a-dancing and a-singing

Cameron, Richard rcameron at uic.edu
Sat Jun 6 13:40:53 UTC 2009

Walt Wolfram has written about this. See his book, American English, or
contact Walt.

On Fri, June 5, 2009 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. 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

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