Jersey Dutch
RegionNew Jersey and New York, United States
ExtinctEarly 20th century[1]
Latin (Dutch alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Jersey Dutch,[2][3][4] also known as Bergen Dutch,[5] was a Dutch dialect formerly spoken in northeastern New Jersey from the late 17th century until the early 20th century.[6] It evolved in one of the two Dutch-speaking enclaves that remained for over two centuries after the dissolution of Dutch control in North America, the other (around Albany, New York) giving rise to Mohawk Dutch.[7] It may have been a partial creole language[8][failed verification] based on Zeelandic and West Flemish Dutch dialects with English and possibly some elements of Lenape.[citation needed]

Jersey Dutch was spoken by the descendants of New Netherlanders who settled in Bergen, New Netherland, in 1630, and by Black slaves and free people of color also residing in that region, as well as the American Indian people known as the Ramapough Lenape Nation.


By the mid-eighteenth century, according to one estimate, up to 20% of the population of the areas of New Jersey with "a strong Dutch element" were enslaved people.[9] Blacks who grew up in insular Dutch communities were raised speaking the Dutch language, or adopted it later in life, to speak both with their white Dutch-descendant counterparts and with each other.[10] Some blacks during this period spoke Dutch as their primary or only language, and for some knowing the language was a point of pride:[10]

"They were Dutch and proud of it. I can remember my Aunt Sebania telling me about her great-grandmother, a stern old lady who both spoke and understood English, but who refused to speak it except in the privacy of her home. In public she spoke Dutch, as any proper person should do, a dignified language."[11]

Some contemporary reports from white speakers of Jersey Dutch reported a distinct variety of the language unique to the black population, which they called negerduits[4] ("Negro Dutch", not to be confused with the Dutch creole Negerhollands). This term was used both for the speech of the Ramapough (a distinct community of black, white, and Lenape descent), and of other blacks in Bergen County.

However, as attestation of Jersey Dutch from black and Ramapough speakers is scarce, scholars disagree whether negerduits can be considered a distinct variety.[10] Sojourner Truth's Dutch, for example, was described by her owner's daughter around 1810 as "very similar to that of the unlettered white people of her time."[12] The only contemporaneous linguistic treatment of Jersey Dutch draws primarily on the speech of three white Jersey Dutch speakers and one Ramapough speaker, and notes phonetic, syntactic, and lexical differences between the two groups.[3]



The vowel system of Jersey Dutch differs markedly from Standard Dutch, as well as from the Dutch dialects from which it derives, perhaps due to the influence of American English.[13] The following chart is based on the speech of two white Jersey Dutch speakers recorded in 1910 and 1941 respectively. Parentheses "indicate that the vowel is attested in few forms."[14]

Jersey Dutch vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long
Close (ɪ) iː yː (ʊ) uː
Close-mid eː œ œː oː
Open-mid ɛ (ʌ) ɔ ɔː
Open æ æː ɑ ɑː
Diphthongs ai̯ (æi̯) ɛu̯ (œːu̯) aːu̯


Jersey Dutch consonants are largely the same as those of Standard Dutch, with a few exceptions.[13]

Labial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d (ɡ)
Fricative voiceless f s x h
voiced v z (ɣ)
Approximant w ɫ j
Rhotic ɹ


An example of Jersey Dutch, transcribed in 1913, spoken by Matthew Hicks of Mahwah, the white sexton of a Dutch church.[15][3]

Jersey Dutch

De v'lôrene zön:
En kääd’l had twî jongers; de êne blêv täus;
de andere xöng vôrt f’n häus f’r en stât.
Hāi wāz nît tevrêde täus en dârkîs tû râkni ārm.
Hāi doǵti ôm dāt täus en z’n vâders pläk.
Tû zāide: äk zāl na häus xâne. Māin vâder hät plänti.

Standard Modern Dutch

Below is a word-by-word translation of the Jersey Dutch quote, rather than a fluent Dutch rendering.[15]

De verloren zoon:
Een kerel had twee jongens; de ene bleef thuis;
de andere ging voort van huis voor een vermogen.
Hij was niet tevreden thuis en daardoor toen raakte hij arm.
Hij dacht aan dat thuis en zijn vaders plek.
Toen zei hij: ik zal naar huis gaan. Mijn vader heeft overvloed.


The prodigal son:
A man had two sons; the one stayed at home;
the other went abroad from home to make his fortune.
He was not content at home and therefore then he became poor.
He thought about it at home and his father’s place.
Then said: I shall go home. My father has plenty.

See also


  1. ^ "Jersey Dutch, still spoken near New York a century ago | DUTCH the magazine". Archived from the original on 2016-12-23. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  2. ^ Prince, John Dyneley (1910). The Jersey Dutch dialect. pp. 1–484. OCLC 68458100.
  3. ^ a b c Prince, J. Dyneley (1910). "The Jersey Dutch dialect". Dialect Notes. 3: 459–484.
  4. ^ a b Nicoline van der Sijs (2009). Yankees, cookies en Dollars: De invloed van het Nederlands op de Noord-Amerikaanse Talen (in Dutch). Amsterdam University Press. pp. 25, 41.
  5. ^ Mencken, H.L. (1921). The American Language.
  6. ^ Shetter, William Z. (1958). "A Final Word on Jersey Dutch". American Speech. 33 (4): 243–251. doi:10.2307/453863. JSTOR 453863.
  7. ^ "When Did New York Stop Speaking Dutch?".
  8. ^ Holm, John A. (1989). Pidgins and Creoles. Cambridge University Press. pp. 335–8. ISBN 0-521-35940-6.
  9. ^ White, Shane (1991). Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City, 1770–1810. Athens: University of Georgia Press. pp. 18–20.
  10. ^ a b c Dewulf, Jeroen (2015-05-01). ""A Strong Barbaric Accent": America's Dutch-Speaking Black Community from Seventeenth-Century New Netherland to Nineteenth-Century New York and New Jersey". American Speech. 90 (2): 131–153. doi:10.1215/00031283-3130302. ISSN 0003-1283.
  11. ^ Irvis, K. Leroy (1955). "Negro Tales from Eastern New York". New York Folklore Quarterly. 11 (3): 165–176.
  12. ^ Hendricks, H. (1892). "Sojourner Truth". The National Magazine: A Monthly Journal of American History. 16 (6): 665–71.
  13. ^ a b Shetter, William Z. (1958). "A Final Word on Jersey Dutch". American Speech. 33 (4): 243–251. doi:10.2307/453863. ISSN 0003-1283. JSTOR 453863.
  14. ^ Buccini, Anthony F. (1995). "The Dialectal Origins of New Netherland Dutch" (PDF). The Berkeley Conference on Dutch Linguistics 1993: 211–63.
  15. ^ a b Prince, J. Dyneley (1913). "A Text in Jersey Dutch". Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsche Taal- en Letterkunde. Nieuwe reeks. Leiden: Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde te Leiden / Brill. 32.


Further reading