Amish and Mennonites are two different denominations of Christianity, but they’re often considered to be related because of their origins and their nuanced differences.
Still, it’s common to confuse Amish and Mennonites, and it’s even more common to mix up the details of who they are, what they believe, and even what languages they speak.
Namely, a lot of people want to know — do Mennonites speak Pennsylvania Dutch?
There’s a short answer and a long answer to this. Below, we’ll give both!
Do Mennonites Speak Pennsylvania Dutch?
No, most Mennonites do not speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
The language Pennsylvania Dutch is nearly unique to the Amish, and as time has progressed, the language has been spoken less as the Amish have integrated more with mainstream society, such as you could find in areas like Lancaster, PA.
Mennonites generally do not speak Pennsylvania Dutch, and the language isn’t taught within Mennonite circles by any form of decree or formalization.
However, there are a select few Mennonites who may speak bits of Pennsylvania Dutch or even be fluent in it.
Often, these Mennonites either have blood relations to Amish family or they may have been raised by formerly-Amish parents.
Rarely, you may find a Mennonite who purely picked up Pennsylvania Dutch from working with, being around, or intentionally learning from Amish speakers.
Still, it’s important to note that this is exceptionally rare when you consider every Mennonite in the world. After all, Mennonites may have a reputation for being located in areas like Lancaster, PA — but in reality, Mennonites are found worldwide.
With that said, here’s the longer answer for why Mennonites don’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
Reason 1. Pennsylvania Dutch Was Created by the Amish
The first reason that Mennonites typically don’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch is because the Amish created the language itself.
This happened because even though the Amish were in the Americas prior to the United States being founded, they still made a concerted effort to separate themselves from the rest of the world.
This is summed up in the Anabaptist mantra: “We are to be in the world, not of the world.”
In a nutshell, this means the Amish isolated themselves largely from non-Amish, much as they did in Switzerland, France, and Germany prior to coming to the New World.
The mix of these backgrounds and the rich linguistic history of Western Europe then took on a life of its own as the Amish spoke to each other in older languages, such as High German, that gradually morphed into a distinct dialect.
So while the creation of Pennsylvania Dutch was most likely not intentional, it did develop among the Amish uniquely.
This is important to know because languages are often passed through cultures by generational relationships. Since the Amish made the language on their own, the Mennonites couldn’t appropriate or learn it.
But why couldn’t they?
Despite what many may believe based on the appearances of both groups, Mennonites actually pre-date the Amish.
Reason 2. Mennonites Came before the Amish
To understand why Pennsylvania Dutch couldn’t “pass” to Mennonites, it’s crucial to understand that the Amish are an offshoot of the Mennonites — not the other way around.
It’s a common misconception to believe that the Amish came first since they’re more dedicated to the “old ways” of doing things, such as they did back in 1600s Europe.
Mennonites are much more modern (relatively speaking), so it looks like Mennonites could be a less-conservative offshoot of the Amish.
But this isn’t true.
The Amish separated from the Mennonites in what religious historians call “The Great Schism,” an event when Jakob Ammann took his followers (the Amish) away from the Swiss Brethren (the Mennonites) by excommunicating them from the Mennonite Church.
At the same time, the Brethren excommunicated Ammann.
At that moment, the two factions effectively split into their own churches. Ammann renamed his group “the Amish” and the Swiss Brethren remained who they were.
So why is this history important?
Because Pennsylvania Dutch couldn’t have travelled into Mennonite groups naturally. Amish and Mennonites effectively separated well before they arrived in the New World, and the Amish had generations to craft Pennsylvania Dutch in relative isolation.
This concept dovetails into our third and final reason why Mennonites often don’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
Reason 3. Mennonites & Amish Don’t Deliberately Fraternize as Groups
Despite the similarities they may share, the Amish and Mennonites are two distinct groups of people.
The Amish are famously isolationist when it comes to their communities, and they’re rigidly traditional when it comes to their culture.
For the Amish, doing things the “old way” — even by the definitions of the 1600s — means there’s a spiritual purity to life through work.
While this may be changing for some Amish through the use of electricity, telephones, and other modern conveniences, it’s still a foundational concept that underlies their way of life.
Mennonites, oin the other hand, are more or less integrated successfully with global culture. While they have the same calling of being “in the world, but not of theh world,” Mennonites take a much more metaphorical approach to that concept.
As a result, you can find Mennonites everywhere from modern living, including bars, IT departments, and more.
In a nutshell, you can’t tell someone is Mennonite just by looking at them most of the time. You can tell someone is Amish on sight.
These differences have made most Amish and Mennonite communities drift further and further apart, though not for any malicious or upset reason. Instead, it’s just a natural divergence between the two Christian denominations, sort of like how you may have a best friend in elementary school that you haven’t spoken to in 20 years.
Part of this divergence is the Mennonite faith more readily embracing the modern world, as we just established.
This action also has a secondary consequence.
Reason 4. Mennonites Are Much More Diverse Than the Amish
Because Mennonites have diverged so much from their roots in the 1600s, they’ve embraced modern conveniences like travel and digital communication.
This means Mennonites can much more easily meet people and communicate with those who may be a few miles away — or an entire world away.
As a result, there are now Mennonite presences in foreign countries like Haiti, Kenya, Russia, and China.
These presences are not always tolerated by local or national governments, and some actually live in fear of being persecuted for their beliefs.
Despite this unfortunate side effect of Mennonite evangelism, it proves one major point — Mennonites are much more diverse than the Amish.
However, this is only true in comparison. Mennonites are still overwhelmingly white with backgrounds from Western Europe.
However, the small inclusion of other groups from around the wrold amke Mennonites a more diverse group than the Amish.
This is because the Amish rarely, if ever, accept new members. Also, no one really wants to join the Amish church, considering everything they’d have to give up.
As a result, the Amish are 99.9% white and Christian, making them one of the few ethnoreligious peoples in the world.
Essentially, this means that the group called the “Amish” is so narrowly defined that you8 can safely make the assumption that anyone identifying as Amish is a white Christian.
Ethnoreligious groups have become much lesss common in the wrold today, as globalization and mass communication makes it much easier for people to exchange ideas, including religious belefs.
But the Amish have stayed away from that — and so they persist as one of the few remaining ethnoreligious collectives on the planet.
In a nutshell, this means that even if the Amish and Mennonites were to be in constant contact with one another, trade language, and exchange cultural similarities, there are so many non-American Mennonites that most of them still wouldn’t be able to speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
So do Mennonites speak Pennsylvania Dutch? A few, yes.
But the vast majority of them do not.
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