Article published in:Corpus Interrogation and Grammatical Patterns
Edited by Kristin Davidse, Caroline Gentens, Lobke Ghesquière and Lieven Vandelanotte
[Studies in Corpus Linguistics 63] 2014
► pp. 57–80
The pattern to be a-hunting from Middle to Late Modern English
Towards extrapolating from Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary
The English Dialect Dictionary (1898–1905), in its digitised beta-version EDD Online, allows for the retrieval of the gerund construction to be on verbing, generally in the reduced form to be a-verbing. The pattern was so much alive in the period covered by the EDD, 1700 to 1900, that its frequency can be hypothetically seen as an indicator of its role in the preceding centuries back to Late Middle English, even though evidence of its occurrence then has always been scarce. This paper’s extrapolation from Late Modern English back to Middle English is triggered by a striking similarity of distribution: to be a-verbing is documented by the EDD for all British regions except the English North, which is the very part where the participles of the progressive form to be verbing in Middle English had, according to Mossé (1925: 78), the deviant suffix –ande. My paper tries to explain this strange correlation, also throwing light on the competition from the progressive, which was the accepted form of the written standard, whereas to be a-verbing was the colloquial and dialectal variant.
Published online: 14 November 2014
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