The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States

By H. L. Mencken | Go to book overview

II.

Non-English Dialects in America

1.
German

The German dialect spoken by the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch of lower Pennsylvania is the oldest immigrant language to remain in daily use in the United States, and so it shows very extensive English influences. The fact that it survives at all is due to the extreme clannishness of the people using it—a clannishness chiefly based upon religious separatism. The first Germans came to Pennsylvania toward the end of the seventeenth century and settled in the lower tier of counties, running from Philadelphia westward to the mountains; a few continued into Maryland and then down the Valley of Virginia. They came, in the main, from the Palatinate; the minority hailed from Württemberg, Bavaria, the lower Rhine, Alsace, Saxony and German Switzerland. The language they brought with them was thus High German; it came to be called Dutch by the American colonists of the time because the immigrants themselves called it Deitsch (= Deutsch), and because Dutch was then (and has remained, to some extent, ever since) a generic American term to designate all the Germanic peoples and languages. This misuse of Dutch is frequently ascribed to the fact that the colonists were very familiar with the true Dutch in New York, but as a matter of fact Dutch was commonly used in place of German by the English of the seventeenth century and the colonists simply brought the term with them and preserved it as they preserved many other English archaisms. The Pennsylvania Germans themselves often used Pennsylvania Dutch in place of Pennsylvania German.

Their dialect has produced an extensive literature and has been studied and described at length by competent philologians; in consequence there is no need to deal with it here at any length. 5 Excel

____________________
5
See the Bibliography, p. 447, and especially the works of Haldeman, Horne, Learned, Lins, Miller and Rauch.

-397-

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