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Amish Language Research: A Review

  • Cory AndersonEmail author
Reference work entry

Abstract

Within Amish scholarship, the topic of Amish language use has the highest quantity of publications second only to health research. The Amish have been of interest because they not only use English but also two variants of German: Pennsylvania Dutch (or Pennsylvania German), which is primarily spoken, and an historic High German, which is primarily sourced from written texts. This they maintain after 200–300 years since they migrated from Germanic Europe to North America. Yet, a synthesis of Amish language publications is lacking. In this chapter, two major theoretical approaches are employed to achieve an understanding of the Amish language situation and change. The domain-isolation theory emphasizes a dichotomy between the Amish and the surrounding world. The world threatens to assimilate the Amish by drawing them into regular contact. The consequence of regular contact is that English overtakes Amish social domains, where the German variants would normally be used. The functionalist-role theory approaches language survival from the understanding that languages survive when they have functional uses. The Amish languages are functional because they are associated with roles that express community values. Functions and roles do change, as does the language. Hence, the borrowing of English forms into German is not a corruption from the world but rather demonstrates the adaptation of the German variants, especially Pennsylvania German, to new demands. This theory is used to try to understand the Amish culture producing the language situation as is rather than in opposition to an outside world. The chapter also briefly reviews a small body of literature addressing Amish naming patterns for people.

Keywords

Amish-Mennonite High German Anabaptist Pennsylvania German Domain-isolation theory Functionalist-role theory 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Truman State University/University of Akron, Wayne CollegeMillersburgUSA

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