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  • J.A. Willoughby

Pennsylvania 'Dutch' – An odd language explained - sort of

image © 2018 J.A.Willoughby

If you live in our region here in Pennsylvania, other parts of the United States and Canada, this image of a horse-drawn buggy clopping on the roads is a familiar sight. The Amish and their culture is everywhere. My family and other “English,” as they call us who are not of their faith, have had eaten their baked goods and maybe even had their men folk work for us. Their language has also crept into our lives, as ours has into theirs – though out of pride, I doubt they would admit that. When I was young and going to elementary school I noticed irregularities in our speech in conversations at the dinner table. I was told by the older family members that certain expressions in my ethnically German family were “Dutchy” – a way of transposing verbs and nouns that sounds odd to the average ear or speaker of the English language, sometimes tagging the end of a sentence with an unnecessary phrase like "got going" or some other superfluous wording that was passed down over many generations. Having a fascination for language and the etymology of words, I wondered how much real German is in their language and discovered some things that I thought were interesting, if not downright amusing. Pennsylvania Dutch, as it is called here, seems to be an amalgam of German phonetic spellings of that language, simple English words and sometimes they just call things as they see them. An example of the latter would be The Pennsylvania Dutch word for cantaloupe. It is “mushmiloon” – mush melon. Or a body ache would “schmartz” referring the English phrase from decades ago when something caused pain; that "smarts” or hurts. One of my favorites along these lines is a haunted house, known in their language as a “spuk haus”. Other PA Dutch is phonetic spellings from the German language such as “tsooker”, their word for candy. It is derived from the German word Zucker (sugar). Other examples of misappropriated spellings would include “kaffi” for the German, Kaffee (coffee), and a “daag,” (a day) taken from the German ‘Tag’. Another of those examples would be oppelbawm and the German, apfelbaum, or apple tree. The language is almost like they are learning how to spell but don’t bother correcting the mistakes. Then, there are inventions. If someone in the Amish community is affectionate they would be called “friendlich”, combining English and German. An aristocrat is a “big-bug” and when you are talking politics you spell it as a soundalike, “balledix”. A television is called a “gookbox”, arguably derived from British English slang of some years, a googlebox. So, a lot of mashups of different things in Pennsylvania Dutch, many showing a sense of humor. Like for instance, “Paffefatzle” or Christmas fritters. Which translated means “preacher’s farts”. Yeah, it's funny, but it had to come from somewhere. It makes one wonder how they all agreed on that. Cause and effect? More PA Dutch phrases

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