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A Few of my Observations of Conversational Mennonite Low German

I am a prominent local merchant in a rural West Texas community. Our town is surprisingly diverse, with just under 25 languages spoken in the high school in a town of 15,000.

I get the chance to hear a lot of foreign languages spoken when dealing with people, some more foreign than others. There is a large population of Boer Afrikaaners here and I can more or less follow their conversations in Afrikaans and occasionally cobble together a response in my horrid Tex-Dutch.

There is a significant Mennonite population (I think they are centered in a neighboring county). The Mennonites tend to keep to themselves but there are other Mennonites that migrate with agricultural seasons, planting across the lower midwest in the spring and wandering back through in the fall to harvest. At this point it is prudent to mention that there are different... tribes? of Mennonites, and the major division seems to be between the Mexican Mennonites and the Canadian Mennonites, at least locally. They don't seem to mix much, at least not while out and about.

I get to hear the migrating Mexican Mennonites speak their Low German more than I get to hear the Canadian Mennonites speak their dialect and I am surprised to say that their German dialect is easier for me to understand than the Afrikaaners. I can follow the conversations but have no idea where to begin to compose a response - to date, I have only managed to correctly put together "tvee und ferzig" for forty-two.

It also struck me that while they mostly speak German words, there are a handful of Spanish words that they say too. I have not heard conversations about a wide range of topics, but today one fellow asked me what sort of ID was needed to buy a firearm and explained it to his friend and all the words were obviously Germanic, and when they discussed ammunition, numbers and money it was all Germanic but their words for AR-15 and AK-47 were direct Spanish translations, ah-ere quince and ah-kah cuarenta y siete. And they used the Spanish word for magazine as well, cargador.

I feel it is worth mentioning that about 15 years ago while on Spring Break in the Juarez/El Paso area, I was briefly detained by the US Border and Customs because they wanted to verify that I was not a Mexican Mennonite trying to cross with fraudulent papers. I dress plainly, I speak Spanish with a European accent and wear a beard, uncommon at the time for a young man.

May 26, 2017



On a college "spring break" (well it would have been had I been in the northern hemisphere) trip, I hopped aboard a bus for a 30 hour ride to Asunción, Paraguay, a trip inspired in a particular way by my desire to travel to the Mennonite settlements centered in Filadelfia in the Paraguayan Chaco. Not much to see there, really, but definitely German to be heard.

I have never been detained by the US border patrol (I'm American), but I have been interrogated at some length as to why I "have so many colorful stamps" in my passport. Good work America...


I still can't get over your opening sentences. 25 languages in a small Texas town? That's crazy!

Anyway, thanks for sharing your observations. I didn't know that about Mennonites nor that Afrikaans was spoken anywhere in America.


I'm from El Paso (I'm honestly in shock to find that you're from West Texas), and my German teacher is from northern Germany and her family is ancestrally Mennonite. She speaks some Low German, and once told us that she'll often speak to Mexican Mennonites in Low German while in line at grocery stores and that they're quite surprised that she speaks Plattdeutsch. I'll have to ask her about this German-Spanish mix!

As a side note, I'm kind of jealous of the linguistic diversity in your town!!


Amish and Mennonites migrated over here (México US and Canada) many years ago (I'm not sure of the exact dates) but they for the most part kept their language usually a Swiss German dialect or Platt deutsch, but they often adapt English or as you noticed Spanish words for things they don't have names for in their own language. It is actually very common. Many words they merely pronounce differently or Dutchify them as some people have jokingly said.


I have heard that a large population of Mennonites emigrated to the new world from what is today Ukraine during the Russian pogroms in the 1870s. Paul Harvey had a Rest of the Story where the Mennonites were pushed out of Russia and took their red wheat with them and the wheat flourished especially in Kansas but across the Midwest and by the 80s we were selling that same wheat back to the Soviets to help alleviate famines.

The Mennonites had wandered Germany, then the Holy Roman Empire, for a couple of centuries. The local rulers in the Holy Roman Empire had the authority to determine what faith their subjects would observe and much like the Jews, some rulers were more accepting of Mennonites than others. Over time, local nobility would change their minds or would die and be replaced with different nobles with different ideas and the Mennonites would have to move on. In the late 1700s, Catherine the Great needed farmers to settle the newly conquered Novorossiya (the modern Ukraine) and invited the Mennonites from Germany to farm some of the best farmland in Europe. And then a century later came the Pogroms and the Mennonites, again like the Jews, had to flee Russia.

Edit - there are Old Colony Mennonites and New Colony Mennonites and I am not sure as to the difference. It may be like the Canadian vs Mexican Mennonites?

Anyway, many Mennonites settled in northern Mexico in the late 1800s and during World War I, Germany tried to use the fact that Mexico had a large population of German Mennonites to get Mexico to enter the war on their side, a greater campaign on the Germans' part that included the infamous Zimmerman telegram.


This article highlights the constant problem of avoiding military conscription. I think I knew that Kansas's hard read winter wheat had been brought from Russia (Russian Empire more formally it would seem). I didn't know it was the Mennonites who brought it. Here's the article on Old Colony Mennonites.


You pretty well have it covered there. There are many different factions under both the Amish and the Mennonite sides (both originate from the same general area and split into two main Groups fairly early on) for example under the Amish the main four groups (starting with the most conservative) are the Schwartzentrubers, Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, and the Swiss Amish which is mostly just a separate faction because they migrated here from Switzerland and their language contains a lot more Swiss and can hardly be understood by the rest of the Amish who for the most part came from Germany and speak Pennsylvania Dutch, (a German Dutch dialect.) there might be more subfactions but I'm not sure now.

I think the Mennonites have even far more different subfactions than what the Amish do. Starting from the very conservative who drive horse and buggy, (pretty much like the Amish) to the more liberal Mennonites who would be pretty much the same as any other modern Protestant church.

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