorry, typo. I meant for that to go to Bretz Kauffman.

  23. Mike
    on March 1st, 2013
    23

    Both beginning and intermediate introduction to Pennsylvania German dialect classes are offered the the LMHS- Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, located just east of Lancaster Penna, along route 30. It’s a 10 week long class and it is taught by an excellent teacher. I am currently in the beginner class, but I’m having a great time of it. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a comprehensive experience. You can find further information on their website.

    Cheers, mike

  24. Shan
    on May 1st, 2013
    24

    @ heather. Yes there are some baptized into the community. At least I know for sure the mennonite community. My in laws are mennonite and some of the local churches have had people baptized into the faith.

  25. thnkglobalfuture
    on May 6th, 2013
    25

    I am bothered by the new tv programs on the Duetch. In 1979 I was 19 (putting self through college)and lost my home to a fire – no living family. I ended up working for a PD family for nearly a year. 12 boys, no girls. Momma dressed me duetch and I got along very well. I have PD great grand parents on both sides and had never thought of myself as Englisher all. Regret leaving – I didn’t think I would have been a good wife for the people but was asked. I think if I had waited another year, I would have been more grown in my heart – basically needed my own Rumspringa. Four years ago I now have my own farm and happiness. There are many different sects of The People. Some are very strict and would not have allowed me to join. Some have “shunning” (excommunication) so strong it is not just you cannot go to meeting (church) but family treats you as dead. I do not think most sects act so.

  26. Jesse
    on May 12th, 2013
    26

    Raised Amish, or plain, I am now more of the mennonite faith. Penn Dutch is more of a spoken language and not so much written, well in a formal context that is. In the community we spoke penn ductch when conversing with family or other plain folk. Our church services were held in high german normally..

    If someone is interested in becoming plain or amish you will have to prove that you are sincerely interested and dedicated to the community and faith before they will allow you to take membership bow. Usually it is required that you live in the community as the amish do, learn their language and then if the bishop and deacons agree you are then allowed to take membership…

    Going from the english world to the plain world is NOT easy.. Neither is the opposite.. Joining a mennonite church may be what you are looking for and then if you still desire a more plain life style you can join up with the amish then.. Pray and see where God would want you to be..
    Blessings..

  27. Lana
    on June 22nd, 2013
    27

    Hello to all the dietsch speakers.I am
    From Wyoming/ Nebraska (yes we have internet no we don’t have outhouses). The area i livewas founded by the Irish & German who were brought here as pow’s during WWII and decided to stay. I am Irish & my husband is German. My husband’s grandparents were first generation American in a German household. As such there are so many things about pa dutch that is familiar. There is a saying that is known by many esp. German. We we’re told there was no translation & then it loosely meant “thunder weather”. I know it’s probably swear words, but I am still dying for a translation. I am doing this phonetically Here goes:Gabeitha dunner vetha nogamall! Act tung fer schteenga veeter. Anyone?
    schtinga veeter.

  28. Lori
    on June 28th, 2013
    28

    My PA Dutch grandpop also used to swear something about “dunner wedder” when he was upset. As children, we were told it was something about thunderstorms. You might like this post: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/239453_Learning-a-father-s-Mudderschprooch.html.

  29. marcia sweet
    on July 15th, 2013
    29

    Dunner Wetter means Thunder Weather. I am looking for the meaning of Schwaanfott which “makes gravy great” for Ontario Mennonites. I think it is duck (swan?)grease, which is a seasonal (Christmas) treat in the Niagara area. Duck or goose fat is used like butter on bread: schmierbrot.

    I learned High German years ago in the US and then lived in rural Germany and Switzerland off and on for about 5 years. I picked up (meaning I could understand it but not speak it) several German and Swiss dialects. When I was in Denver PA I listened to a radio program in PD and certainly understood the context if not the details. Anyone who knows a little German could probably understand PD if they listened regularly to that program and concentrated real hard.

    Another great word my PD grandparents liked to use was haesslich, which means unkempt. I’m not sure what it means in HD except maybe horrible.

  30. Katja
    on July 25th, 2013
    30

    Native German speaker here. My Dad is from the UK, but my Mum is Bavarian, and I speak absolutely fluent High German (Hochdeutsch) and the dialect of Upper Bavaria (Oberbayerisch). The literal translation for Donnerwetter (it’s one word) is thunder weather: Donner = thunder and Wetter = weather. Whilst that is indeed the literal translation the expression never describes the weather. It can be used for minor cursing (“Donnerwetter nochamoi, wos host na etz scho wieda ogstellt?”), to indicate that you can expect a good bollocking (Das wird ein richtiges Donnerwetter geben.), to express surprise (Donnerwetter, wo kommst du jetzt plötzlich her?), or even admiration (Donnerwetter! Du bist a ganz a Ausgfuchsta!). The first and last phrases are in Bavarian dialect, the middles ones are in High German. Expressions like Donnerwetter very much depend on the context.

  31. Adam
    on August 20th, 2013
    31

    Hi

    I am looking for help with the translation for the following if anyone could help: “don’t call for the devil he will come without calling” I understand that Amish Dutch has differences to Dutch I know so I really need a genuine real translation if anyone could help me please??

    Thank You
    Adam

  32. Jillian
    on August 21st, 2013
    32

    “Ya it’s gonna clepper!” That’s how we said “thunder loudly” in Lancaster county :D

  33. Adam
    on August 24th, 2013
    33

    Hi

    Please can someone help, I am looking for help with the translation for the following
    if anyone could help: “you need not call the devil – he will come
    without calling” I understand that Amish Dutch has
    differences to Dutch I know so I really need a genuine real
    translation if anyone could help me please?? Thank You
    Adam

  34. charlene miller--nee,bretz
    on September 15th, 2013
    34

    I was raised in PA. heard mammy and aunts speaking Pa. Dutch often. I recall a few things, wish I’d learned more. I’ve got a good one I’ve used recently for nuisance solicitation calls. “Nay fershtay vat ich manse.” Then -”Sprechen zie deutsch?” I’ve floored some of the mideastern callers in particular. Thanks for the blog.

