Mennonite Heritage Village

A Very Short History of Three Anabaptist Groups and Their Languages

Sept. 7, 2023

By Jake Buhler with Gary Dyck

ANABAPTIST FAMILY. An Anabaptist family of the Hutterite sect of central Europe. Woodcut, 16th century.

Courtesy of: Sarin Images, GRANGER

Have you ever wondered about the differences between Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish and Swiss Mennonites in America? They are all Anabaptists, but the Hutterites and Amish are not Mennonite. They are more communally based in their living, while the village base of Mennonite society is quite fluid today. They overlap in many ways, but each group has a distinct history, values, and religious traditions.

For over 100 years Hutterites have lived in the prairies of Canada, while some Amish in recent years have moved to Manitoba for the first time. The price of land in Ontario makes it very difficult to expand or start new farms and settlements. The Amish are more conservative and work to keep life as simple and slow as is reasonably possible. At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) we appreciate these different groups and believe that the more we know about our neighbours the more we can bless each other and find ways to work together.

As Anabaptists they all furthered the protestant reformation that Martin Luther began in 16th century Europe. They reject infant baptism and instead practice adult baptism, believe in separation of church and state and value the way of peace. The term “Mennonite” comes from the name of Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons, who helped to lead the movement in the 16th century. “Hutterite,” on the other hand, comes from the name of religious leader Jakob Hutter, who founded an Anabaptist community in what is now modern-day Slovenia and Austria in the 16th century. Each group also has its own language that is different than German and Mennonite Low German.

Huetterisch: An oral language spoken by Hutterites in everyday conversation. In church services, High German is used. Its origins are from the province of Carinthia, Austria. Jakob Hutter was born in 1500, became an early Anabaptist leader, and was burned at the stake in Innsbruck, Austria in 1536. Hutterites migrated to Moravia, Romania, Hungary, and South Russia. Hutterites were almost wiped out in Europe due to harsh persecution, but some survived. After 1878, several hundred Hutterites moved to South Dakota seeking freedom from compulsory military service. When several states starting denying them religious status and persecuting them for conscientious objection, many Hutterite communities moved to Canada after 1918, mainly to Alberta and Saskatchewan. They continue to practice communal living.

Amish: They speak an everyday oral language called Pennsylvania Deutsch (Dutch is not correct) that originated as a dialect in Switzerland. Conrad Grebel is seen as one of the key founding Anabaptists for the Amish. In 1693 there was a schism between Swiss and Alsatian Mennonites and a group began following Jakob Amman, from whom the Amish got their name. At the beginning of the 1700s, a group moved to Pennsylvania. After 1825 a group moved to Ontario. In addition to Pennsylvania Deutsch, the Amish learn English in school and many congregations still use the High German in worship.

Swiss Mennonite: Their Anabaptist origins are in Switzerland as followers of Felix Manz (1525), among others. Due to harsh persecution, many were killed. Some fled to the Palatinate in Germany, and others to Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. After 1800, several thousand moved to the Waterloo, Ontario area. Today many from this group belong to Mennonite Church Canada after they merged with the General Conference Church. Fewer speak their original language, which is Pennsylvania German, which has similarities to Pennsylvania Deutsch. Swiss Mennonites did not migrate through Poland and Russia as most other Mennonite groups did.

Upcoming Events:

MHV’s grounds and Livery Barn Restaurant are open seven days a week until Oct. 1st! The Livery Barn Restaurant is open daily 11am to 3pm, and 11:30am to 3pm on Sunday. The final Sunday buffet for the season is September 24th. The grounds are open 9am to 5pm, except Thursdays 9am to 8pm, and Sundays 11:30am to 5pm.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 30, A day to reflect on our relationships with our Indigenous friends and neighbours.

Volunteer Appreciation Night, October 5, 6pm – 9pm. We want to extend our appreciation to our many volunteers who pour their time and energy into making MHV a world-class experience for our visitors and help preserve our heritage.