Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pa. Dutch

I used to wonder why Wycliffe Translators went to such effort to translate the Bible into people’s native language when they knew one or two other languages that already had the Scriptures.

But I am realizing in my middle age that there is something profound and powerful about hearing something in your first language.

When I first read the New Testament in Pennsylvania Dutch, I hardly knew how to express myself. "Oh! Well! Look at that! It’s just….I mean, it’s right there! It just says it!"

I showed my Testament to a fellow Dutchman at church and he had a similarly incoherent reaction.

Maybe this is my lack of spiritual depth, but I had an even greater reaction to the John Schmid CD my sister loaned me.

I popped it into the player the other day, knowing it had something to do with Dutch but not knowing what. And out came a clear melodious "My Vater un Mutter sin Deitch…" I couldn’t believe it. Song followed song, all in either good old Pennsylvania Dutch or a Dutch and High German blend. Old folk songs we learned in German class, songs that rang a distant bell from something my brother recited years ago (Kopp in die hay, schwans hinna naus, hap ge-gookt un bin kshprunga fa’s haus.)

I laughed until I nearly cried and then I wanted to cry for real. It’s hard to describe what a visceral, deep, gut-level experience it was to listen to that CD for the first time.

Meanwhile, my family was wondering what on earth was going on. "What does it mean, Mom?" "What’s he saying?"

I brushed them aside with a quick, "Um, that means ‘I banged up my finger’ now please be quiet, I’m trying to listen."

They looked at each other like, What on earth is so great about that song? Banging your finger indeed.

And then what should sound but a long, chanted, OO-ooo—ooo-oo—ohh, the opening notes of the Loblied, and I was instantly transported back to being four years old, sleepily putting my head on my mom’s lap on the backless bench in church while the old slow tunes billowed around me in soft, high waves of sound. It was incredible.

I tell you, there’s something profound and powerful about language.

Except for possibly an AHQ CD, I have never in my life bought new CDs for myself. But I went on the internet and promptly ordered four of John Schmid, two for me and two for gifts.

Quote of the Day:
"I laughed, I cried. It moved me, Bob."
--Larry the Cucumber


  1. Wow, I'm possibly honored, Dorcas! And I think I could speak for the rest of AHQ, too. :-)

    The Baritone

  2. Dorcas, I know exactly what you mean. There are folks out there that think Pa. Dutch is totally wierd, but to me its my 1st language I ever knew. There is nothing as funny as a good old joke in Pa. Dutch.LOL!!
    I will have to check into them CD's.

  3. You are so right about your first language being the most profound. Everything's funnier and just plain makes more sense in Penn. Dutch. So ve-kums kahn Ih's net schvetsa bessah? Iss mach mih tsoo haht danga.

  4. Oh yah. Ich gleiht da Chohn Scmhid aw.

  5. No es propio chismear (digo, secretear) en público.


  6. Then why are you doing it Mark? LOL!!!!!

  7. John Schmidt is the local "celebrity' here....I had the priviledge of hearing him twice this yr. I think I just heard again why he's so popular ...

    "...something profound and powerful about hearing something in your first language..." That's exactly how I felt when I was in my late 20s and began reading the NIV for the first time. I say it hit me in my heart language. I've never been the same.

  8. Arlene, LOL (though not ROFL, thankfully), asks: "Then why are you doing it Mark?"

    Hmmm. Mark, indulging in some self-inflicted analysis, offers up some possibilities...

    -- He wants to show off too.

    -- He wants to "speak in tongues" here also.

    -- What's good for the goose is OK for the gander.

    -- He is indulging in a little purposeful kettle-and-pot blackening.

    -- He is highlighting a minor pet peeve: Preachers who say things like, "I like it better in Swahili: 'Klast deirox slaft zbreaux'" but never bother interpreting what they just uttered.

    What say you?

