Pennsylvania German is spoken by 100.000 people in the USA (85.000) and in Canada (15.000). In 1900 the language was used by 750.000 people in their daily lives. 600.000 of them lived in Pennsylvania, USA.
The speakers of Pennsylvania German are descendants either of anabaptists, i.e. members of a radical protestant sect or of Lutherans. The sectarian still use the language, there are speakers of all ages, but their variety is characterized by innovations. The variety of the non-sectarians is more conservative, but in the process of dying out, viz. the vast majority of the speakers is shiftig to English.
The ancestors of the speakers were German immigrants from the southwest of the German-speaking area (Palatinate, Swabia, Württemberg, Elsace).
Pennsylvania German is mainly a spoken language. However, there are some newspapers in Pennsylvania German.
The vowel system is characterized by tense vs. lax distiction, which has been traditionally interpreted as long vs. short contrast.
Consonantism is characterized by a distinction between voiceless lenis stops and plain voiceless stops. Stops are lenitited between vowels.
Case distinction of nouns (common case vs. dative) has been preserved in the speech of the over-60 speakers of the sectarian community. In the speech of the younger generation case distinction has been abandoned.
Nouns have three genders: male, female and neuter. Gender is overtly realized in the forms of the definite article.
Plural of nouns is either expressed by a suffix or by zero with or without alternation of the vowel (umlaut).
Pennsylvania German has preserved weak and strong adjective inflections from Germany and uses them similarly. Adjectives can be inflected in three ways: a) weak, when preceded by the definite article or a demonstrative pronoun, b) strong, when without any article, c) mixed, when preceded by the indefinite article.
Personal pronouns in the sectarian variety distinguish between a subject and an object form.
Verbs are inflected for person (1, 2, 3), number (singular and plural), tense (present, past, perfect, pluperfect, future, future perfect) and mood (indicative, imperative, subjunctive). The verb has two synthetic tense forms (present and past) and three analytic tense forms (perfect, pluperfect, future and future perfect). In the past tense there is a distinction between weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form the past tense stem by adding a dental suffix to the root, strong verbs use vowel alternation to form the past tense stem. The weak form are mostly regular and productive, whereas the strong forms are irregular and not productive any more.
The verb has two infinite forms: the infinitive and the past participle.
The order of constituents is rather SOV than SVO. In subordinate clauses the verbs is in clause-final position.
Definite and indefinite articles precede the head noun and are not stressed.