a-dancing and a-singing
andrew.pawley at anu.edu.au
Sat Jun 6 00:55:24 UTC 2009
Just to add to Suzanne's reply to Brian's query, the frequent use of a-dancin' and -a-singin' constructions in Appalachian English was first described in some detail in Walt Wolfram and Donna Christian's book /Appalachian Speech/ (Arlington: Virginia, Center for Applied Linguistics 1976). There's a sizeable literature on Appal. English.
It's interesting that "on" figures in another semi-productive construction that expresses progressive action: "be on the N", where N is the nominal use of a verb, as in on the take, on the run, on the slide/decline/rise, on the burst (in Rugby football, to be bursting through a gap in the defence). But here "on" normally carries full stress; at least I've not noticed it with a reduced variant.
From: Suzanne Kemmer <kemmer at rice.edu>
Date: Saturday, June 6, 2009 9:57 am
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] a-dancing and a-singing
To: Funknet <funknet at mailman.rice.edu>
> It's from late OE/early Mid. Eng. _on
> V+ing_ 'in the process of V
> +ing'; both this construction and
> one based on root adjectives and prepositions
> _on-live_--> _alive_ show similar semantic
> grammaticalization of _on_
> to the meaning 'in the process / state of'.
> These _a-_ prefix
> constructions are older than more
> recent and semantically similar grammaticalizations of _on_ as
> in mod.
> _ongoing_, _going on and on__
> The verbal construction on-V+ing_ is still productive
> dialectally in
> Amer. and Brit. English
> (_a-rockin' and a-rollin' around the clock tonight_)
> and also survives in certain expressions (Time's a-wastin').
> Check the OED under prefix a-;
> also any good history of English.
> On Jun 5, 2009, at 5:59 PM, 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.
> > 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
> > 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
> > aspectual, whereas the other prefixed forms of "a" seem
> locative or
> > directional.
> > Naïvely yours,
> > -- Brian MacWhinney
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