In May, 2011 I spent a week with a family in Pennsylvania Dutch country! I didn't just wander up to some farmhouse. I actually had an invitation from a former graduate acting student who offered up his parents' kindness - and he wasn't even there! Happily, I'd caught him earlier that week when I was in Pittsburgh for dialect recordings - he was in a production of Antony and Cleopatra, which is so rarely done. He had two more weeks of performances, so he sent me off on my own to trek east to find his boyhood home...
And they didn't even lie to me about the address! The first evening I arrived at their homestead about an hour south of Sunbury and an hour or so north of Harrisburg, they hosted a dinner with some friends and family, but before they got fed, they had to speak for their supper! I was able to interview their father and brother, who both had moderate Penn Dutch accents, and a farming couple, who filled me in on hog farming in some strong accents.
Pennsylvania Dutch - The Deutch
The Pennsylvania Dutch are not actually Dutch. Their family background is the Deutch - the German.
Many of the residents of Pennsylvania Dutch country are generations removed from the ancestors who moved to the United States, primarily back in the late 17th and early 18th century. Most were fleeing religious persecution. The Anabaptists suffered for practicing their beliefs, and also suffered from ongoing wars with the French in their region. They fled to the US and settled in the hilly farmlands of Pennsylvania.
This farm country also lured a lot of Amish farmers. Though the Amish have a more closed community these days (largely due to gawking tourists and their desire to avoid the vanity that so often comes with additional attention), their accents are similar to the non-Amish farmers around them. I wasn't able to interview any of the Amish in the area, though, so this is largely based upon the feedback I got from others in the region and through recordings that I was able to find online (and share in the materials).
There are a lot of elements of German in the accent, though it also reminded me of Dutch in many ways due to its fluid intonation. (You can hear a bit of it in the sample on the Pennsylvania Dutch accent page.)
Pennsylvania Dutch Culture
I was able to get far more than the accents on this trip, though! I was able to visit a large, private hog farm, talk with an entire small-town church choir, and I even ate a classic Penn Dutch delicacy: pig stomach!
I even went along to the butcher to help pick it out... It came in just our size.
The pig stomach is thoroughly washed, and then one end is tied off. The stomach is then stuffed - though precisely what you stuff it with varies a great deal depending on the family traditions. Potatoes are a significant portion of the stuffing, and this family filled it out with other vegetables, sausage, and herbs. The other end of the stomach is tied off, and the whole thing was baked in the oven for about two hours.
It varies from person to person, but most - from what I understand - don't eat the stomach itself. I felt the need to get the full experience, though, so I had to try a bit - and it was quite good, actually. My apologies to my vegan friends...
Sometimes learning accents requires more than just the usual research work. I'll do whatever it takes.