If you live in Manheim Township or Millersville, you may find this difficult to believe: Up to 10% of Lancaster County residents speak Pennsylvania Dutch. Many also speak English, but at home they generally speak Deitsch.
This is a finding of Frank Kessler, a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect enthusiast who lives in Belgium. He has a particular interest in Lancaster County because the largest Amish settlement in the world is located here. He often visits the area.
Of the estimated 40,525 Amish residents of the Lancaster settlement in 2020, about 36,000 to 37,000 live in Lancaster County. The others live in neighboring counties. They all speak Dutch.
Almost all of the various Old Order Mennonite groups in Lancaster County speak Dutch. So add another 7,000 speakers.
“This means that about 8% of Lancaster County’s population are people who use horses and buggies for transportation, have their services in German and speak Deitsch as their principal family language,” Kessler writes in an email.
In addition to those major groups, Kessler adds, about half of the 9,000 car-driving Old Order Mennonites, Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites speak Dutch.
Finally, there are a few conservative Mennonites, Lutherans, Reformed, Brethren and Moravians who speak Dutch. Other folks have learned Dutch in classes taught at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.
So Kessler figures 9 or 10% — about 50,000 to 55,000 of Lancaster County’s estimated 550,000 residents in 2020 — are fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch.
“Ten percent might sound a bit bold,” Kessler admits, “but in recent years the population of Lancaster County grew by about 2,500 people per year, of which 1,000 were Amish.”
Kessler believes the dialect’s future looks bright. The number of newborns who will grow up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch is rising. Of about 7,000 births in the county each year, Old Order Amish and Mennonites account for about 1,300 to 1,400. That’s 18% to 20% of all Lancaster babies.
Some experts had predicted years ago that the speaking of Dutch would expire as older generations took their language with them when they left this world of woe. Obviously, that has not happened: they left their language behind.
Kessler is a leader of the German-Pennsylvanian Association, which promotes Pennsylvania Dutch in Germany and America.
Horse with bucket
The Feb. 28 Scribbler column answered a question by Craig Benner about an Amish buggy horse he has spotted in the Monterey area wearing a plastic 10-gallon bucket totally covering the horse’s face. He wondered what this is all about.
An Amish informant told the Scribbler that some Amish cover their horses’ faces with black leather if they get skittish in vehicular traffic. That way the horse only sees the road at his feet and remains calm.
Benner replies that the horse or horses he saw definitely had white buckets, not black leather, on their heads.
An anonymous reader says she, too, has seen the horse with the bucket blinder in the Monterey/Ronks area.
“I’ve seen it and I had an Amish male with me in the van and he saw it, too,” the reader writes. “It was a white 5-gallon bucket. Our best guess is that a box cutter knife was used to customize the bucket to a blinder of sorts.”
The Scribbler’s Amish informant replies that the bucket might be an economical “experiment.” But, he adds, it would have to be a 5-gallon bucket: a 10-gallon bucket would not fit.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes "The Scribbler'' column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.