Ask Language Log: Writing "gonna" or "going to"

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Reader SL asks for intervention in an disagreement about whether newspapers should use "gonna" in quotations:

I got in an argument with a colleague, who used to be a journalist, even, about this. She said there is nothing wrong with transcribing what someone says accurately. My point is that this is a clear case of diglossia in English; everyone always says "gonna" but it should always be written as "going to". She disagreed, and I said, "Well, I'm going to write to Language Log about that." Actually, I said "I'm gonna", but I wouldn't write that.

The first problem, as discussed here, here, and here, is that there are not just two possibilities. Among other reduced variants in the context "I'm going to VERB" — and ignoring the quality and extent of diphthongization in the pronunciation of "I'm" –  we might find

IPA Eye dialect
1 aɪm.gɔɪnə ?
2 aɪm.gʌnə I'm gonna
3 aɪŋ.gənə ?
4 aɪŋənə ?
5 aɪmənə I'munna, I munna
6 aɪmə Ima, Imma, I'ma, I'm'a

There's also the whole set of [gʌnu]-like variants. In other contexts, the range of phonetic possibilities would expand still further. And in individual cases, there would often be legitimate disagreement about what the right transcription is.

So "transcribing accurately what someone says" is not straightforward, even using a well-defined phonetic transcription method. Using the resources of standard English orthography, it's even tougher. As a result, the transcription guidelines for corpora of conversational speech — including those that I've been responsible for –  typically mandate using the full "going to" form, no matter what the transcriber thinks the speaker might have said. The phonetic details can then be sorted out later.

But in journalistic quotations, the fact that finer phonetic distinctions exist isn't in itself a very strong argument for banning coarser ones.

And it's reasonable to argue that this has become a morphological or lexical matter, not just a phonetic one. Gonna has become a quasi-standard form, the commonest version of aspectual "going to" for most speakers in all but the most formal or emphatic contexts, just as "can't" is the commonest negated form of "can".

(The fact that gonna-type reduction is not available for the verb of motion has long been cited as evidence for the lexicalization  — and maybe grammaticalization — of the aspectual use of "going to".)

On this view, quoting Dean Skelos as saying "We're not going to work under time constraints", when what he (probably) said was "We're not gonna work under time constraints", is like quoting Anthony Weiner as saying  "I cannot say with certitude"  when what he said was "I can't say with certitude".

A stronger counter-argument is that readers no longer see contractions as culpably informal, as they might have 150 years ago, whereas the written form "gonna" is still stigmatized, even though it's what almost everyone says almost all the time.  So if a publication decides to allow both "going to" and "gonna" in quotations, there ought to be some guidelines to ensure that it's used somewhat accurately, and not simply as a way to depict some speakers as being uneducated or ethnically marked.

Links to past discussions:
"The internet pilgrim's guide to g-dropping", 5/10/2004
"Empathetic -in'", 10/18/2008
"Palin's tactical g-lessness", 10/18/2008
"Pickin' up on those features also", 22/29/2008
"Pawlenty's linguistic 'southern strategy'?", 3/17/2011
"Symbols and signals in g-dropping", 3/23/2011
"Automatic classification of g-dropping", 6/12/2011

Update — in a comment, Ben Hemmens writes:

In the will not and won't case, certainly that we still pronounce both and write both in sentences depending on rhythm and emphasis. Same goes for can not and can't, I am and I'm. There's a use for both forms.

But I don't see any such duality with going to / gonna [...] as far as I can tell, I simply do not have the "going to" pronunciation.

I can't speak for Ben's speech, but in English usage overall, this is surely false. As part of a collection effort for a corpus of political speeches, I've been gathering the weekly radio addresses of the past few presidents. The first of Obama's addresses where I found instance of "going to" (using egrep and thus in filename collating order, 010910_WeeklyAddress) has three examples in its closing paragraph, two of which are unreduced:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

We enter a new decade, now, with new perils – but we're going to meet them. It's also a time of tremendous promise – and we're going to seize it. We will rebuild the American Dream for our middle class and put the American economy on a stronger footing for the future. And this year, I am as hopeful and as confident as ever that we're going to rise to this moment the same way that generations of Americans always have: as one nation, and one people. Thanks for listening.

Here's George W. Bush, from his weekly radio address on 1/11/2008, where an aspectual "going to" is unreduced (including a full vowel in the "to"):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

We have faced difficult tests in the past. The American people have always risen to meet them. And that is exactly what we're going to do again.

I've also been making a collection of campaign speeches, and again, the first "going to" that I found in this collection was a pair of examples in John McCain's 2008 RNC acceptance speech, where the second one is reduced but the first one isn't. It seems plausible that the lack of reduction in the first case is for emphasis:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

But let there be no doubt, my friends, we’re going to win this election. And after we’ve won, we’re going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace.

(N.B. I've edited out some of the long period of recorded cheering.)

I have no systematic evidence about what the distribution of various more or less reduced forms of aspectual "going to" in various sorts of American speech is really like. However, it's quite clear that we still see exactly the sort of variation here that Ben Hemmens claims not to have in his own usage.

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45 Comments »

  1. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 9:13 am

    I'd differentiate between the obvious:
    "I'm not gonna work tomorrow." (I may show up but I won't do anything.)
    "I'm not going to work tomorrow." (I won't even show up.)

