Wann du des lese kannscht, dann wescht Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch.
If you can’t understand that previous sentence, then maybe you don’t speak or understand Pennsylvania Dutch.
But perhaps you’ve heard its influence in the way people speak.
“Chust a minute, now!” or “Ya, it’s fine veather ve’re having, ain’t?”
“Stop ruching around” and “Watch where you’re going; you’re so doplich.”
It’s not “put the toys away,” it’s “Get all those toys rett away.”
Killing time before dinner? Then you’re “piffling around till dinner.”
And creek is not said with the long e like in “week;” it is “crick,” as in “Do you mind the time Tony fell in the crick?”
If you’re hungry at breakfast, maybe you’d fancy some scrapple? Love veggies? Then chow chow is for you.
Nothing’s better for dessert than schnitz und knepp and shoo fly pie — and make sure it has crumbs on top and wet molasses on the bottom.
As you hit the more rural areas of Montgomery County — and even places like Zern’s in Gilbertsville or Landis Markets — Pennsylvania Dutch dialect and culture becomes more and more prominent.
Alas, it is a dying language, so the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center is preserving it with a PA German Dialect Conversation Group on Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.
“We decided to offer a conversation group so that those who do speak the dialect can come and chat with one another,” said Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center museum educator Rebecca Lawrence. “It’s part of our organization’s effort to preserve and maintain dialect spoken in the area.”
Once or twice a year, the center’s Friends Organization offers a dialect program, she said, and the meeting rooms get packed.
“In this part of Montgomery County, there are many of a certain generation that do speak it, mainly at home,” Lawrence said. “Our group is part of the effort to continue to offer a program so it can be spoken and people can continue to speak it.”
It was the dialect spoken by the first Schwenckfeld settlers that came here in 1734 on the St. Andrew from the Palatine region of Germany and parts of Poland.
It’s important to note that Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch — “Dutch” in this case leftover from the English word “Dutch,” referring to all people speaking a continental West Germanic language and a rendering of the German word Deutsch — is a dialect and not a language.
For it to be a language, it must have a standard written form; there is no standard way of writing Pennsylvania German.
There are two primary models of orthography for those attempting to write Pennsylvania German dialect: one is the American English system and the other the Standard German system.
“You can write it anyway you want to,” said Ron Treichler, a Pennsylvania German Society member and Heritage Center Friends member.
Treichler, a former biology teacher at Perkiomen Valley School District, is fluent in Pennsylvania German as well.
“The dialect is dying out,” he said. “Most kids learn this language at home, but it’s not being spoken in the home anymore. If you one the parents can speak it, and the other can’t, the language isn’t being used.”
Treichler grew up hearing the dialect, but his parents didn’t insist he talk the dialect. Believe it or not, he said, they didn’t want him to talk English with a Dutch accent.
“People in town who grew up knowing the language will continue to speak the language,” he said, “but those people are dying out.”
It is correct to assume that the more rural areas in the state have a population that speaks Pennsylvania German.
“In rural areas, people are more isolated,” Treichler said. “Farm people, for example, work from sun up to sundown, and work amongst each other. They have a chance to talk this language. When they go to town, chances are if they go to the bank or grocery store, nobody there will understand them.”
In fact, as one moves farther north in the county and into Berks and Northampton counties, the dialect is more and more distinct and diverse.
Ever go to Kutztown University? The surrounding community have Pennsylvania German accents, and there’s even a Pennsylvania German Festival annually at the university grounds and a Pennsylvania German Heritage Center run by the university. It also has a German Studies minor program.
In fact, according to the 2000 Census, the counties of Berks, Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon have the highest percentages of Pennsylvania German ancestry, between 4.2 and 6.2 percent of the respective county’s population.
Berks, Lehigh, Schulylkill, Lebanon, Chester, Somerset and Crawford counties have the highest number of Pennsylvania German speakers in the state.
Lancaster, Union, Snyder and Mifflin counties have the highest proportion of Pennsylvania German speakers and the highest number of Pennsylvania German speakers. Juniata County has the highest proportion of Pennsylvania German speakers of all the counties in the state.
Interestingly enough, since 1997, a Pennsylvania German newspaper has been published biannually called Hiwwe wie Driwwe. There’s also a Pennsylvania Dutch Wikipedia site at http://pdc.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haaptblatt.
While he may be partial, Triechler said the dialect is no more difficult to learn than German: the grammar is similar, in that all the nouns have a gender.
“In New Orleans, Cajun French is being revived, and I think in the New York City area, Yiddish is being revived,” he said. “There’s a real effort being made to have schools teach it and offer learning opportunities.”
Lawrence’s program, he said, is meant for a lot of people who don’t have a chance to hear or speak the dialect to get involved.
Lawrence said it’s important to continue to offer opportunities for individuals to be exposed to the dialect and language through classes and conversation groups.
In fact, on Feb. 6, the center will, for the first time, offer a children’s Groundhog Lodge, or Grundsow Lodge.
The groundhog has been associated for centuries with the Pennsylvania German tradition of weather prognostication, introduced by the first German immigrants who had participated in a similiar European tradition for centuries, according to the Kutztown University Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center.
“There are men’s lodges and women’s lodges, but there’s never before been a children’s group,” Lawrence said. “There’s not many programs for younger people to get involved and speak the dialect and learn about Pennsylvania Dutch culture.”
Lawrence said preserving language is another way of preserving history.
Treichler believes that while some may be of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry and undertake Pennsylvania Dutch customs, they may not speak the dialect.