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Maple Syrup Mache / Making Maple Syrup

Many people who hear Pennsylvania Dutch are struck by the use of words borrowed from English and assume that the language is overrun with them. As far back as the 18th century, the German polymath Johann David Schöpf declared nascent Pennsylvania Dutch to be a “miserably broken mishmash of English and German, with respect to words as well as their combination.” In fact, the percentage of English-derived words in Pennsylvania Dutch overall is quite modest, between 10% and 15%. However, there is great variation in the number of borrowings depending on what is being talked about. Conversations that focus, for example, on religion or rural life tend to include fewer loanwords than, say, a discussion of contemporary politics.

This is an excerpt from an interview with a young Amish man from Elkhart County, IN, who was born in 1967 and interviewed by Prof. Jürgen Eichhoff in 1984, as part of a larger project led by Prof. Wolfgang W. Moelleken (now retired from the University at Albany). 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 204). The young man discusses the production of maple syrup, an activity that was unknown among German-speaking immigrants to North America. As a result, the number of English borrowings, mainly nouns, is quite high. The total percentage of English loans (counted as types, not tokens) in this excerpt is around 30%.  The core grammatical structures are, however, fundamentally Palatine German.


Well, es, es schtaerdt usually wann’s, uh, schtaerdt ausdaue un widder gfriere deich die Nacht, because sell is was bescht is fer, fer’s Sap laafe mache, as wann’s, uh, als uffwaermt deich der Daag un als widder gfriert deich die Nacht. Un so, baut s’erscht as sell haeppent, wei, nemme mer en Power-Bohrer mit zrick, un Schpeils un Eemere, schdroie die Eemer aus zu die, zu die Maple-Beem, un noh gehn mer nooch, un samm vun die greesere Beem duhn mer, uh, zwee Eemer druff henke, awwer wammer sell dutt zu die glenni, wei, macht’s sie doot. Un mer … s’sin en paar differnti Sadde Maple-Beem, die hatti sin’s bescht. Un s’Sap muss nunner gekocht sei vun ebaut forty Parts vun Wasser fer ee Gall Syrup, wann’s gut geht, awwer ich meind vun en Yaahr wu’s gregert hot, un mir hen ken Decklin fer uff unser Eemer, un s’regert nei un mir hen misse ebaut en hunnert Galle nunner koche zu eens. Un es hot yuscht rieli lang gnumme, en Latt Hols, s’waar schier net der Wert, because s’waar schier zu deier fer’s mache. Un ee Reason as … well, Leit meene s’is deier, s’is deier awwer s’is … ich hab aa schun gschwetzt mit Leit vun die grossi Schtedt as gmeent hen, s’is yuscht ridiculous as’s so deier is because … well, sie hen yuscht gmeent, mer bohrt yuscht en Loch in der Baam un raus laaft Syrup. Awwer … well, s’is en latt Labor involved in’s Sap collecte uff’s Mud-Boat, mir hen en Tank uf’s Mud-Boat as en hunnert un fuffzich Galle hebt, adder in seller Area rum, un’s Mud-Boat is yuscht zwee holsiche Runners mit en Cross-Piece as druff gmacht [is] un alles. Un s’is net rieli arrich schtaut, mir gehn deich en Mud-Boat ebaut alli zwee Yaahr wammer en Watzel drefft adder eppes, un die Geil noch an laafe sin, wei, hot’s en Tendency fer yuscht vunenanner reisse, s’hot … Es kann yuscht net en Latt schtaende wann’s kummt zu actual Tearing devun. Un, noh, mir hen … unser Mud-Boat as mir gyused ghadde hen letscht Yaahr hen mir nau yuscht verrisse graad nau as der Season veriwwer waar, which is probably gut, because mir hen aa der gans Summer fer’s mache. Un, ennihau, noh bringe mer’s deich rei in die Camp, die Zucker-Camp, un mir hen en Bump fer’s nuff bumbe in der Top-Tank as seller hebt glaawich siwwe hunnert Galle, un wann’s en grosser Run is, geht’s net all in der Top-Tank, noh draine mer’s nunner in der bottom one un noh misse mer’s widder nuff bumbe because s’is gravity flow in der Evaporator nei. Un noh geht’s in die hinnerscht Pann nei, was mir die Flue-Pann heese, un es geht zrick un farri, un noh wann’s mol nunner gekocht is zu en certainer Distance, des leichter Sap pusht s’schwerer Syrup vanne her, so as’s net alles zamme laaft. Es pusht’s yuscht sadde vanne her. Noh geht’s vunne Float, des is all operated bei en Float in all zwee Pans, noh vun die Flue-Pann dutt’s varri laafe in der vedderscht nei, was mer die Syrup-Pann heese, un datt kocht’s nunner, un’s geht zrick un farri in Channels, s’sin finf Channels as zrick un farri gehn vun ee End zu’s anner vun die Pann. Un bis die Zeit as’s niwwer kummt, noh duhn mer yuscht, uh, der Weg as mer’s saagt eb’s Syrup is adder net, is der Temperature as’s is, adder wie hees as’is. Nau, mei Parents kenne pretty well saage yuscht bei’s aagucke, der Color vun die Bubbles, un so weider, weescht, eb’s Syrup is adder net. Awwer seeing as ich noch net arrig viel geduh hab devun, wei, muss ich als gehe bei der Thermometer.


