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I am interested in whether the Amish, despite living in North America for 300 years, managed to preserve their accents in their primary language:

Examples, with time stamps:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Lub3kWa4A&t=55s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORUFnYrV7h4&t=1m30s

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    The dialect is called Pennsylvania Dutch. You may be interested in this reaction video German Reacts to Pennsylvania Dutch. The video includes some history of the origin of the dialect, and an important point is that German dialects at the time when these groups first came to the US were more like different languages. The upshot is that even though the gal in video is fluent in both English and German, she has a hard time understanding Pennsylvania Dutch.
    – RDBury
    Feb 24 at 9:34
  • @RDBury From a comment under that video: "This is so easy to understand for me. Palatine dialect and Pennsylvania Dutch are almost identical" -- But Hubert found the examples I posted to be more English than German? I'm also skeptical of people filming themselves, because it's very taboo for the Amish. So maybe it's not quite the same dialect. There are tens of millions of people with German ancestry in the US. And only 300K of them are Amish.
    – user27384
    Feb 24 at 16:59
  • As mentioned in the video, the origins of Pennsylvania Dutch are mainly the Palatine dialect, so it's not surprising that people from the Palatinate (aka Pfalz) region in Germany would be able to understand it better than most German speakers. I hear an American accent in some of the speakers in the video, and I assume that's because they speak Pennsylvania Dutch as a second language with English as their first language. I've heard Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by native speakers and, as I recall, they sound rather different.
    – RDBury
    Feb 25 at 6:40
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    I think the main point here is that there is a lot more to Pennsylvania Dutch than a mixture of German and English. There are many varieties of German, and Pennsylvania Dutch is much more like one of these than Standard German with an American Accent. I know what German with an American accent sounds like because that's what comes out when I try to speak German. And, trust me on this, it's nothing like Pennsylvania Dutch.
    – RDBury
    Feb 25 at 7:02
  • @MWB You will need to accept that there are very definitly widely differing levels of assimilation, even in the Amish culture (and, likewise, for other German-speaking minorities in the US, like the Texas Germans), likely dependant on the amount of openness of a particular Amish group to the general US society . I have seen videos where you could hear strong palatine dialect intermixed with very few English terms, but also others that were like 95% English (like the ones you linked).
    – tofro
    Feb 26 at 13:47

2 Answers 2

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I'm hesitant to call it an English accent. The Adams county/Allen County dialect is their language, and I don't know how that's supposed to sound in its "pure" form.

Americans who speak perfect German, like e.g. John Kornblum, who know all their Üs and CHs and vowels and consonants perfectly, still have some color in how they talk that gives away their background. (Same the other way around for Germans who speak great American English.)

I hear the same color in the videos in the question, but I also feel like the English that they speak has a certain slight German color.

I agree with Hubert Schölnast (and the "Feli from Germany" video that I linked above about Pennsylvania Dutch) that some parts are really hard to understand for German speakers, even if we're used to the palatinian dialect, and I feel that's mostly because of vocabulary that we don't have.

I hear:

M: So du hesch dei Decision g'macht?
D: I hen mei Decision g'macht. Ich mien, ich misch moan(?) misse gehe.

(Du hesch / i hen (You have / I have) is exactly what allemanic dialect speakers in Germany would say.)

M: So dis is actually wa(s) du due willt.
D: I hen mei Decision gmacht. Y'know, da is still far more Stuff da draaß des ich due will und sehne will n stuff.

(Due <=> tun is also still the same in Badisch/Allemannisch. Sehne <=> sehen is also mentioned in this video in the groundhog sentence.)

M: So du meensch just du wills alles, alles weggebbe, all des, de family?
D: No. Ich schpee(?) bin de right Decision mache.
M: Aber wann du's so spürscht, dan soll ichs wigge su sue (?).
D: So ich derf dann nimme heem komme or any ebbes (?)?
M: Das woar alright.

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  • "ebbes" = "etwas" in Palatine; I think it makes sense there. In colloquial English, we say "I can't do X or anything".
    – user27384
    Feb 27 at 22:29
  • I think this answer could be improved if you highlighted (in boldface, for example) all the English words. "decision" is clearly English (of French origin). "mien" = "mean" ? ... Accepting this one for now, as I think this is the better answer (but I upvoted both answers - thanks y'all)
    – user27384
    Feb 27 at 22:34
  • @MWB, there can of course have been an English influence, but it is not necessary to arrive at "mien". dwds.de/wb/meinen
    – Carsten S
    Mar 1 at 10:51
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In both clips I hear a very strange mix of German and English. I speak both languages, but the language people use in these videos is so different from English and German that it's almost impossible for me to understand. I had to keep rewinding and listening to make sense of it. So I only analyzed a short dialogue from a single video because it's really hard to identify the words used. I hear in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Lub3kWa4A&t=55s:

1 Mother: So you hash their decision gma?
2 Daughter: Yeah, mey decision gmacht.
3 (short break)
4 Daughter: Ih mean ... you know ... mh ... ih moan ih misse gia.
5 Mother: Aye. ... So thats actually what you do will?
6 Daughter: Yeah, I mey decision gmacht.
...

