a-dancing and a-singing
kemmer at rice.edu
Sun Jun 7 22:55:34 UTC 2009
Brian, further comments:
1. "Dad, I'm on it!"
Very different construction--does not mean 'be in process of doing
something' (except by inference),
but rather 'have something taken care of, have accomplishment of a
desired/needed action in view".
The metaphor is the idea of being on top of something in the sense of
'be in control of what needs to be done and ready to do it/have it
Recently subordinates have emphasized their eagerness with
"I'm all over it" , cf. conceptually similar "I'm on top of it" and
"I've got it covered".
I agree with Steve Long that "I'm on it" is a widespread military
expression and may have spread into business and other domains from
(Steve Long wrote: "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." ")
2. Re: the so-called "absentive":
I think the sense of 'absence' is restricted to a more complex and
of the plain vanilla progressive with aux _be_ (_be V-ing_/ _be a-V-
ing_), namely b. below.
a. In 1st special case, progressive _-ing_ verb form combines with
_go_ instead of _be_,
and V is (I think always) an intransitive action verb:
_to go a-V-ing_
e.g. "a-hunting we will go"
V without prefix is now the standard variant:
_go V-ing_ "go swimming" (productive with all tenses, incl. with
progressive, e.g. I went swimming, I am going swimming, etc. ).
b. The second, "absentive" construction extension is one form of a.
specifically with past participle form of _go_ (which historically
always took auxiliary _be_ instead of _have_).
Here's where the extra-specific sense of "absence" comes in:
_to be gone a-V-ing_
e.g. "Daddy's gone a-hunting" (from song "Bye-bye baby bunting")
I've haven't read de Groot article so don't know how the quasi-
auxiliary _go_ is taken into account in his history of _a-V-ing_ .
But I don't think _a-V-ing_ by itself has any "absentive" sense
without that past part. form of _go_, at least in present day English.
The "absence" idea seems to be mainly due to the _go_; the
construction also occurs without the prefix as in "He's gone fishing".
That's why I wouldn't connect the 'absentive' meaning with the _a- _
prefix specifically, but perhaps de Groot's historical account deals
c. _ a-V-ing_ can also be combined with the futurative _be going to_
here, _go_ fits in the V slot after _a-_, and then we get another,
complement inf. V:
_be a-going to V / be a-gonna V _ (the Dylan "a hard rain's a-
gonna fall" example fits here).
_Going to /gonna V_ was originally progressive in sense, but in the
futurative gonna construction
the present is backgrounded in favor of (orig. immediate) future
The idea of immediacy of planned action is what diachronically links
presents /progressives with futures more generally in languages,
as speakers use present to indicate what they're about to do (as
also in "I'm on it" above) and gradually use it only to SUGGEST
even if they aren't immediately intending to act. Eventually '
soonness' can fade entirely and leave general future.
3. Finally, a note on tagging:
The a- is a prefix in mod. English, and treating it as a preposition
might give other problems.
That progressive -ing form is not a noun anymore.
We would want to search those forms as verbs, and the prefixed and non-
prefixed forms should be
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