At theology school, I thoroughly enjoyed studying different religious communities. I was particularly intrigued by the Amish community due to their ability to preserve their cultural heritage. When my professor told us that many of them use a language known as Pennsylvania Dutch, I was shocked. I always thought the Amish only spoke English. This motivated me to visit over 10 communities in different states to study their modes of communication during my final year. Last weekend, one of my theology students wanted to know the difference between Pennsylvania Dutch and the Amish. Since the Amish are a religious group, she wanted to know how it relates to the Pennsylvania Dutch community and the language. Thanks to my detailed research, I could shed some light on the disparities and similarities between the Pennsylvania Dutch vs the Amish.
The Pennsylvania Dutch are numerous groups of people who moved to America and settled in states like Pennsylvania between the 16th and 17th centuries. They escaped Europe due to religious persecution and social unrest. The Pennsylvania Dutch come from countries like Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany. The Pennsylvania Dutch language is unique because it contains various German dialects mixed with the English language. On the other hand, the Amish are a religious community born during the Christian Reformation in the 1500s. Many Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch due to their interactions with members of the larger Pennsylvania Dutch community. Although both communities have distinct differences, they also share many similarities which are rooted in their German heritage.
In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch. Join me as we highlight the main differences and similarities between these groups. Read on to also learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking Amish.
Do Amish and Mennonites speak Pennsylvania Dutch?
The Amish are descendants of the German-speaking settlers listed above and mostly speak Pennsylvania Dutch. The Amish have made the point to pass down the Pennsylvania Dutch language to their children. Amish people like to speak this language in religious settings and at home. Most of them feel that it is a great way to keep their heritage alive. Speaking Pennsylvania Dutch also inspires a sense of community based on a troubled past and a triumphant future. According to the Amish, using Pennsylvania Dutch sets them apart from the rest of the English-speaking society in America. Although the Mennonites share similar ancestry with the Amish, they do not speak Pennsylvania Dutch as much. Mennonites do not teach their children Pennsylvania Dutch like the Amish. However, certain Mennonite groups, such as the horse and Buggy Mennonites, still retain bits of Pennsylvania Dutch in their vocabularies.
Pennsylvania Dutch is the main language that American Palatines speak since they arrived in America between the 1600s and the 1700s. Apart from the Rhenish Palatine, ethnic groups who speak Pennsylvania Dutch came from other German-speaking regions such as Hesse, Saxony, Rhineland, Baden-Wurttemberg, Switzerland, Netherlands, and the Alsace-Lorraine region in France. Before they made their way into the U.S., these people spoke a myriad of German dialects, including Palatine German. These groups settled in various American states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Carolinas, and Virginia. Over time, their German dialects mixed with English to produce the Pennsylvania Dutch language.
Lifestyle differences between Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish
The Amish are known for their modest and old-fashion dressing. These people are intentional about wearing plain, homemade clothing that represents their religious beliefs. The Amish avoid fashionable clothing to distinguish themselves from the rest of the “sinful” world.
The Pennsylvania Dutch show a diverse sense of style. They do not shy away from modern clothing. The Pennsylvania Dutch culture allows people to experiment with their styles. Therefore, it is not easy to pin down a member of the Pennsylvania Dutch community just based on their dress code.
The Amish are opposed to most types of modern technology. They encourage their communities to avoid modern gadgets such as smartphones, cars, and televisions. They do this to avoid corrupting their spirits. The Amish believe that too much modernity lures one away from God. In light of this, the Amish go out of their way to uphold the use of traditional tools.
The majority of Pennsylvania Dutch are enthusiastic about technology and modern life. However, others prefer to embrace select parts of modernity to ease their lives. Still, some Pennsylvania Dutch communities choose to avoid modern conveniences in favor of a traditional lifestyle.
The Amish are more focused on informal education. This community prefers to teach their children practical skills that they consider vital in life. They also invest lots of time and energy in giving their children a religious education. For the Amish, formal education is typically discontinued after a child has completed 8th grade.
Formal education is more prevalent in the Pennsylvanian Dutch community. They are more inclined towards modern civilization. This is why many Pennsylvania Dutch children attend public schools. The community also encourages bright students to pursue higher education.
Engagement with the rest of society
The Amish community is famous for limiting contact with the rest of society. They do this to ensure they are not tempted by the lifestyles of liberal groups outside the Amish community. Amish people, therefore, engage in a lot of community activities to prevent social influence from “outsiders .”They only make an exception during Rumspringa.
The situation is different for the Pennsylvania Dutch. While they value their cultural principles, these people are more accommodating of the broader society. Pennsylvania Dutch people are not opposed to doing business with other communities. They also take jobs outside the agricultural industry.
Religious differences between Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish
The Pennsylvania Dutch community is made up of various communities of German descent. That means that there are numerous religious groups under the umbrella of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In light of this, the Pennsylvania Dutch do not have a uniform style of worship. Some of the religious groups within this community include protestant denominations such as the Lutherans. Anabaptist religions such as the Mennonites and the Amish also fall under the umbrella of Pennsylvania Dutch.
On the other hand, the Amish are a single community which has its religious practices. These practices are rooted in the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century. They follow a strict set of rules known as the Ordnung. According to Amish doctrine, a disobedient member can be excommunicated for breaking Ordnung rules. This religion firmly believes in humility and service to others.
Are there any similarities between Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish?
Yes, the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch share several similarities. First, both communities have a strong sense of family. The Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch focus on building close-knit communities that support each other. When one family is in trouble, the entire community collaborates to find a solution. Community and family gatherings are precious to the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The Pennsylvania Dutch and the Amish share the same German heritage. These comminutes migrated from Europe and settled in America. They both faced some level of religious persecution from the dominant religions in the 17th century. Therefore, the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch share many cultural practices and speak the same language.
The Amish and a considerable percentage of Pennsylvania Dutch prefer to lead simplified lives. Though the latter embrace technology, they still aim to keep it as simple as possible. Both communities take pride in their German identity, which is reflected in their food, crafts, and mode of communication.
Why are Amish called Dutch?
People refer to the Amish as Dutch because of their Swiss-German roots and connection to the Pennsylvania Dutch. It is worth noting that the term Dutch means German. When the German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, English-speaking communities referred to them as the Dutch. The broader society did not bother to distinguish their religions. Consequently, all the German-speaking communities in Pennsylvania acquired the name, Pennsylvania Dutch. Since the majority of Amish people settled in Pennsylvania, they interacted with the wider Pennsylvania German-speaking groups. That said, it’s important to remember that the Amish are more of a religious group than an ethnic group like the Pennsylvania Dutch.
What percentage of Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch?
The majority of Old Order Amish in the U.S. speak Pennsylvania Dutch. Studies reveal that approximately 80 to 90% of Amish people speak Pennsylvania Dutch. Most speakers are in Midwestern states such as Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. The Amish in Canada and Ontario as also fluent in this language. Scholars suggest that U.S. and Canada have over 300,000 native Pennsylvania Dutch speakers. Today, many Amish youths attend public schools where English is the main language. Consequently, many young people in the Amish community are less interested in learning or speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. Today, it is not uncommon to find young Amish men and women who cannot speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.