a-dancing and a-singing

Salinas17 at aol.com Salinas17 at aol.com
Sun Jun 7 05:36:25 UTC 2009

In a message dated 6/6/09 7:49:34 AM, macw at cmu.edu writes:
<<It is “Dad, I’m on it.”  I don’t know if this is a Pittsburgh 
(Appalachian) remnant of the king 
being out “on hunting” or not, and I am not sure I would use the term 
absentive for this, but I can definitely can see the conceptual link between 
this use of the locative “on” and the progressive. It appearsthat this link 
has worked for others across the last millennium or so and continues to work 
even more productively in Dutch and German.>>

Brian - some quick comments
Casper de Groot's article makes it clear that the absentive was -- in 
English -- and is -- in Dutch -- often a likely way to interpret the use of both 
"on" and "a" before the participle.   de Groot's point was that in narrative 
it was likely progressive, but in dialogue it was perhaps likely absentive 
-- the evidence being uneven because dialogue was less recorded in that 
period of English.   The mild irony is that we would these day say: the king is 
OFF hunting.   In context, it might well still likely be abstentive, if 
context is something you can "tag". 

I make the point because that difference -- between narrative and dialogue 
-- is one according to de Groot that involves a shift of "deitic center" in 
Dutch -- somewhat related to the recent discussion of deixis here.

Another point about "tags" -- plainly this usage is also imitative, for a 
dialect "feel," or just supplies meter and functions completely without 
regard to any real progressive or abstentive sense.   After all we're also 
talking about songs like Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" or "Froggy went 
a-courting" or "Heigh ho, the dairy-o, a-hunting we will go".   How would 
you tag that - a-gonna? 

Also there's something about this usage that feels like an article -- the 
examples that de Groot uses in this connection from ME (owt a hawking, king 
him rod an huntinge) could also become a single "a" as the product of a 
double re-analysis since "hunting" was then interpreted a substantive noun 
standing alone and would also eventually require an article -- as one would go on 
a hunting (trip), give a whipping or take a reading or have a wedding. In 
fact, I'm pretty sure Mencken in his books on American Language took the   a- 
before the verbal noun in his way as "bad language" where a-dancing would 
just be a ill-chosen substitute for "a dance."

As to “Dad, I’m on it.” -- it's military in my experience and short-form 
for "on top of it" or "on that detail." And normally I believe the Pittsburgh 
dialect is not called Appalachian.

steve long

An Excellent Credit Score is 750. See Yours in Just 2 Easy 

More information about the Funknet mailing list