  9. Now, now, children, let's not start fighting here. Mark, the trouble with interpreting Dutch is that it sounds profound or hilarious in Dutch and simply falls flat in English.
    But since you insist:
    --the Dutch quote in my post means "head up high, tail out back, I looked and ran for the house."
    --the Loblied "Worship song" is always the second song in an Amish service
    --jewel said, "So why can't I speak it better? it makes me think too hard."
    --and "Oh, yeah, I like John Schmid too."
    You apparently said that it's not proper chemistry to dig or be a secretary in public.

  10. Why, thank you, Dorcas!

    ("But I wasn't fighting, Mommy! I was just having fun!") :-)

    Anyway, what I wrote (with a smiley disclaimer after it, I append) is: "It is not proper to gossip (I mean, tell secrets) in public."

    And I wrote in Spanish to show I'm being a black kettle.

    Ich bin kinder?

  11. Tut tut. I know very little Dutch although that's all my father spoke until first grade. He never taught it to us. My MIL speaks Polish but I know about as much Polish as I do Dutch. Spanish however sounds comfortable to my ear. It's not so ich'ish and gutteral as Dutch and German. Half the time it sounds like the Dutch are trying to clear their throats of some major phlegm!

    But Spanish, wow, that language sings. It's beautiful and believe it or not I can actually understand it if it's not spoken too fast. Being raised around the Headings familiarized my ear to the Spanish language as a young child. Later I took Spanish in school.I would like to learn to speak Spanish.

    I've always wondered what English sounds like to the inexperienced ear. I can only hope it's prettier than German!

  12. Well Mark I will be very honest!! I was just feeling very smart that I understood your post written in Spanish!!! *smug* LOL!!!!!

  13. MRS.DARLING!!!!!!!!!!!! Our Dutch does NOT sound like someone that has too much phlegm. The very idea!! Just for that I am coming over to your blog to harrass you!!!LOL!!! See-ya in a few!!

  14. You cant catch me. I can run faster than you!

  15. I met John Schmid once. I was doing some work in the studio he uses and he stopped by for a minute.

    This whole situation has reminded me that I have some very pertinent things to say about the Amish language.

  16. Oh Tom...Hush!!! I can about imagine since you live back there in Hoosier-ville. LOL!!

  17. For years I too thought German was a harsh language inspite of the fact that PA Dutch was my first language, with High German/PA Dutch being used in Church services. But In defense of the German language, while visiting Germany I discovered that German is actually a soft, musical language. I think just as romantic a language as Spanish. The key is speaking "proper German". Lovely!! :)

    I've enjoyed the Chohn Scmhid tape too, with a lot of LOL!!

  18. Speaking of languages, can anyone recommend a good course for learning to speak Romanian? I learned a little bit when I was there for a short 10 days, but I'd like to increase my vocabulary to more than "Slava Domn Lui" (praise the Lord)and "Nuapte Buna" (good night)!!!

  19. Dorcas,
    This is priceless. I'd like your permission to use it in some of the English as a Second Language classes I teach. I'd e-mail you directly if I could find your address. Mine is
    The other Sharon (from Grantsville, MD and Allegany College of Maryland)

  20. Wish I'd read this sooner. Bet my Dad would have loved this for Christmas.

  21. Dorcas,
    I hope you don't mind my quoting you on my blog.

  22. Julana--I'd be delighted to be quoted on your blog.

    Mark--Just so you know, "Ich bin kinder" means "I am children."

  23. Dorcas, I was hoping that's what it meant because that is what I hoped to communicate. Now if only I knew how to say that in PaDutch!

    Reminder: "Now, now, children...."


  24. I am German, so when I concentrate VERY hard, I sometimes can at least read Pa Dutch. But lately I've watched two documentaries on TV, one about the Amish - and I could actually understand a lot of what they said - and one about Mennonites. I loved their service in German, I could understand every single word.
    Isn't it wonderful to understand each other even if you live so far apart?

