If I Were a Rickj Wir: Teyve Sings in Plautdietsch

One of the most unexpected adaptions of a Fiddler song on YouTube has to be this rendition of “If I Were A Rich Man” sung in Mennonite Low German, or Plautdietsch, accompanied on ukulele. Plautdietsch is a German dialect spoken today by approximately 400,000 so-called Russian Mennonites and their descendants, whose communities exist primarily in South America, the United States, and Canada. It should not be confused with the language commonly known as Pennsylvania Dutch, a closely-related tongue spoken by the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities based in the United States and the province of Ontario. The use of Plautdietsch in this video brings to the fore, perhaps unintentionally, the the high level of intelligibility between Yiddish and these German dialects.

On the surface, the various components at play in this clip seem to be extraordinarily incongruous: a Hawaiian instrument, a Christian ethnolect, a song from a play based on Yiddish stories. However, it is remarkable how very American each of these artifacts are. Each are the products of immigration, assimilation, and cultural adaption by different groups and each has entered into enough into flow of American life to be featured in a YouTube video that has be viewed over 15,000 times.