Amush, shiggies, toke the whiled heir

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri May 31 14:10:22 UTC 2002

At 9:34 AM -0400 5/31/02, James A. Landau wrote:
>In a message dated Fri, 31 May 2002  4:21:54 AM Eastern Daylight
>Time, Michael Quinion <editor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG> writes:
>>'my mind has been running me amush the past few days.'
>Change it slightly to 'my mind's been running me amush the past few
>days' and it is iambic, which may be significant.  There is an old
>practice in folk songs (and imitation folk songs) to insert the
>prefix "a-", generally before a gerund or present participle, to
>maintain the meter, e.g.
>   "A-hunting we will go"
>   "The times they are a-changing" (Bob Dylan, early 1960's)
>In both case the inserted prefix preserves iambic meter.
>I don't know if this be the fossil of some old Anglo-Saxon
>inflection or simply a song-writers' convention.
Nothing on "amush", but the a- you mention is a lot more widespread
in contemporary (non-standard) American English than the relegation
to folk songs implies.  It represents ordinary usage in much of the
country, as described by Walt Wolfram and others in various papers.
(The distribution of this a- is highly constrained, phonologically
and syntactically, as this work has shown.)  I've heard tapes of
Appalachian speakers in which a- prefixing is quite the norm.


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