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Pennsylvania Dutch: PA Non-Amish/Mennonite

Female speaker interviewed by Wolfgang W. Moelleken, 1984, Northumberland Co., Pennsylvania

County: Northumberland
State: PA

While most people equate "Pennsylvania Dutch" with "Amish," historically, the majority of speakers of this Palatine German-derived American language were not Amish, but were affiliated with Lutheran and German Reformed congregations. Today, however, the Amish are the last speakers to maintain the language; hence the impression that they were ever the only people to use Pennsylvania Dutch. The speaker heard here is among the last generation of fluent non-Amish speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch, born between 1910 and 1940. In this interview she tells a fascinating story of "powwowing," a form of folk medicine that was once widespread among the (non-Amish) majority of Pennsylvania Dutch. The condition referred to here is that of being "liver-grown," a term that was often applied to infants who had breathing difficulties.
[What did you use to do when children got sick?]

Well, it's God's Word that you have to use for that, you have to speak with God's Word. When children are liver-grown, and a lot of people don't know what that is, we have ... I have to tell you a little about this.

We once had a child in the neighborhood here, and this woman, the grandmother, came by and said, "Well," I think, she said, "if you want to see this child alive yet, come to us, you can see her yet." It was just across the street, and as I was walking up the stairs to see the child before it died, I said, "O, dear Lord," I said, "this child is liver-grown."

"Well, what does one do then?" the woman said.

I said, "You have to find someone who can powwow."

"Well, who can powwow?"

And then I said, "Why, right down the street is woman who can powwow for this child." I said, "She doesn't have pneumonia or something else, she's just liver-grown." She breathed so hard, you would have thought the child would suffocate. Then I went down and fetched that woman [who could powwow] and went back up with her. And the woman powwowed for the child, this was in the morning. Then she said, "Now," she said, "this evening I will come again." Then I went over again [later] and she powwowed again for the child. Well, that evening the child was already sitting up and feeling better, the child was. And then she came a third time, the next morning, and powwowed, and in two days the child was out of bed, up, and running around.

Now, that's my experience with powwowing. And for a liver-grown condition, when children are liver-grown, you can powwow, if you know what to do. But you have to have to start in the front at the neck and go down over the chest. Then you have to say, "Go out of your ribs, as Lord Jesus Christ went out of his cradle. In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost." You have to say that three times, in the front going down over the chest and over the ribs, with both hands. Then you do the same thing on the back. But you have to powwow and do it three times, about six or eight hours apart, that helps the children too. Because when children can't breathe, I don't know what causes it, but they just get tight in their chest and they just can't breathe when they're liver-grown. It comes sometimes from riding in a vehicle, and sometimes also if they jump around too much when they get bigger, they can still get it.

Pennsylvania Dutch: PA Amish

Male speaker interviewed by Wilfried Schabus (for Wolfgang W. Moelleken), 1984, Franklin County, Pennsylvania

County: Franklin
State: PA

The most famous Amish settlement is Lancaster County, PA. Because of a combination of pressures, including decreased availability of farmland and high birth rates, many Amish have been moving out of Lancaster County, to other parts Pennsylvania and adjoining states, and as far west as Wisconsin. The migration of Lancaster Amish is not exceptional, however; Amish people have been historically quite mobile in order to adapt to changing external circumstances, often economic. This middle-aged Amish man tells of living in four different communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
[Tell us a little about yourself and your background.]

Well, I was born in Lancaster County. When I was 14 years old my parents moved away from there and we moved down to St. Mary's County [MD]. I ran around [was a teenager] there and got married there. Then we moved to Gettysburg, and then we moved to Franklin County [PA]. We have a big chicken house and bunch of hogs. I go to the farmer's market three days a week. I handle a lot of money, but I haven't got any. We've got a good corn crop this year. We do all our plowing and cultivation with horses. I just built myself a new barn, and I've got my horse and buggy in there. It's not finished yet. I sell meat and cheese at the farmer's market, and eggs.