I have to add, that the pronunciation often reminds to a German pronunciation. When you read the text, it looks much more Englich than when you listen to it. But it still is far away from German.

This is the English translation:

1 Mother: So you've made your decision?
2 Daughter: Yes, I've made my decision.
3 (short break)
4 Daughter: I mean ... you know ... mh ... I think I have to go.
5 Mother: Aye. ... So that's actually what you want to do?
6 Daughter: Yes, I've made my decision.
...

And here the same dialog in standard German:

1 Mutter: Du hast also deine Entscheidung getroffen?
2 Tochter: Ja, ich habe meine Entscheidung getroffen.
3 (kurze Pause)
4 Tochter: Ich meine ... du weißt schon ... mh ... Ich denke, ich muss gehen.
5 Mutter: Aha. ... Das ist es also was du tun willst?
6 Tochter: Ja, ich habe meine Entscheidung getroffen.
...

This could be a version in colloqial speech, but I think there is no region within the German speaking area, where people really speak this way. (But it still is plausible colloqial speech.)

1 Mutter: So, du hast dei Entscheidung gemacht?
2 Tochter: Ja, ich hab' mei Entscheidung gemacht.
3 (kurze Pause)
4 Tochter: Ich mein ... du weißt ... mh ... Ich meine, ich müsse gehen.
5 Mutter: Aha. ... So, das ist also was du tun willst?
6 Tochter: Ja, ich hab' mei Entscheidung gemacht.
...

The word »decision« does not exist in German but is used 3 times in this short dialog. The German translation for it is »Entscheidung«, but in this short dialog they never used it.

In English, the verb that is most often used together with »decision« is »to make«, so in English you usually »make a decision«. The standalone translation of »to make« is »machen«, the past participle of it is »gemacht« and in colloqial speech it becomes »gmacht« in many regions. But machem is not the verb that we usually use together with Entscheidung. »Eine Entscheidung machen« means to produce a decision, which sounds awkward and clumsy in German ears. This is very unusual and not used by native speakers. We use way more often these two other verbs:

  1. eine Entscheidung fällen
  2. eine Entscheidung treffen

The verb fällen has three very different meanings: »einen Baum fällen« = »to cut down a tree«. »eine Entscheidung fällen« = »to make a decision«. »Salz aus einer Lösung fällen.« = »to precipitate salt from a solution.« (The last part is technical language from chemistry.)
Also the meaning of »treffen« depends on context: »einen Freund treffen« = »to meet a friend«. »ein Ziel treffen« = »to hit a target«. »eine Entscheidung treffen.« = »to make a decision.«

Most phrases in this dialog sound much more English than German. The only exception is this:

ih moan ih misse gia.

This sounds very much like »Ih moan ih miassat geahn.« which is a version of Bavarian dialect spoken in parts of Austria.

So all in all, I have to say that the language of this people is what German has become as it developed in isolation from Europe and under the strong influence of English-speaking neighbors over more than two centuries. It has become more English than German, but the German roots are still very much present.

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    It's really interesting from the linguistics point of view. This is presumably their primary language. But they managed to replace the word "you" in it? How does that happen... One generation was saying "sie" and the next switched to "you" all of a sudden? And yet they preserved their German phonetics? To my ear, they actually sound Dutch though.
    – user27384
    Feb 24 at 9:59
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    In my ears, there's not the least bit of Dutch in there, it's 80% English with a strong German dialect accent. And I don't get your du/sie thing. The conversation is within family and obviously they're using "Du" to address each other. (When the girls talk between themselves, it's pure English).
    – tofro
    Feb 24 at 10:48
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    @tofro "sie" = "you", and "du" = "thou" (still used in some rare contexts). I can see how people might go from "sie" to "du" and back, or from "thou" to "you". It's just a matter of slight changes in social conventions. But starting to use foreign pronouns in your primary language seems strange.
    – user27384
    Feb 24 at 11:35
  • @tofro This also talks about the conservation of certain types of words: linguistics.stackexchange.com/a/8826
    – user27384
    Feb 24 at 17:11
  • @MWB, there is no reason to bring "Sie" into this, i have no reason the to assume that this was used as an address in the language that these people brought to America. Also, do you really hear them saying "you" in the conversation that Hubert has transcribed? I couldn't say.
    – Carsten S
    Feb 24 at 18:16

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