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American Speech 77.4 (2002) 398-418

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Settlement History in the United States as Reflected in DARE:
The Example of German

Luanne von Schneidemesser
Dictionary of American Regional English


Gesundheit, hex, bock beer with braunschweiger or bratwurst, kindergarten, come with, kaput, on the fritz, nix, angst,and wunderkind—most Americans are familiar with these German words in American English. The German loanwords presented in the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE 1985-) reflect the settlement history of German-speaking immigrants to the United States.

The 1983 tricentennial commemoration of the first settlement of German immigrants in the New World passed with little general interest. It marked the 1683 settlement of Germantown, Pennsylvania, by 13 Quaker families from Krefeld, who came over on the ship Concord. 1 This was the beginning of immigration of large numbers of speakers of German to the United States, which peaked in the second half of the nineteenth century. Indeed, in the 1850s and 1860s, immigrants from German-speaking areas of Europe accounted for almost 35% of the total immigrants. Overall, from 1830 to 1930, German immigration amounted to almost six million people, over 15% of the total number of immigrants to the United States (Luebke 1990, 93, 95).

With so many people of German-speaking heritage in the United States, why did the tricentennial attract so little national notice? One reason, of course, is what Luebke in his book Germans in the New World calls "cultural amnesia . . . greatly augmented in the twentieth century by two World Wars." But even before the twentieth century, ethnic unity among German-speaking Americans was lacking, as Luebke (1990, xiii) explains:

First, to be of "German origin" is itself a vague and imprecise concept. German-speaking immigrants have come to America not only from Germany, but also from Austria, Hungary, Russia, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and France. Germany as a political entity was founded only in the latter part of the nineteenth century. German language and culture, which is much more important as a basis for ethnic consciousness than is country of origin, has never been congruent with German nationality. [End Page 398]

Second, few ethnic groups in America have been as varied in religious belief, political persuasion, socioeconomic status, occupation, culture, and social character as the German are, despite persistent historic stereotypes to the contrary. Generalizations about the Germans are inevitably hazardous and sure to be disputed. Because they have been so diverse, German Americans have displayed limited unity and no great interest in a common history, at least by comparison to other ethnic groups, such as Poles, Irish, or Norwegians.

Most Americans are aware of the descendants of German-speaking immigrants who live in and around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Germans, frequently called Pennsylvania Dutch. With the large number of German-speaking immigrants to many regions of the United States, why is there not also a group called the Wisconsin Germans or the Virginia Germans which is just as well known, whose dialect we imitate with phrases like throw the horse over the fence some hay? In a word, history.

The group of Krefelders left Germany in 1683 for many reasons. They were shortly followed by many others from further south. In what is now Germany, conditions were miserable everywhere after the Thirty Years War (1618-48). Some of the areas in the southwest were just recovering when King Louis XIV, who ascended the French throne in 1643 and lived until 1715, started invading them to build his empire. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) reinforced the principle that the ruler determined the religion of his territory (Cuius regio, eius religio) and could punish or exile all subjects who would not accept his choice (Seifert 1993, 329).

William Penn, having earlier been "convinced," that is, converted, to the Quaker faith, and realizing that religious freedom was not possible in England, accepted from Charles II a huge tract of land in North America in 1681, canceling a debt Charles owed to Penn's father. Penn invited Quakers and other sectarians from the Rhine Valley to...


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