a-dancing and a-singing

Tahir Wood twood at uwc.ac.za
Mon Jun 8 07:46:50 UTC 2009

>>> <Salinas17 at aol.com> 06/07/09 7:36 AM >>>
 I'm pretty sure Mencken in his books on American Language took the  
before the verbal noun in his way as "bad language" where a-dancing
just be a ill-chosen substitute for "a dance."

The point that people who focus on the "bad" in "bad language" forget
is that sometimes there are finer grained distinctions of meaning
possible in such language that are missing from the standard. You find
this both in grammar and phonolgy. The classic example is the occurrence
of "yous" in many lects in different parts of the world to express
second person plural. 

Now in the case of the a- expressions mentioned, it seems to me that
they have a nuance of meaning that is not available in modern standard
Eng except by means of a longer or clumsier locution. The closest in my
own lect to the meaning I am thinking of is the participle with "busy"
in front of it, as in "busy cleaning", or "I was too busy enjoying
myself to notice", or "he was busy admiring himself in the mirror", etc.
First point, this seems to be a kind of mode of the verb where "busy"
indicates something with which one is completely occupied or
preoccupied. I think the a-examples by and large have this meaning (I
don't think the a-gonna example is the same phenomenon). 

Second point, there does seem to be a kind of analogy between such
verbal constructions and the a- with adjectives, which one finds in
slightly archaic Eng, in "all awash" or "all agog", etc., and an example
that I think I remember from a Raymond Chandler novel, "all a-flutter".
In each of these cases there also seems to be the sense of something
being all-encompassing or overwhelming in some way.

Well them's me hunches anyways.


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