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  • Writer's pictureKristin Wenger

Double Dutch (#52Ancestors week 20: Another Language)

"You look like you need a Kopp Schneller.”

As children, that was the greeting my brother and I standardly received from a particular uncle. He then proceeded to use his index finger to flick us (quite hard, I might add) in the forehead.

I hadn’t thought about a Kopp Schneller for quite some time. In fact, I just had to figure out how to spell it. This week’s topic of “Another Language” made me wonder. What did that term even mean? How many generations of uncles harassing their nephews and nieces (with endearment, of course) had passed down this remnant of another language?

This week, I had two language choices about which I could write:

Dutch or Pennsylvania Dutch.

No, they are not the same thing.

I have already written several stories about my Dutch-speaking family. I will link them below:

That family line is unique in my heritage. The overwhelming majority of my ancestors would have spoken Pennsylvania Dutch. In fact, the region of south-central Pennsylvania where we have lived for generations is known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Vintage Pennsylvania Dutch Country postcard[1]

If it’s not Dutch, then what language is it?

Pennsylvania Dutch is a language that developed in America from German speakers who immigrated to colonial Pennsylvania. It is very similar to German dialects spoken in the southeastern Palatinate region.[2]

Now spoken primarily by members of Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities, Pennsylvania Dutch was actually the language of a much broader group in the past. “Of the approximately 81,000 original German-speaking immigrants to colonial Pennsylvania, only about 5% were “sect people.” Most of the other 95% or so were affiliated with Lutheran and German Reformed churches. Into the twentieth century these “church people” were still in the majority of Pennsylvania Dutch speakers.”[3]

Why is it called Pennsylvania Dutch instead of Pennsylvania German?

Click here to read a 1950 article by prominent Pennsylvania Dutch expert Dr. Don Yoder that explains it best.[4]

Interested in learning more? Here are some great resources:

I decided to try out the Pennsylvania Dutch Dictionary with “kopp schneller.”


Scnheller=quicker. Well, that kind of made sense.

But then I noticed that “der Schneller” means spring or trigger.[8] Aha! That was the perfect description of the way my uncle’s thumb held back his index finger until he released it like a loaded spring or trigger, nailing us smack in the middle of the forehead.

It was a sign of affection. Really, it was. Maybe I should call my brother and tell him it's his duty as an uncle to pass down "another language" to my kids.

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[1] “Pennsylvania Dutch Country Vintage Postcards,” Visit PA Dutch Country ( : accessed 17 May 2018).

[2] Mark V. Louden, “What is Pennsylvania Dutch?” a website dedicated to the documentation of the Pennsylvania Dutch language ( : accessed 17 May 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dr. Don Yoder, “’Pennsylvania Dutch’…Or ‘Pennsylvania German’?” The Pennsylvania Dutchman, 1 May 1950; accessed online, ( : 17 May 2018).

[5] Mark V. Louden, “Recordings,” a website dedicated to the documentation of the Pennsylvania Dutch language ( : accessed 17 May 2018).

[6] Mark V. Louden, “Book,” a website dedicated to the documentation of the Pennsylvania Dutch language ( : accessed 17 May 2018).

[7] Jack Brubaker, “The Scribbler: ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ is Thriving in America,” Lancaster Online, 23 August 2016 ( : accessed 17 May 2018).

[8] Searches for “kopp” and “schneller,” Pennsylvania Dutch Dictionary ( : accessed 17 May 2018).

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