aloose--atypical a-prefixing?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Feb 29 17:25:37 UTC 2008

On Feb 29, 2008, at 8:18 AM, Ro nButters wrote:

> I thought this wasn't supposed to happen with a-prefixing (i.e., "a-"
> attached to a total adjective)?

i wasn't connecting the a-prefixing in "aloose" and "ascared" to the
well-studied a-prefixing in a-Vin' ("We was just a-talkin'").  the
history of the latter is pretty clear -- 150 years ago the variants
"on building", "in building", "a-building", and "building" were all
available as present participles in standard english -- and the a-Vin'
construction, in the varieties that have it now, is a variant of the
present participle (available, in fact, only for "really verbal" uses
of the present participle).

the a- adjectives of modern standard english have a variety of
sources.  some are from prepositional phrases with a- 'on/in' plus a
noun: asleep, alive (a-life).  some are from past participles of
verbs: alarmed, ashamed (< ashame), afraid (< affray).  and so on.

the history of "aloose" and "ascared" (and other non-standard cases?
are there others?) is unclear, but they certainly look like a-Adj.
the preposition a- is a possible source (but then we'd hope for
earlier attestations of things like "on loose" -- cf. modern "on the
loose"), or the a- prefix could have been extended on analogy to other
adjectives in a- (especially given pairs like "alive" and "live").
different words could have different histories.

in any case, there's no reason to assume that all cases of a- fall
under a single generalization.


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