Posted by: Jack Henry | December 20, 2013

Editor’s Corner: 8 maids a-milking

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 8 maids a-milking. Oh dear. A house full of birds, five gold rings, and now we’re looking at eight cows and eight maids. Welcome to the insanity!

Today I have a tidbit for you on all of this “a-milking and a-swimming and a-laying” that has been going on. Thanks again to my co-worker, Laura for sending me to the Yale Grammar Diversity Project, where they even have a name for this phenomenon: “A-prefixing.” Here are some interesting facts about A-prefixing from Yale’s website (please see the website for appropriate attribution to these quotes):

· A-prefixing" refers to the phenomenon whereby a prefix a- attaches to a verbal form inflected with the suffix –ing

· The progressive suffix is often spelled as -in’

Examples from Appalachian English:

o “I know he was a-tellin’ the truth, but I was a-comin’ home.”

o “Well, she’s a-gettin’ the black lung now, ain’t she?”

· A-prefixing has been studied by linguists who have focused on speech communities that were predominantly white and as such, it is unclear whether a-prefixing is present in varieties of speakers of other ethnicities. Within white speech communities, a-prefixing is found in Southern American White English, most specifically in Alabama, West Virginia and east Tennessee.

· Noted use throughout the United States starting as early as 1846

· Noticed in varieties [of English] spoken in Scotland, Ireland and parts of England (1898)

· In some varieties, the form is less common in the speech of younger individuals. In a study conducted by Christian et al. (1988), they found that a-prefixing in Ozark English is not present in the speech of individuals under 15 years old whereas in Appalachian English, a-prefixing is used by speakers of all ages.

And if you are interested in a little Friday fun, one of our readers (Thank you, Marvin!) sent this link about mondegreens (misheard song lyrics):

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

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