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'Habitual be' (was: Genitive relationships (WAS: Construct States))

From:Raymond A. Brown <raybrown@...>
Date:Thursday, March 11, 1999, 7:13
At 9:40 pm -0500 9/3/99, Tim Smith wrote:
>At 09:17 PM 3/9/99 +0000, Raymond A. Brown wrote: >>But the other point John reminds us is that the Old English division of the >>verb "to be" into two parallel sets of tenses etc, one lot beginning with >>b- and the other being rather more irregular, is uncannily like the >>Brittonic system where b- tends to denote habitual states/ actions, and the >>other forms are the "then and now" words - rydw i'n yn yscrifennu - I'm >>writing (now) ~ bydda i'n yn ysgrifennu - I (habitually) write. In >>earlier forms of English there was a difference between: "I am >>a-writing..." [now] and "I be a-writing..." [as a something I do every day]. > >This strikes me as uncannily similar to the progressive vs. habitual >distinction in African-American Vernacular English (a.k.a. Ebonics) that I >referred to in my recent posts on Neo-Anglic: "I writin'" (present >progressive) vs. "I be writin'" (habitual). When you say "in earlier forms >of English", how early do you mean?
Tolkien noted this in Old English. Certainly form like 'I be..." existed beside "I am...' in Brit. dialects both as indicative forms ('I be' is still occasionally used as a subjunctive in standard English) until the early part of this century. The "I be...." forms are quoted as 'rustic peculiarities' - but I wonder if the rustics were not, in fact, using the two forms differently.
>Would these forms still have been in >use in, say, the 17th century, when English colonists in America started >importing African slaves? And if so, would it make sense for this feature >to have been preserved in the English of the slaves and their descendents >but lost in "standard" English? Or is it more likely to be a coincidence?
Yeah - this use of preverbal particles is said to be due to the influence of the syntax of their west African languages. But, indeed, why pick on "be" for the habitual? It certainly makes one wonder if the 'be' ~ 'am/is/are' distinction was not still the norm in the spoken English of the 17th cent. Ray.