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Wie Soll Mer Schpelle? / How Should You Spell?

John_BirmelinThis was written by the Pennsylvania Dutch poet John Birmelin (1873–1950) and published in Harry Hess Reichard’s 1940 anthology of Pennsylvania Dutch poetry (p. xx). The poem deals with an age-old dilemma of Pennsylvania Dutch literature, namely how to write the language. Some authors have chosen to follow more German-like norms since Pennsylvania Dutch is so closely related to German, while others prefer to write the language like English because most Pennsylvania Dutch speakers can read English better than German. Birmelin’s conclusion is an apt one: it’s not worth fretting about how to write Pennsylvania Dutch. Birmelin himself writes in a way that is quite close to the generally accepted Buffington-Barba-Beam conventions, so the original is given below without a transliteration.




Wie Soll Mer Schpelle?Saagt mer mol, wie soll mer schpelle.Sel macht immer bissel Schtreit;Was ner nau net hawwe welle,Schiebt mer graad mol uf die Seit.

Saagt, wie soll mer buchstawiereIn de scheene deitsche Schproch!Brauch mer noh ke Zeit verliere,Macht mer’s ewwe yuscht so nooch.

Soll mer Deitsch wie Englisch schreiwe?Deel, die meene sel waer recht.Soll des Deitsch beim Deitsche bleiwe?Nau—sel guckt emol net schlecht!

Harbaugh, Fischer, Grumbine, Brunner,Waare vun de gude Alde;Un, des iss aa gaar ken Wunner,Hen sich ganz beim Deitsche g’halde.

“Solly Hulsbuck”—“Boonestiel,”Die hen’s Deitsch wie Englisch g’schriwwe;Waar des juscht fer Ewweviel?Waar’n verleicht dezu gedriwwe.

’m “Bumpernickel Bill” sei SacheSin im Land rumhaer bekannt;Bringe ’n mancher noch zum Lache,Lest ’s en mancher mit Verschtand.

Deel, die hen en annrer Glaawe,Denke viel vum Parre Stoudt;Kenne’s Deitsch noch gut verdraage,Glaawe noch an Sauergraut.

Lambert schreibt mit “e-e-e,”Alsemol mit “j un j” (yott un yott)Saagt er daed aa druf beschteh;Ei, ya well! ’s iss wie mer’s hot!

Un der Fogel, so politisch,Bringt an annri Aart Geles.Mit Gegritzel diakritisch,Universitaetsgemaess.

Reichard, Brendle, Moll un Barba,Yeder nooch seim Abbedit;Doch des Schreiwe hot sei Naube,Kenner macht debei Brofit.

Iss es Schpelle?—Buchstawiere?Froogt mer weiter net dernooch:Un fer was dann dischbediere?’s iss yo doch die Mutterschproch!

How Should You Spell?So tell me, how should you spell.That always makes a bit of an argument.What you don’t want to deal with,You just push off to the side.

Tell me, how should you orthographizeIn the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch language!No point in wasting any time,You just follow whatever model you please.

Should you write Dutch like English?Some think that would be correct.Should Dutch stay with German?Now, that doesn’t look that bad!

Harbaugh, Fischer, Grumbine, BrunnerWere among the good old ones;And, this is no surprise,They kept totally with German.

“Solly Hulsbuck”—“Boonestiel”,They wrote Dutch like English;Was that just out of indifference?Maybe they were forced to do that.

Pumpernickel Bill’s writingsAre famous far and wide;They bring many to laughter,Many can read and understand them.

Some have a different viewAnd think much of Reverend Stoudt;They can still tolerate German well,And still believe in sauerkraut.

Lambert writes with German e’sAnd sometimes with German j’sHe says he insists on it;Oh, well! It is what it is!

And Fogel, so political,Brings a different way of reading,With diacritic scratchings,Like you’d find in a university.

Reichard, Brendle, Moll and Barba,To each his own;But this writing has its tricks,Nobody is benefitting from it.

Should it be “spell”? “Orthographize”?Don’t ask me any more about it.And what’s the point of arguing?After all, it’s our mother tongue!