  25. Interesting, Jeannine. I had wondered before how much Pa. Dutch a 'real' German could understand, and how much the 'worship' high German had been mangled over the years. Apparently not too much, if you could understand it.

  26. Dorcas, I enjoyed reading this!

    Have you thought of calling John and letting him know? After I bought the first CD, I called to ask when the next one was coming out. We had a wonderful chat - he is very interested in who is listening to his music and what their Deitsch roots are. I found the phone # in the book that comes with the CD, I think - he and his wife run a ministry called Common Ground.

    Maybe you know that Enos Stutzman, from Plainview School in London, OH (I think he is a Budget scribe)also has an a capella Deitsch recording - with original poems in Deitsch. I'm guessing you would love that too.

    Thanks again for sharing!
    Rhonda Beachy

  27. Dorcas, You mentioned reading the NT in PaDutch. I'm curious as to where you find a NT in Dutch. Could you email me?

    I would appreciate it. BTW, I'm a big fan of John's. My dad actually hired him for our company Christmas dinner entertainment but then we got a snow storm and he couldn't make it. (maybe next time) I heard that Dutch wasn't even his first language...he had to learn it. I think he does really well, considering that he didn't grow up speaking it.


  28. John provided the entertainment at our church Christmas banquet this year, and a lot of it was Dutch songs. When he found out that a decent number of us don't know Dutch though, he translated some of it for us. I thought it was interesting that he needed a little help from the audience to translate, but not surprising - since he said that he is not from Amish or Menn. background but his wife is. I would guess that she probably helps him with his pronunciation if needed.

    Dorcas, I actually had a passing thought of sending you Enos Stutzman's tape as a Christmas present, just because it sounded like you would like it. My Amish-speaking relatives certainly get a kick out of it! (Notice I said it was a passing thought! : )

  29. Excuse me, that was supposed to be DUTCH-speaking relatives... (Amish-speaking indeed!)

  30. Es wunnert mich eb ennich ebber wees wu mer em Enos Stutzman sei Recording kaafe kann?

    Does anyone know where it is possible to buy Enos Stutzman's recording ?

  31. Hello Dorcas,

    I am trying to figure how to comment on a blog to thank you for your comments on my Dutch CD. In our area a blog is what you have after you cut down a tree. If I figure out how to get this on your blog, I will write more.

    John Schmid

  32. Hey! I figured it out. This is the first time I have ever seen or commented on a blog. I have heard of them of course, but since most computers in Holmes Co. are powered by kerosene, I thought blogs were for city folks. Anyway, your words about my Dutch CD were encouraging. I have had a lot of fun with that project and it has got me invited to some new (and unusual) places. I have even been asked to lead the Lob Lied in several Amish churches! Thanks for your comments.

    John Schmid (I think I misspelled my name signing up for this new fangled operation)

  33. Let's see if I corrected my spelling.

  34. We like to hearJohn Schmid too he has been our worship leader at Little Eden Mennonite camp a couple times. Also he had the sermon one morning at Bahia Vista Mennonite in FL this past winter! Awesome Luella Eigsti

  35. I've enjoyed reading the comments on the PA Dutch language, or dialect. A number of years ago when I was in Germany, an "I've come home" feeling washed over me as I sat in a train terminal and overheard a man saying, "Ich voaht, flacht iss die nekscht nat so foll." It wasn't that easy to understand everywhere but I hadn't been prepared to hear a complete sentence that I could understand! My children, sadly, are losing the language and even though we'll speak to them in German, sometimes at their insistence, most times they will answer in English. They are making an effort, though, and maybe at least one of them will be able to pass it on to their children. It's sad to think a language can be lost in one generation. I tell them until they can properly say "psuch" (guests) and "yacht" (a lot of noise, not a large boat)they haven't got it.
    Oh, and I'm from the same sleepy little town in Ohio that John Schmid (or is that Schmic?) is from, so I use one of those kerosene powered computers, too. Only now we use a premium fuel and it runs a lot faster than it used to.