Pennsylvania Dutch: Midwestern Amish

Female speaker interviewed by J??rgen Eichhoff, 1984, Nappanee, Indiana

County: Elkhart
State: IN

While the Amish are stereotypically associated with Lancaster County, PA, most Amish in fact live in the Midwest, especially the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Though Amish everywhere share core Christian beliefs, there are cultural and linguistic differences between Lancaster and Midwestern Amish. This Amish woman from northern Indiana recalls stories from her days as a teacher in an Amish parochial school. Historically, most Amish attended public schools until consolidation and curricular changes compelled them to operate their own schools. Recognizing the importance of fluency in English, Amish require that English be the sole medium of instruction in their schools, sometimes even during recess as well. High German, the language of the Bible, prayer books, and hymnals, is commonly taught as a subject in Amish schools.
[What's it like in an Amish parochial school?] From 1977 to 1979 I was teaching school and we [teachers] tried to get to school no later than 7:30, that was when we wanted to be there so that we could study the lessons and stuff for that day and have everything ready by the time the kids came at 8 o'clock, they weren't supposed to come before 8. Then they usually played until 8:30 when school started and we would ring the bell. It was a one-room schoolhouse and we had all eight grades [in there]. There were two of us teachers, I had five through eight [grades]. And the first thing in the morning we had our devotions and we had a prayer and read a Bible story or then we would sing. Usually we sang in English, sometimes we sang in German. Then we usually started with arithmetic, then reading. At 10 o'clock we had recess, then at 11:30 we'd have lunch, then they were allowed to play for an hour. And we had arithmetic and reading and writing and spelling, history, seventh and eighth had history, fifth and sixth had geography. Then every Friday we had German and Monday morning we'd try to write a Bible verse on the board that the kids were supposed to memorize by Friday, then they were supposed to know it by heart. And when we had classes they were supposed to speak only English, it was in English, and in recess they were supposed to speak English too. Sometimes they got sort of carried away and would speak German, then we [teachers] had to sort of play a game with them, to give them, oh, so many kernels of corn, so if we caught them speaking German, that person would have a kernel taken away from them, and at the end of the week we would see who had the most kernels. But for a treat sometime, for about the last six weeks of the school year we would let them speak German.

Pennsylvania Dutch: PA Mennonite

Male speaker, born 1904 East Earl Township, Lancaster County, PA Date/Place of Interview: May 29, 1983, East Earl Tonwnship, PA. Interviewer: Karl-Heinz Wandt NAGDA Record Number: MOE 148

County: Lancaster
State: PA

While most Pennsylvania Dutch are aware that their ancestors emigrated from German-speaking Central Europe, and not the Netherlands, they prefer to view themselves as old-stock Americans, rather than German Americans. Contacts between Pennsylvania Dutch and European Germans have typically been infrequent, though with the rise of tourism in the twentieth century, incidental contacts have increased. This Mennonite Pennsylvania Dutch recounts his family's friendship with an elderly visitor from Germany at some point after World War II.
So, I might tell you about the German lady that ... I should say it in Dutch? She was a German woman who came from Canada, [I mean] from Germany, from Coblentz, and she wanted to visit us because her relatives in the city of Philadelphia were "English" [= non-German-speaking]. So one day I brought her home. And it was night and there were three of us men in a truck and she came along and she was afraid, [thinking that] perhaps in a foreign country, perhaps these strange men might get her in trouble. And she made me promise that everything would be all right.

And so she was here and adjusted herself well to our family, we had about four or five children, and I remember we had a Fresh Air boy here, a black boy from the city of Reading, and she also taught him German, and he was a bit slow to learn German. But he learned how to say "Good morning," and, what was the other thing? Anyway, she enjoyed it here and she helped with the chores. She was 82 years old, and she always had a little bouquet on the table, mornings, afternoons, or evenings. She was always on the job. She worked in the garden, she liked working in the garden with the vegetables.

And on Sundays she always wanted to got to church, she was a Christian. And I would always tell here where the text was in her German book, her German Bible, she said oh, she knew it. And anyway, I took her to a German church, to some Amish people, and I wondered if she would understand everything, and sure enough, when it was over, I said, "Mutter, wie waar des?" (Mother, how was that?) and she said "Ken Watt verschtanne!" (I didn't understand a word!) , and I said "Was ist los?" (What's up?) and she said "Sie hen en Grummer im Hals" (They have a frog in their throat), an accent, and I said "Des verschtehn ich" (I understand that).

Really, the main reason that she came over [to the U.S.], her husband and one son in Germany had been in Hitler's army. And she had another son in America and she said that she knew it would have been wrong if they would have shot at one another. And she said that she had often prayed that that wouldn't happen. And she hoped that if she would come to America she would see her son Paul again, then she could go back and be satisfied. And that's just what happened. Anyway, I told her that if she were a Christian, she wouldn't have had to be afraid about that because Christians wouldn't shoot at one another. And she liked knowing this, and she said she wanted to go back to Coblentz and she would thank God and be happy knowing that her husband and sons had not shot at one another, and that was the case.

Anyway, she was here for four weeks, and then she went home to Philadelphia to her son for a week, and then she came back [here] again, and then she stayed possibly another two weeks, right? Three. Three weeks. And so I told her, well, she'd better go back to Philadelphia since she had a "season ticket" such that she could only stay so long and she should go back to her sister in Philadelphia and her son, not because we didn't want her here. She enjoyed herself here and she got along well here. I remember, my dad and Ada's dad liked visiting with her, they were about the same age, and they had German conversations with her. One enjoyed talking with her.

