Ferschmutzed, and Ferlorn
Some of the older folks around
the Oley Valley and around
Reading spoke a formal type of Pennsylvania Deitsch, but most of the
kids of my generation were drifting toward English, with a little
spin. I prefer to use the term "Dutchified English" to refer to
the dialect I acquired as a child. I know we were German, not
Dutch, but we referred to ourselves (or "ahvah selfes") as
Dutchified. And our English was definitely unique.
Our region was a thing-in-itself (or
a "ding an sich"). We were
the product of a convergence of many cultures and many dialects, and we
became what we were, a compromise, neither English nor German but
something in between. Something new. Our speech was
affected by German pronunciation ("ahvah" instead of "our") and word
order ("A piece of cake you should cut yourself before you go") and
cadence (a rising lilt at the end of a question and a falling lilt at
the end of the response). We also used words that someone must
have invented right there in our little corner of the world, our
Dutchified thing-in-itself. When I was in a hurry too much, and
knocked things over, my mother would say I was too "sheustlich."
If I squirmed around in my seat, she'd call me "reutchy." When
something was dirty, we'd call it "schmutzed up" or "ferschmutzed" or
"gunked up." The uneaten food left at the end of a meal was
called "warmed-ups," and I had a friend who would say
he had to "hot it up" when he was reheating that leftover food the
Each of us knew what the others meant
when they used those words,
phrases, and pronunciations. But when I spoke like that in
college, the other students laughed at me. Some might
good-heartedly call me a "dumb Dutchman." So I quit using those
words. But then the word order or the cadence of my speech might
give me away, and they'd laugh again. So I quit the cadence and
the word order.
I became homogenized. I stopped
saying "Get ought!" or "Come on!"
when someone said something that surprised me. I stopped ending a
sentence with "yet" or "once't" or "already," such as "I got to get
home yet," or "Come visit once't," or "Quit that already." I
stopped emphasizing my statements by saying "Doan'cha know?" I
stopped using the word "grex" to refer to complaining. I quit
using the words "a little" everytime I meant a small amount, such as
"Slow down a little," or "Come visit for a little."
The use of language in my childhood
was flexible, informal, creative,
and fun, lots of fun. I miss it. To read an excerpt from my
book illustrating the Dutch accent of my youth, click here.