a-dancing and a-singing

A. Katz amnfn at well.com
Fri Jun 5 23:38:22 UTC 2009


I found a reference to this a- prefix here:


They seem to think that it means "to/toward", which is then 
grammaticalized to being in a particular state or process.



P.S. My guess is that it might be related to the French preposition 'a'.

On Sat, 6 Jun 2009, Brian MacWhinney wrote:

> Dear Funknetters,
>   During some of our grammatical tagging work, we have bumped into a 
> construction in English for which we can't find anything even in otherwise 
> great grammars such as the Quirk et al. Comprehensive Grammar of English.  I 
> am hoping some of you have some ideas.  The construction is the preposed form 
> "a" that occurs in phrases such as "He was a-dancing and a-singing his heart 
> out."   What would help immensely, first off, would be to have a name for 
> this beast.  After that, some history, etymology, and dialectology would also 
> be very much appreciated.  Can this be found in other Germanic languages, I 
> wonder?   Then, I suppose I would like to christen it with a part of speech 
> tag, although I can already see the dangers there, since it seems to pattern 
> more like a prefix (as in "aback" or "adrift") than a preposition and, on the 
> other hand, the meaning seems to be aspectual, whereas the other prefixed 
> forms of "a" seem locative or directional.
> Naïvely yours,
> -- Brian MacWhinney

More information about the Funknet mailing list