Berks History Center offering virtual Pennsylvania Dutch language classes

Berks History Center has announced a virtual eight-week course that introduces participants to the language and culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Multiple courses will begin the week of January 9, 2023, and conclude the week of February 27, 2023.

Led by BHC Archivist, Bradley Smith, this beginner course will provide participants with instruction related to pronunciation, vocabulary, and common phrases, and include discussions related to Pennsylvania Dutch culture and history. Each class will be 90 minutes and will be held via zoom.

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Pennsylvania Dutch is an American language that developed from the immigration of German speakers to colonial Pennsylvania. It is also referred to as Pennsylvania German to emphasize its German roots.

“Many people falsely assume that Pennsylvania Dutch is a language spoken exclusively by old order Amish and Mennonites,” said Smith.

“However, historians estimate that in the year 1900, there were approximately 700,000 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch, and the vast majority of these speakers were non-sectarians that lived in or near Lehigh, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon and York Counties.”

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While speaking Pennsylvania Dutch is not as widespread as it once was, the tradition is still carried on by both native and non-native speakers.

“The language is still thriving in plain communities, but it is otherwise in a steep decline, and an important component of our region’s cultural heritage is rapidly disappearing,” continued Smith.

“Enrolling in a Pennsylvania Dutch class at the Berks History Center offers a fun opportunity for students to enjoy the fellowship of other Pennsylvania Dutch enthusiasts, but more importantly, it allows an opportunity to celebrate and preserve this rich cultural heritage. The Berks History Center is honored to play a role in this important work.”

Classes cost $50 for BHC members (Individual Level Members and above) and $120 for non-members. Community members can register by calling BHC at 610-375-4375 during their hours of operation, Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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