When You Know the Truth, You’ll Never Again Mistake Dutch for Amish

by | Published on Apr 22, 2021 Last updated Dec 19, 2023 | Amish Culture, Amish Definitions

"Pennsylvania Dutch" is a label that arose out of ignorance centuries ago and persists today to define us Amish, thanks to colonialist academics.

In my post, 4 Popular Myths About the Amish That Every Person Should Stop Believing, I talk about the fact that we speak our own language, called Amish. But many people are still confused, wondering if Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch are different languages or if our language should be called Amish instead of Pennsylvania Dutch.

What follows is my very short response to that. To do the topic justice requires a long post, or entire talk. 

“PA Dutch” is a misnomer used to reference everybody and anybody who immigrated from Germany to PA centuries ago. PA Dutch has nothing to do with people who speak Dutch or are Dutch. In English speakers’ ears, Deutsch (the German word for German) sounded like Dutch way back when and 300-400 years later, calling various groups of people of German-speaking heritage who settled in PA “PA Dutch” continues.

My Dutch friends, by the way, are rightfully offended by the persistence of the term. But I get all sorts of flak from self-proclaimed academic experts on us Amish, e.g., Donald Kraybill and his followers (who aren’t Amish and haven’t bothered learning our language), for pointing out these problems and attempting to set the record straight. Apparently I’m an ignorant Amish woman who doesn’t know anything about her own language, culture, and history. Anyway, I digress….

Many groups, to which this inaccurate label (“PA Dutch”) is applied, speak their own dialect of German, or what they speak today could be its own language by now. They also have their own unique foods and other cultural customs (i.e., not Amish), which are routinely mistaken by tourists and others for being Amish.

On top of that, many unethical individuals and businesses intentionally rip off the Amish brand. Claiming that one’s products are Amish or Amish-made sells, even when those claims are a lie or seriously misleading.

Hence the vast and confusing terrain of what is and isn’t Amish and why the Amish Heritage Foundation exists. We have 50+ years of mythologies to undo.

To education and children’s rights,
Executive Director, Amish Heritage Foundation

By <a href="https://www.amishheritage.org/author/ahf-blog-torah-bontrager/" target="_self">Torah Bontrager</a>
By Torah Bontrager

Torah Bontrager earned her BA from Columbia University in New York City and is the foremost expert on Amish life, culture, and education. She's the author of Amish Girl in Manhattan (a memoir) and Amish Insider blog, and Founder & Executive Director of the Amish Heritage Foundation. A sought-after leader, she helps legal and health professionals, educators, and creatives become culturally literate so they can expand their missions to successfully serve the Amish population. Take her free quiz How Much Do You Actually Know About the Amish? or get her free "54 Popular Myths About the Amish" PDF.

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