During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania German, often referred to as “Deitsh” or “Dutch,” was spoken by a third of the state’s population, yet up until that time, few had attempted to document the typically oral tradition in writing. E. H. Rauch was considered an early leader among those dedicated to exposing the dialect to the masses through print. Defined by no particular orthography, early spelling was incredibly variable. Rauch’s Pennsylvania Dutch Hand-Book was one of several dictionaries that emerged in an attempt to establish uniformity and to document and teach this new written tradition.
Rauch’s volume placed great importance on the “practical and profitable” business instruction of nonspeakers and was the first dictionary to include both English–Pennsylvania German and Pennsylvania German–English translations. The volume also served as a written tutorial for those who inherited the Pennsylvania German oral tradition at home but were taught to read and write only English in school. Rauch developed his own method of spelling based on English rather than German, since few Pennsylvanians in the late 1800s had a formal German education. In addition to its dual-language dictionary, this volume includes a phrase book and bilingual sections on conducting business in various settings. It concludes with several translated excerpts of poetry, Bible verses, and even Shakespeare.
Rauch’s publication sparked great debates within the community about spellings that still exist today among those who follow the American English orthography and those who subscribe to German methods of spelling.