Monday, November 07, 2005

Curious Sayings and Humorous English Expressions of the Pennsylvania Dutch

English as a World Language

English, with its growing number of varieties, pidgins and inflections, is now firmly established as a world language. It is currently spoken as a second or foreign language by more speakers than those who call it their first language. Now there are more than three non-native speakers of English for every native speaker and the number of non-native English speakers continues to grow on a daily basis. “There’s never before been a language that’s been spoken by more people as a second than a first”, said David Crystal, author of the book “English as a Global Language”. In the area where I grew up in south central Pennsylvania, there is an interesting variety of the English language spoken by the “Pennsylvania Dutch”.

One difficult aspect of the English speech in Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties located in south central Pennsylvania, where a large concentration of Amish, Mennonites and other “Pennsylvania Dutch” sects live is the manipulation of the grammar elements of English. Here are a few examples of the ways in which grammar and word order are managed in everyday Pennsylvania Dutch speech. For “Outlanders”, anyone who is not Pennsylvania Dutch, these expressions of everyday speech can range from amusing to startling. Here’s a look at just a few of the many aspects of this variety of English.

Convoluted Grammatical Forms

“Throw Papa down the stairs his hat.”
Explanation: Throw Papa’s hat down the stairs to him. (I don't care how old he is, don't you dare touch ole Papa!)

“Go out and tie the dog loose and don’t forget to outen the light.”
This expression uses convoluted grammar in addition to “Germanic” verbalizations. Here the verb “outen” means “to turn out”. The adjective and noun are used in reverse order from other forms of Standard English.

“The owner says he’ll pay me ten dollars a day if I eat myself, but just five dollars if he eats me.”

Explanation: No, there’s no cannibalism here! The worker will get ten dollars a day for providing his own meals, but five dollars a day if the owner has to provide the worker’s food. (Whew! I'm glad we cleared that one up!)

“He’s a pretty good man yet, ain’t not?”
Explanation: He’s a pretty good man (provider), isn’t he? (a tag question form)

Use of Specialized Vocabulary

Addition of specialized, but “local” vocabulary is also quite commonly done as demonstrated in these examples.

“Shall I put the candy in a toot?” (A “toot” is a paper bag.)

When talking about that fact that his father or grandfather is sick a child might say:
“Pop ain’t so good; his eatin’s gone away and he don’t look so good in the face, either.”

Speaking about his son’s difficulties in school a father could be heard to express the following sentiments: “My son ain’t dumb. It ain’t that he can’t learn, it’s just that after he learns it, he forgets it.”

If you don’t speak “Pennsylvania Dutch” in one of its multiple forms, they just might say of you: “You don’t make yourself out so good. You talk so fancy like a body can’t understand you.”

In talking about someone who doesn’t read aloud well, at a meeting or in school for example, people might say something like: “When he gets up to read he gets befuddled.”

Or how about this amusing little observation of another person’s speech: “Don’t talk so quick, it runs together too much when I think.”

In this region of the “Keystone state” as Pennsylvania is monickered, this variety of is often called “Ferhoodled English” by the Pennsylvania Dutch themselves and by local “Outlanders”. Famous for their frugal lifestyle and natural, delicious farm-fresh cooking, the Amish and other sects contribute to the tourism of the state. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to sample the crafts, food and “peculiar” language this austere people. It is but yet another of the many continually developing varieties of English as a global language.

“When you come over – come out” When you’re in the area, drop by. Come see, hear, experience the food and the Pennsylvania Dutch for yourself.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is a bi-lingual copywriter, expert author and photographer specializing in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines. Originally from York, Pennsylvania, he now lives in Colombia and teaches at a university in Cali. Want lots more free tips, help and information on language learning, public speaking, writing and mental development? E-mail Prof. Larry M. Lynch at: for professional consulting, EFL Teacher Training or ELT multi-media presentations at your conference or facility.

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