Retention and loss of Bernese Alemannic traits in an Indiana Amish dialect: A comparative-historical study

Gregory Joseph Humpa, Purdue University


This study examines the degree to which Bernese Alemannic traits have been retained or lost in the basic phonology and lexicon of the Swiss-German dialect spoken in the Adams County, Indiana Old Order Amish community. Although the community has been cut off from its ancestral homeland--the Emmental region of east-central Canton Bern, Switzerland--for at least 260 years, its members continue to speak a High Alemannic variety that is very similar to those found in the Emmental. Twenty-seven individual, tape recorded interviews were conducted among European Alemannic speakers from the Emmental and other regions in which the ancestors of the Adams County Old Order Amish community resided during times of religious persecution. Fourteen of these interviews were chosen as representative "prototypes" for the dialect/geographical region in which they were conducted. Data from these fourteen interviews were subsequently compared with data from nineteen Adams County interviews. The interview process involved translation of the following: (1) a "core" vocabulary list (based on Swadesh 1971:283), (2) Das Gesprach am Neujahrstag 'the conversation on New Year's Day' (Phonogrammarchiv der Universitat Zurich 1952), and (3) twenty-seven of Georg Wenker's forty sentences (as found in Barbour and Stevenson 1990:63). Analysis of the interview data--with consideration of structural and socio-historical factors--indicates that the basic phonology and lexicon of the Adams County variety have undergone some convergence with contact languages American English, Pennsylvania German, and Low Alemannic). The bigger picture presented by this study, however, is one of high-level maintenance of base dialect traits in spite of enormous pressure from the intense language contact setting in Adams County for more significant convergence to occur. Social pressures appear to have driven both change (i.e., levelling of salient forms) and maintenance of a distinct variety in Adams County as a means of strengthening group solidarity for the preservation of the faith community.




Salmons, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Cultural anthropology|Language

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server