This article both expands and confirms research on a relic grammatical feature, the prefix a- on present participles. Because previous work has concentrated on its occurrence in the English of Appalachia and only synchronically, first its superregional distribution is shown. The article then surveys its evolution from a preposition (on or at) + gerund in Early Middle English to the prefix a- + participle. The article assesses possible transatlantic sources, arguing that southern England to be most plausible. Previous work, especially Wolfram (1980, 1988) in West Virginia and Feagin (1979) in Alabama, have identified both grammatical and phonological constraints on its occurrence and possible semantic or discourse meaning, for the prefix. These are tested against a large corpus from an area intermediate between the two, the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Four major quantitative constraints prohibiting the prefix, originally proposed by Wolfram, are strongly substantiated, but a small number of exceptions to each argues that they are not categorical. With respect to other, more minor patterns, the prefix in the Smoky Mountains has a different distributed from West Virginia, but overall Wolfram's pioneering work is corroborated. Documenting and tracking these linguistic constraints through the history of English remain tasks for future corpus linguists.
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