a-dancing and a-singing

Östen Dahl oesten at ling.su.se
Sat Jun 6 06:06:56 UTC 2009

Concerning the origin of the a-construction, I recommend the paper below which
can be found at

- Östen

The king is on huntunge: on the relation between progressive and absentive in
Old and Early Modern English
(In: M. Hannay and G. Steen eds. The English clause: Usage and structure.,
175-190, Amsterdam: Benjamins 2007)
Casper de Groot
University of Amsterdam

This paper addresses the diachronic development of two periphrastic
constructions in Old and Middle English, He wæs huntende and He wæs on huntunge,
into the progressive in Modern English. The literature on the origin of the
progressive offers several hypotheses for explaining the coalescence of the two
constructions. This paper offers a new hypothesis based on the consideration
that the first construction, consisting of be + present participle, developed
into the progressive, and that the second construction, consisting of be + on +
verbal noun, was originally a construction denoting absence. The evidence for
the coalescence comes from a partial overlap in the semantics of the progressive
and the absentive, and the fact that progressives often originate from spatial

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