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The Pensilwan’yah Inglish (1868)

Going back to at least the early 19th century, outsiders have been inclined to make fun of the English spoken by the Pennsylvania Dutch. While Dutchified English has a basis in linguistic-historical reality, many characterizations of it are exaggerated. The poem below, “The Pensilwan’yah English,” appeared in the April 1868 issue of the Guardian magazine, a Reformed Church periodical founded by Henry Harbaugh. The poet, who is identified only as “Templeton,” describes a number of linguistic features that have been documented in actual Dutchified English, some of which are due to interference from Pennsylvania Dutch, while many others are (or were) common in the vernacular English spoken in rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere in early America. For example, the challenge of pronouncing English words starting with w’s and v’s is a familiar one to many native speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch, yet they were by no means the only Americans to say things like “kep a-goin'”, “’cause”, “larned”, and “Febuary” when speaking English. Note that the poet makes frequent use of nonstandard and eye dialectal spellings like “fashun” and “poorty” to underscore the supposedly exotic character of Dutchified English. To the right of the poem are three vintage “Pennsylvania Dutch Talk” postcards. To hear bona fide examples of Dutchified English, go to this page.

I don’t want to go no furder,     Fur to hear Erratums sung,Then to my most sweetest Mother     Pensilwan’yah Inglish Tung.

It’s a fashun kep a-goin’,     Fur to call them Dutchmens fools;And to say, jist their Talk’s owin’,     ‘Cause it’s never larned in schools.

Sure this is a poorty story,     When we know that Good Queen Bess,Gettin’ from her grave up hoary,     Wouldn’t know our Inglish mess.

Some, who are well edekated,     Ever say “Noo-ral-i-gy,”Others, right smart kultevated,     Speak of Roy-al-i-ty!

“Readin’ ” “‘Maqua” and “Phildelfy”;     Wilderniss and “Jimson-Weed”;Valentine is turn’d to “Felty,”     And “pertaturs” run to seed.

Flowers now stand in our “winders,”     While our heads on “pillars” lie;Nor is there a thing that hinders,     To build our “petitions” high.

Larn’d men write “Feb-u-ary”;     Jist as many— “Wed-ens-day”;“Brethern,” say the wise and wary—     “Gospill,” tidy preachers say.

Mary now is always “Mollie”—     All will wear their baby-names;“Livie,” “Sally,” “Mattie, ” “Pollie”—     Have we now for shaded dames!

Very few prepare to pucker     Up their lips for double U;What a mixtur’ when they utter     Them words— “Vine” and “Waterloo”!

“May” and “Might” fare little better     “Shall” and “Will,” “Have,” “Had,” and “Should”;And by missing but one letter,     “Would” becomes the same as “Could”!

People now do their own “settin'”—     They don’t need no clucks for that—And are constantly forgetting,     That a man don’t crouch down flat.

“Hear them callin’: “Fath-ah!” “Moth-ah!     Ahin’ every word, of course:—Sweetest “Sis-tah!” Sweetest “Broth-ah!     Ohah “Mistah” —And so forth.

Has the Yankee, Hoosier, Buckeye—     E’en the Chivalry—so muchRoom to pipe his quackin’ duck-cry     O’er the “Pensilwan’yah Dutch” ?

PD talk postcard 1

PD talk postcard 2

PD talk postcard 3