I spent last week in southeastern Pennsylvania, near the heartland of the Amish, an isolated religious group which shuns modern dress and lifestyle. This resulted in the strange experience of spotting teenage girls in a local mall clad in clothing more typical of 18th-Century Europe than 21st-Century America. And me being me, I couldn’t help but wonder what an ‘Amish dialect’ of English might sound like.
Although English is common in this culture, the Amish dialect seems out of step with the surrounding ‘native’ English. Note the unique accents heard in this BBC Two documentary about ex-Amish leaving their society for the modern world (speech samples begin at :38):
I would note a few salient accent features here. I was struck by the young woman’s entirely non-American pronunciation of ‘says’ as if it rhymed with ‘ways’ [i.e. IPA seɪz]. She also exhibits some apparent German influence in her pronunciation of ‘decisions’ as ‘dezisions.’ Note too the frequent use of a glottal stop for the letter ‘t,’ a feature more typical of many types of British English than Pennsylvanian. The intonation of this accent is unusual as well, unlike the patterns typical of Americans.
By the way, it should go without saying that by ‘German’ I don’t mean the type of ‘standard’ German spoken in contemporary Germany. Rather, the Amish dialect of the language is a type of High German that would be entirely incomprehensible to someone from, say, Berlin. (Although it maintains some similarities to another language derived from High German, Yiddish).
That being said, the German language is not what comes to mind when I hear the accents in the clip above. Rather, it seems the Amish dialect of English is a unique variety that, while it exhibits some foreign influence, has a number of entirely innovative features. In fact, one would be forgiven for mistaking the accent spoken in the clip above for some obscure type of Irish or British English (albeit one exposed to American speech).
Any other impressions?