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Deitsch lanne in de yunge Yaahre / Learning PA Dutch in Childhood

This is an excerpt from an interview with a nonsectarian speaker from Lancaster County, PA, who was born in 1913 and also spent time as a child in Lebanon County, which borders Lancaster to the north. He was interviewed by Prof. Wolfgang Moelleken (now retired from the University at Albany) in 1983, as part of a project to document variation in Pennsylvania Dutch across multiple states. The full interview is part of the Moelleken Collection in the North American German Dialect Archive at the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (consultant number MOE 010). Although both of the speaker’s parents knew PA Dutch, he spoke mainly English with them and acquired PA Dutch beginning in the late 1910’s from his schoolmates, most of whom spoke no English at home.

Wu ich finf Yaahr alt waar, sin mer noch Lebenen Kaundi gezoge, un datt hawwich aafange in die Schul geh, wu ich sechs Yaahr alt waar. Die Kinner as datt aagfange hen in die Schul un in selli Landschaft, aeh, hen Englisch net verschtanne. Drei Vaddeldeel vunne hen ken Watt Englisch verschtanne, un die sin … die hen aafange in die Schul geh mit de deitsche Schprooch. Un der Schulmeeschder hot Deitsch un Englisch, aeh, schwetze kenne, un er hot ne die Lesson glese in Englisch un ausglegt in Deitsch. Darrich die Zeit, s’erscht Yaahr in de Schul, hawwich Deitsch gelannt schwetze, uff em Schulehof un uff em Weg heem un mit de Nochberekinner in unsere Nochberschaft. Un wie die Zeit vergange is, hawwich alli Yaahr ebissel meh zuglannt bis … bis ich, aeh, ‘s Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, aeh, hab schwetze kenne mit schier ennichepper. Bissel Hochdeitsch hen mer gheert, dann un wann, un awwer net, aeh, net regler. In de Schul, nochdem as mir’s erscht Yaahr in die Schul gange sin, hen mer nimmi Deitsch schwetze darrefe uff em Schulehof. Awwer uff em Weg heem, un marrigeds uff em Weg noch die Schul, hen mer Deitsch geblaudert unnichenanner. Un awwer noch em erschte Yaahr, hot er’s net … hot der Schulmeeschder’s net erlaabt. Er hot gsaat, “Ich will hawwe as dihr Englisch lannt, un die Englische kenne Deitsch lanne wann ich’s ausleg in, aeh, in de Class.” Un, aeh, sell is wie ich mei Deitsch, aeh, gelannt hab in meine yunge Yaahre.

When I was five years old, we moved to Lebanon County, and there I started going to school when I was six years old. The children who started school there and in the area didn’t understand English. Three quarters of them couldn’t understand a word of English, and they started to go to school there with the PA Dutch language. And the teacher could speak PA Dutch and English, and he read the lesson to them in English and explained it in PA Dutch. During that time, the first year in school, I learned to speak PA Dutch, on the school grounds and on the way home and with the neighbor children in our neighborhood. And as time passed, I learned a little more until I could speak PA Dutch with almost anyone. We heard a little High German, every now and then, but not regularly. In school, after we had gone to school that first year, we weren’t allowed to speak PA Dutch on the school grounds anymore. But on the way home, and mornings on the way to school, we chatted in PA Dutch with each other. But after the first year, the teacher didn’t permit it. He said, “I want you to learn English, and the English-speaking children can learn PA Dutch when I explain it in class.” And that’s how I learned my PA Dutch in my young years.