YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Linda Fauth, fresh off frying some of the 260 dozen of… well, you know what she was frying… is sure of how you spell what she was frying at the East Prospect Fire Company.
“F-A-S-T-N-A-C-H-T,” she said. No question? “No question!”
“The lady who gave us the recipe said this is how it’s spelled,” Fauth said. “So that’s how we spelled it ever since.”
After all, “she’s got a great recipe,” Fauth said.
If you can’t trust the lady with the great recipe, who can you trust?
Some people spell it however their grandparents did. Not Julie Keene of Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm Market, who is the first to admit of her grandmother: “Her spelling was atrocious.” (For the record, her grandmother spelled it “fosnoct.”)
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How does Julie spell it? “F-A-S-N-A-C-H-T. That’s a fasnacht!” she said.
Indeed it is — at least, in written Pennsylvania Dutch — according to Mark Louden, a linguistics professor (at University of Wisconsin) who is also a Mennonite, a fluent speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch and author of the book “Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language.” (An extended video of our discussion with Louden — complete with his recitation of part of a Pennsylvania Dutch poem — is below.)
Louden said Pennsylvania Dutch derives from dialects of German spoken in southwestern Germany, where — unlike in standard German, in which the word for “fast” (to not eat) is spelled fast, just like in English — “fast” is spelled fas. And the night before lent — i.e., the eve of the fast — is spelled fasnacht there, and thus in written Pennsylvania Dutch.
“Written” is an important word there. Louden said ever since Pennsylvania Dutch became its own language in the 18th Century, Pennsylvania Dutch was for many speakers an oral language, which they never learned to write.
But when Pennsylvania Dutch speakers “have chosen to write the language, they’ve spelled it pretty close as to how it’s pronounced, which is without the ‘T’ — ‘fasnacht,'” Louden said.
Still, a quick drive around the region to look at signs on various churches and fire stations touting the treats — or a quick online search — reveals plenty of people don’t spell it that way. Why? Louden has a few theories.
“The ‘T’ originally was there and still is in standard German. That’s how you would spell it if it were a standard German word. But it’s not a standard German word,” Louden said. So the “T” could have been added by people “who consulted standard German, which Pennsylvania Dutch is not.”
People, he said, tend to do what linguists call “hypercorrecting” or “overcorrecting.”
“The fact that there’s an awareness that it’s connected with fasting,” Louden said — so the “T” makes sense to people who write it.
Louden added even the word “fasnacht” itself, when it describes the treat, is a truncation of “fasnacht kuche,” or “fasnacht cake” — the word “fasnacht” most precisely refers to just the day.