[Ads-l] NYC English a prefixing.

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Aug 19 20:12:26 UTC 2023

Not sure how we can infer that there’s a “semantic limitation to food gathering activities”, even if we limit the parameters to late 18th century usage in the Northeast. In our YGDP entry on a-prefixing, , we cite the following example from the laws of Yale College, imposed in 1795, crediting Corky Feagin (1979: 116) with the find:

"If any Scholar shall go a-fishing or sailing, or more than two miles from the College, upon any occasion, without leave from the President, a Professor, or a Tutor, ... he may be fined not exceeding thirty-four cents.”

Granted, fishing counts as (attempted) food gathering but sailing doesn’t. (I’m pretty sure the law in no longer in effect, or at least it hasn’t been indexed for inflation.)


> On Aug 19, 2023, at 1:43 PM, Michael Newman <Michael.Newman at QC.CUNY.EDU> wrote:
> Another interesting case from our history explorations, this time from a Brooklyn diary written by John Baxter (b. 1765). Baxter may or may not be a descendant of New Amsterdam's official English translator (later turned pirate) George Baxter. John Baxter pretty regularly uses a-prefixing but only with verbs related to food gathering:
>  *   Went a fishing  (1792)
>  *   Went a gunning (1800)
> But here's a weird one, I want to ask about:
> I went an eeling (1796)
> Are there other cases of N insertion before a-prefixes? Has the semantic limitation to food gathering activities been noticed before. BTW, there are other cases of a-prefixing from other diaries and in Horatio Alger's depiction of street kids' speech. The diary is in the archives of the Brooklyn Historical Society.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list