Well, it usually starts when it, uh, starts to thaw out and then freeze again during the night, because that’s what’s best to make the sap run; when it, uh, warms up during the day and freezes again during the night. And so, about when that first happens, why, we take a power drill out back, and taps and buckets, and distribute the buckets among the maple trees, and then we go along, and on some of the bigger trees we hang two buckets, but if you do that to the little ones, why, that kills them. And we … there are a few different kinds of maple tree, the hard ones are the best. And the sap has to be boiled down from about forty parts of water for one gallon of syrup, if it goes well, but I can remember a year when it rained and we didn’t have any covers to put onto our buckets, and it rains in and we have to boil about a hundred gallons down to get one [gallon of syrup]. And it just took really long, a lot of wood, it was hardly worth it, because it was almost too expensive to make. And one reason that … well, people think it’s expensive, it is expensive but it’s … I’ve also talked to people from the city who thought it’s just ridiculous that it’s so expensive because … well, they just thought, you drill a hole into the tree and out runs syrup. But … well, there’s a lot of labor involved in collecting sap on the mud boat, we have a tank on the mud boat that holds a hundred and fifty gallons, or in that area, and the mud boat is just two wooden runners with a crosspiece on top and everything. And it’s not very strong, we go through a mud boat about every two years if you hit a root or something, and the horses are still walking, why, it has a tendency to just tear up, there’s … It just can’t stand a whole lot of actual tearing. And then, we have … our mud boat that we used last year we tore up just now that the season was over, which is probably good, because we also have the whole summer to make it. And anyhow, then we bring it on into the camp, the sugar camp, and we have a pump to pump it into the top tank that, I think, holds seven hundred gallons, and if it’s a big run, it doesn’t all go into the top tank, then we drain it down into the bottom one and then we have to pump it up again because it’s gravity flow into the evaporator. And then it goes into the backmost pan, what we call the flue pan, and it goes back and forth, and then when it’s boiled down to a certain distance, the lighter sap pushes the heavier sap forward, so that it doesn’t all run together. It just sort of pushes it forward. Then it goes from a float, this is all operated by a float in both pans, then from the flue pan it flows forward into the frontmost one, what we call the syrup pan, and there it boils down, and goes back and forth in channels, there are five channels that go back and forth from one end of the pan to the other. And by the time that it comes over, then we just, uh, the way we tell whether it’s syrup or not yet, is the temperature it is, or how hot it is. Now, my parents can pretty well tell just by looking at it, the color of the bubbles, and so on, you know, whether it’s syrup yet. But seeing as I haven’t done much of this yet, why, I have to always go by the thermometer.