An interview with Lillian Stoltzfus, a Lancaster County Mennonite and author of “Speaking Amish” and “Lydia’s Bonnet”.
Speaking Amish is a beginner’s guide for learning Pennsylvania Dutch, intended for ages 10 – 99.
Lydia’s Bonnet, her brand new release, is a full-color children’s book. It tells the true story of a young Amish girl growing up in the 1950’s.
Nixnootz: Why did you write Speaking Amish?
Lillian: First of all, I needed money for school. And I’ve always loved languages. I’ve studied several languages, and I like the process of learning them. But there was not a lot of good Pennsylvania German books. The ones that there were, they weren’t very colorful or easy to understand. I felt like that there should be one that’s simple, that anybody can just pick up and learn.
It’s my idea that if there’s thousands of people speaking a language, it shouldn’t be that hard to teach someone that language. If I can speak it, then I can teach someone else.
Were you inspired by another book?
I had done a beginner’s book of Arabic. It came with a CD… very sequential, and I was learning stuff. I loved it. I thought, why not do the same thing with PA Geman? Before, I’d thought I wanted to do it, but hadn’t really thought about how.
Why were you learning Arabic?
I was taking international studies, and had to do a minor in a language. I’m also hoping to work in the Middle East. Why? I just feel like maybe God is leading me there. Maybe I’m supposed to?
Is there a difference between Amish dutch and non-Amish dutch?
I haven’t heard the other dutch much, so I wouldn’t really know. The accent is different. I’m not an expert at this, sorry.
What motivated you to write your second book, Lydia’s Bonnet?
Again, the money of course.
My mom had written a story for the Grandkids, and I thought, “oh man, we should write that in a real book!”
Someone had written a book about a pioneer girl from the Hans Herr House (a historic Lancaster homestead), and it inspired me. Why not write a story about my mom, and get my nieces and nephews to dress up Amish? Some of them were Mennonite and some aren’t.
Is there much different between time periods for the Amish?
It’s the same clothing they have today. I really just went to thrift stores and bought Amish clothes from today. Some fancier Amish will wear fancy shoes, but that’s only little changes. It’s more about their schools and other things [that have changed over time].
Do you feel like, by writing these books, you are selling yourself?
Not really. I feel like because I am not Amish anymore, I feel somewhat removed from it. However, I still feel like the culture has had a huge impact on my life. I’m very comfortable with it, but a little bit separated from it.
Are you going to continue writing?
Maybe, if I have time. I have some other things I’d like to do. I’d like to teach English in another country. If my book does really well, maybe I’ll be inspired to do another one. We’ll have to wait and see how this one does.
You can buy both her books on her website, SpeakingAmish.com
Lydia’s Bonnet is $11.94
Speaking Amish is $23.94 and comes with a CD.