Pennsylvania Dutch: PA Mennonite

Male speaker, born 1943 East Earl Township, Lancaster County, PA Date/Place of Interview: May 28, 1983, East Earl Township, PA. Interviewer: Karl-Heinz Wandt NAGDA Record Number: MOE 146

County: Lancaster
State: PA

Most active Pennsylvania Dutch speakers today are members of conservative Anabaptist communities, mainly Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. These groups maintain reading knowledge of the High German of the Bible and other religious texts used in church and at home. Very few are able to speak or understand the modern standard German language. This Mennonite Dutchman took an exceptional interest in German and learned to read books and periodicals from Germany and Switzerland, especially ones dealing with agriculture. In this clip he discusses his interest in World War II history and describes something of the experience of American Mennonites during that period.
I remember the Second [World] War from when I was young, when I was still at home. My dad read the newspaper and they talked about it and I remembered some of that. So, then, when I got older, I took an interest in it, and naturally since I had an interest in history and perhaps for the reason that I had a German background, I was interested in the Second [World] War from the German side. I of course knew the English side from reading in school, and since I learned [High] German I thought I could maybe study the history of the Second [World] War from the German side.

And so I bought several books about the Second [World] War and I read a bit about how it looked from the other side, and it wasn't that much different from what I had learned, except when we read about it in school, we were on the winning side, always the side that won, and that's the way we used to read about it.

And when I read about it from the other side, the German side, I read it from the side that lost, and what it was like to lose the war, and that of course made a difference. Although now, later, Germany has improved itself and they're doing well, you might say, for themselves. But just at that time they went through hard times.

We here at home didn't experience much, those were good times for farmers, during the Second [World] War, because prices were good. And I think you could say that the Mennonites didn't fight in the war and didn't experience it firsthand. Everything people said about the war, as it affected people here, was that those were good times. They got good prices for their crops. Although there were some who had to serve time in alternate service camps. Some were drafted, though I don't think a very high percentage. Some suffered because of it, not exactly very much, they just had to go away from home. They didn't have to fight in the war, they didn't get killed or hurt, and their things didn't get destroyed, which was of course quite different from Germany.

Through my reading I've gotten a somewhat better picture of what it was like for the ones who were in the middle of it all and had to suffer, and how bad it was for some of those people. And it was always in the back of my mind that if we, our ancestors, hadn't moved away from there, we would have been in it, since we come from that area. We would have been in the war and everything that came with it. And we avoided that because our ancestors came over here, so we came through pretty easy, while those in the Old Country didn't.

Pennsylvania Dutch: PA Mennonite

Male speaker, born 1943 East Earl Township, Lancaster County, PA Date/Place of Interview: May 28, 1983, East Earl Township, PA. Interviewer: Karl-Heinz Wandt NAGDA Record Number: MOE 146b

County: Lancaster
State: PA

Most active Pennsylvania Dutch speakers today are members of conservative Anabaptist communities, mainly Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. These groups maintain reading knowledge of the High German of the Bible and other religious texts used in church and at home. Very few are able to speak or understand the modern standard German language. This Mennonite Dutchman took an exceptional interest in German and learned to read books and periodicals from Germany and Switzerland, especially ones dealing with agriculture. In this clip, his German interviewer attempts to converse with him in High German, with only limited success.
Translation: Have you ever spoken [German] with anyone?

Of course I speak with Germans whenever I get the chance. That's not very often.

How often, perhaps, in a year?

Oh, maybe two or three times.

And for how long then?

Several years.

No, I mean for how long [do you generally speak] with Germans.

Oh, only for a while, only for a few hours. I've never had any schooling [in German].

And pronunciation, where did you learn that?

Where ...?
Yes, pronunciation, how do you know it's pronounced "obwohl," I heard you say "obwohl."

I know that from reading, what I've learned of High German is from reading magazines and newspapers, or in the Holy Scriptures, the old song books. That's everything I have.

So you learned pretty much everything on your own. ...

Uh, how's that?

Yes, so you pretty much learned everything yourself. You never had instruction in German. No, never formal instruction.

That's amazing, because there's a big difference between Pennsylvania German and High German.

Because when one uses Pennsylvania German one uses a whole lot of English words, though people don't necessarily recognize that so many English words have come into the language.

For us, English is easier. We always read in English, all the farmers' magazines are in English, all the new machinery, everything is, how do you say it, described in English. With German, one has no contact with German.

And for that reason English becomes more and more powerful.

Right, yes, yes, gradually there's more and more English.

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