Pennsylvania German (so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch") is a true
dialect of the German language. It is not a broken or corrupted form of
German; nor is it a creole (a composite language), or a pigin (a language
for convenience of trade). The Pennsylvania German dialect has been declining
in native usage during the Twentieth Century. Nevertheless, it will doubtless
persist because of its use by the Amish minority.
The public interest in the Amish and their customs (depicted in the Harrison Ford movie Witness) has given many people the impression that all Pennsylvania Germans are Amish. Actually, the Anabaptists sects (the Amish and the related Mennonites) make up only about 10 percent of Pennsylvania Germans.
The Pennsylvania Germans are so named because most of them came from German-speaking regions, and most settled in Pennsylvania (although their area of settlement spilled over slightly into adjacent states). Pennsylvania Germans originated mainly from the Rheinland provinces, particularly the Palatinate (Pfalz). Many others came from Alsace (Elsass, now part of France), and Switzerland.
For the linguistically inclined, you may visit a famous example of "the dialect": Das alt Schulhaus an der Krick ,by Dr. Heinrich Harbaugh.
There is a Pennsylvania German Society which published a newsletter, a small magazine, and a great variety of books.
The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center operates from Kutztown State University in eastern Pennsylvania. They have a famous annual festival.
Information on learning Pennsylvania German is available, too.
College offers a course in Pennsylvania German culture.
Return to Dr. Boyer's home page.