The Amish: A Distinctive Cosmos Serving Well For A Philological Dualism


  • Şakire Erbay Karadeniz Technical University


The success of the Amish in maintaining their ancestral language until now has been well-documented in the related literature, and the arguments about this maintenance sound not to dry up any time soon. At the heart of the existing discussions stand the questions of how and to what extent they have managed to protect their language. The present theoretical commentary serves as an explanatory account of this distinctive issue. To that end, without going into much detail , the author first sets the initial stage by providing a description of the Amish society, a short historical background, and general information on their life, including social structure, religion, education, and language. The author finds this input necessary to foster the understanding of the Amish success of language maintenance in its entirety. Then, she provides the readers with the possible reasons which oil the wheels of this distinguishing success when compared to other minority languages that died in the U.S: their diglossic nature, isolation, religious affinity, resisting mainstream education, special language teaching materials, and the strict stance of both teachers and parents. Furthermore, she draws a paradoxical picture of this success story, in the sense that she provides the readers with some changes in this society that have the potential to turn this success into a failure: interest in non-farming jobs, temptation of higher education, their attempt to make religion manageable, evangelism, curriculum change, and tourism. This dual picture as a whole serves well to analyze the underlying reasons for this distinctive language surviving story. A well-organized combination of different voices from a wide spectrum of sources forms the ground of this commentary, and the author accepts the limitation of the paper, in that it can only give a partial view of what may be the tip of a large iceberg of this success story.


Appel, R., & Muysken, P. (1987). Language contact and bilingualism. London: Arnold.

Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (3rd ed.). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Fishman, J. A. (2006). Language maintenance, language shift, and reversing language shift. In T. K. Bhatia & W. C. Ritchie (Eds.), The handbook of bilingualism (pp. 406-436). Malden, USA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Frey, J. W. (1945). Amish triple-talk. American Speech, 20(2), 85-98.

Fuller, J. M. (1999). The role of English in Pennsylvania German development: Best supporting actress? American Speech, 74(1), 38-55.

Garcia, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. West Sussex, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Hostetler, J. A. (1980). Amish society. (3rd Ed.). London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hostetler, J. A., & Miller, S. F. (2005). An Amish beginning. In D. L. Weaver-Zercher (Eds.), Writing the Amish: The worlds of John A. Hostetler (pp. 5- 35). Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Huffines, M. L. (1980). English in contact with Pennsylvania German. The German Quarterly, 53(3), 352-366.

Huffines, M. L. (1997). Language contact and the Amish. In J. R. Dow & M. Wolfe (Eds), Languages and lives: Essays in honor of Werner Enninger (pp. 53-66). New York: Peter Lang.

Hurst, C. E. & McConnell, D. L. (2010) An Amish paradox: Diversity and change in the world’s largest Amish community. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Johnson-Weiner, K. M. (1997). Reinforcing a separate Amish identity: English instruction and the preservation of culture in Old Order Amish schools. In J. R. Dow & M. Wolfe (Eds), Languages and lives: Essays in honor of Werner Enninger (pp. 67-78). New York: Peter Lang.

Johnson-Weiner, K. M (1998). Community identity and language change in North American Anabaptist communities. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 2(3), 375-394.

Johnson-Weiner, K. M. (2007). Training up a child: Old order Amish and Mennonite schools. Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press.

Kreps, G. M., Donnermeyer, J. F., & Kreps, M. W. (1994). The changing occupational structure of Amish males. Rural Sociology, 59(4), 708-719.

Louden, M. L. (1997). Linguistic structure and sociolinguistic identity in Pennsylvania German society. In J. R. Dow & M. Wolfe (Eds), Languages and lives: Essays in honor of Werner Enninger (pp. 79-91). New York: Peter Lang.

Mckey, W F. (2006). Bilingualism in North America. In T. K. Bhatia & W. C. Ritchie (Eds.), The handbook of bilingualism (pp. 607-641). Malden, USA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Nettl, B. (1957). The hymns of the Amish: An example of marginal survival. The Journal of American Folklore, 70(278), 323-328.

Richards, J. C. & Schmidt, R. (2002). Dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics (3rd ed.). London: Pearson Education Limited.

Roberts, C. A., & Gaies, S. J. (1990). English for Amish Children in Iowa: Sociolinguistic dimensions. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages(24th, San Francisco, CA, March 6-10, 1990).Speeches/Conference Papers. ED 324958. FL 018 9444. (Eric Document, 12 pages)

Thomas, L. (1996). Language as power: A linguistic critique of U. S. English. The Modern Language Journal, 80(2), 129-140.

Walker, R. (2010). Teaching the pronunciation of English as a lingua franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




How to Cite

Erbay, Şakire. (2013). The Amish: A Distinctive Cosmos Serving Well For A Philological Dualism. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 1(1). Retrieved from