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A: "Pennsylvania Dutch" is a phrase commonly seen and heard throughout the Amish Country. It refers to a people, a language and a culture, but it has nothing to do with Holland, as many people think.
The problem word here is "Dutch." It should actually be "Deutsche" or "Deitsch," referring to German. For a better explanation, let’s journey to Philadelphia. It was in Philadelphia that various religious groups first arrived from Europe in the early 1700s. Most were escaping persecution and were responding to William Penn’s promise of religious freedom in the New World. They included Lutherans, Amish, Mennonites, Reformed Quakers, French Huguenots and others. These immigrants, many of whom had once lived in countries bordering the Rhine River, now found themselves settling in southeastern Pennsylvania between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers.
Germans were some of the first to arrive in "Penn’s Woods." Many German visitors tell us even today that the Lancaster County landscape reminds them of parts of Germany. Perhaps that is why Lancaster was one of the first places they settled. Some people say the word "Deitsch" (for German) was difficult for the non-German populace to pronounce, and so in time it became "Dutch." Whatever the case, Pennsylvania Dutch refers to people of German background, descendants of German, Swiss and Alsatian immigrants and also to the German dialect spoken here, and their art, foods and culture.
The language is still spoken by the Amish, as well as many non-Amish residents, particularly in the Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks County areas. The dialect is close to Palatine German folk speech. (A publication in the dialect is currently published in Germany.) Interestingly, the language was primarily spoken and not written. (The Amish, for example, write to each other in English.) But in recent years, more people have begun to both read and write the language in an effort to preserve it. Now there are even classes offered locally in the Pennsylvania German language, and a dictionary has even been published.
This German influence is also seen in many local foods. Few people escape Amish Country without sampling such Pennsylvania Dutch specialties as shoo- fly- pie, chow chow and chicken pot pie. This is hearty eating, and we love our desserts, sometimes having as many as four or five at a time!
Finally, most people have seen the folk art of the Pennsylvania Dutch, whether it be in hex signs, quilts, furniture or fraktur. Pennsylvania German art is found in many of the world’s museums. Its distinctive birds, tulips, hearts and other images reflect the region’s religious faith, love of color, and closeness to the land. Published with permission from the Amish country news. Richard from Amish Stories.
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