  35. anton david maartens
    on September 24th, 2013
    35

    i would dearly like to marry a amish or menonite girl

  36. Der Ami
    on September 25th, 2013
    36

    To me PA Dutch sound like nothing more than a mix of platt deutsch and English. I spent a good portion of my life in the odenwald in hessen, and I hear a lot of “odawäldisch platt” mixed in with there language

  37. James Kramer
    on October 1st, 2013
    37

    Deitsch is from the Palatinate or Pfalz; it is similar enough to Schwäbisch/Badisch that I learned to speak that I understand most things. Earl Haag published a wonderful intro. text and a collection of poetry using the Preston-Barbington system of orthography based on standard German–in my never to be humble opinion a good choice of orthography, since it would also form a natural springboard into High German for people who are Amish and wish to learn that language since it’s used in worship. Interestingly, if you speak to most Jewish people they can, if conservative or Orthodox especially, pronounce beautiful Hebrew without much understanding of the language–yet it is cherished every bit as much as the Amish cherish German for worship–same type of dynamic apparently at work, and sadly, it would be SIMPLE to learn alongside English in the schools–my own grandparents were living proof of that, and many people who used to go to German church in the Lutheran churches in our area grew up with both. I speak German, French and read Hebrew myself…so there it is :)

  38. Judy Reinert
    on October 29th, 2013
    38

    Vhe Ghates (Sp?) Cant remember if that is the hello or good bye???
    John – my grandparents and Mom were from Valley View and it makes me smile to remember how the V’s came out as W’s.
    What a beautiful town.

  39. Michael Anderson
    on November 6th, 2013
    39

    Judy,

    It is used as a greeting like Hello or How are you. The Hochdeutsch would be “Wie geht’s?” That is the shortened version. The full saying would be “Wie geht es ihnen?” The literal translation is “How goes it with you?”

    I live in Bremen, IL and our old church used to have three services every Sunday, Hochdeutsch (high German), Plattdeutsch (low German) and English. I grew-up with the “old-timers” who spoke German as a first language and still spoke it at home and with family and friends. Many would speak English translating directly from German. For example they would say “Throw the cow over the fence some hay.” Still brings as smile. I miss the old-timers!

  40. Michael Anderson
    on November 6th, 2013
    40

    Many people think that Amish is all German, not so. The Amish broke from the Mennonite Church two or three hundred years ago in Switzerland. So there are Swiss words and even French words in the Amish vocabulary, like boy is pie and gau(sp?)(say it like cow with a g) is horse.

  41. David R
    on December 3rd, 2013
    41

    In my work I travel from farm to farm in Lancaster County on a daily basis. I work with a customer base of hundreds of Amish & Mennonites throughout our county as well as the settlements in other parts of PA and around the country. If anyone needs a translation from English to PA Dutch or vice versa let me know.

  42. Macalia Wagler
    on December 8th, 2013
    42

    Its funny all of you comment on the Amish when you know nothing about them. My grandparents were Amish and so was my father and I was raised with speaking Pennsylvania dutch it is more German language then anything dutch. It is quit rude to treat the Amish so different and if you want to learn the language it is very hard unless you are raised with it since there are so many different ways all Amish bishops preach and families speak.

  43. Adam
    on December 16th, 2013
    43

    Please can someone help, I am looking for help with the translation for the following
    if anyone could help: “you need not call the devil – he will come
    without calling” I understand that Amish Dutch has
    differences to Dutch I know so I really need a genuine real
    translation if anyone could help me please?? Thank You
    Adam

  44. Kristen May
    on December 17th, 2013
    44

    Whenever we have questions, we reach out to the Young Center at Elizabethtown College (http://www.etown.edu/centers/young-center/index.aspx). I’m sure their wonderful staff will be able to assist you.

  45. Dave
    on February 14th, 2014
    45

    Can anyone tell me what this means in English please??

    Du bracht net da Davel froha, er kommt ohne froha

  46. Kristen May
    on February 18th, 2014
    46

    We do not have a translator on site. However, if you would like to talk to someone who can help you, I’d be happy to put you in touch with someone. Otherwise, try http://translate.google.com. That should help you.

  47. Stacey
    on February 21st, 2014
    47

    My parents spoke PA Dutch to one another when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying. I can still hear my dad saying “Dunnervetter nochamol (noch einmal)!” When we kids, knowing the context if not the exact meaning of the words, asked what it meant, we were given short shrift. As a teenager I learned German in school and discovered that that particular phrase translates “thunder weather once again” but of course is idiomatic in that the context drives the meaning of the phrase…my Dad was not commenting on the weather when he said that!
    I also love the comments about “Strubblich” hair (my curly-haired sister got that one a lot.

  48. Stacey
    on February 21st, 2014
    48

    Also, I believe Dave (comment 45) has finally answered Adam’s (comment 43) question!
    Very interested in the native German speakers’ comment (Verena, 12) regarding the fact that the PA Dutch (or more correctly PA German) dialect has more in common with the Deutsch spoken 300 years ago than modern German. As a teenager I assumed that the PA Dutch my parents and grandparents spoke was pretty much a mixture of “low German” and English.

  49. Kristen May
    on February 21st, 2014
    49

    Thanks for sharing!

  50. Ann Bull
    on April 21st, 2014
    50

    What is the meaning of ferschlumped and ferschimmled

  51. Kristen May
    on April 22nd, 2014
    51

    I have no idea, but I will ask around! :)

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