    [(myl) Yes, this is the distinction between the aspectual "going to" and the progressive form of the verb of motion. It's been a standard observation at least since Trager & Smith 1957, but probably before that as well.]

    And between the more subtle:
    "Pres. Obama is a man I wanna succeed." (I hope to be elected to succeed him.)
    "Pres. Obama is a man I want to succeed." (I hope that his term will be successful.)

    [(myl) This is slightly less antique, but still has been around for a while. Also, the facts are somewhat in dispute. See e.g. Paul Postal and Geoffrey Pullum, "Traces and the Description of English Complementizer Contraction", Linguistic Inquiry 9(1) 1978.

    If you noticed these phenomena for yourself, congratulations on your linguistic acumen! If you're reporting something that you remember from a course, then thanks.]

  2. Ben Hemmens said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    Does anyone know anything about the history of "gonna"? I'd be very surprised if this is a modern pronunciation. I bet the pronunciation has existed alongside the "going to" spelling for ages.

    Other thing that occurs to me: when reading out loud, I guess I'd make a difference between can't and can not, but I'd pronounce "going to" as my usual (variant of) "gonna". I feel it takes a special effort to say "going to" with a distinct "t".

    [(myl) The OED treats gonna as "colloq. (esp. U.S.) or vulgar pronunciation of going to (see go v. 47b)", with the first citation from 1913:

    1913 C. E. Mulford Coming of Cassidy ix. 149 Yo're gonna get a good lickin'.

    ... but adds "[Compare the earlier Sc. ganna, gaunna: see English Dial. Dict. s.v. Go, quots. 1806, etc.]

    It's not hard to find citations from somewhat before 1913, e.g. from Current Literature 1910:

    "Look, Jake! Look at that coke train! Did you ever see one engine pulling so many cars? I'm gonna count 'em!"

    Still, it looks as if this notation was not in general use until the start of the 20th century.]

  3. Tom O'Brien said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 10:05 am

    Is it "there ought to be some guidelines" or "there oughta be some guidelines?

  4. Alex Rotatori said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    Mark, your readers might be interested in this post of mine about the pronunciation of "going to":

    http://alex-ateachersthoughts.blogspot.com/2011/06/im-n-clarify-that_02.html

    [(myl) Yes, this helps to prove the point that the pronunciation (as opposed to the spelling) is in general use even in fairly formal registers.]

  5. Ben Hemmens said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 11:09 am

    Thanks for the extra info, but I meant the pronunciation, not the use of the "gonna" spelling. I bet "gonna" has been the dominant pronunciation for a long time (centuries). If that's true, then "going to" is just one more long-established non-phonetic spelling among many. Why change it now?

    Unless, of course, you want it to be part of a general program of more phonetic writing, as practiced by
    http://www.yek.me.uk/Blog.html#blog348

  6. Peter Taylor said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    Who is "most speakers" quantifying over? Most U.S. Americans? Most North American native speakers? Most natives speakers globally?

    [(myl) I'm most familiar with North American native speakers. I was interested to see Alex's evidence that David Cameron uses [ɡənə] in fairly formal settings, such as a speech at Davos; so apparently the set includes contemporary RP speakers at least to some extent. You can hear it, for example, in this NPR interview with the Economist's Economics editor, who (at about 2:00) says "The creditors are going to have to take a haircut", pronounced something like [ˈgʌ.nɘˈhæf.tə].]

  7. army1987 said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    I'd use ‹goin' ta› for Pronunciation 1 (cf ‹tryin' ta› for /traɪnə/)1 and ‹gonna› for 3 and 4.
    (I don't think I'd say /gɔɪnə/ myself. For me, the intermediate rung between /gɔɪntə/ and /gʌnə/ is /gʌntə/

    1. Or possibly ‹goin' to› in condition where ‹o› would be /ə/ anyway (i.e., before a consonant).

  8. Alex said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    The issue for me is whether certain groups of people are systematically represented as using the "gonna" variant, while others are quoted saying "going to." That is, are reporters using the non-standard spelling to stigmatize the speech of people who are not white and middle class, even though almost all Americans actually say something close to "gonna" in informal speech?

  9. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    [I hope this isn't too tangential - and if it is, that it's less irritating to delete it from here than it would be from your inbox.]

    Have you in the US had the quasi-phonetic Google Voice Search ads? It's probably the most high-profile attempt at eye-dialect in the public domain. Examples:

    tak-see num-buhz

    spohrts nyooz

    koh-vunt gar-duhn ("Covent Garden")

    pih-ka-di-lee sur-khus ("Piccadilly Circus")

    ley-tist scohrz

    There seems to be a tension between ensuring the reader gets it, and making it differ enough from the normal spelling to catch the eye. So for instance they go non-rhotic for num-buhz, but not for spohrtz and scohrz, perhaps because writing au/aw for /ɔː/ would risk being read as /aʊ/. Then again, they seemingly could have written Gah-dun without danger of ambiguity, but went rhotic again.

    And then there's the inconsistency of pih-ka-di-lee sur-khus , where one /ɪ/ gets an h and so does one /k/ (perhaps a genuine but odd attempt at aspiration, or maybe because sur-cus would have been too similar to the usual spelling).

  10. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    Sorry, I meant sur-kus. But that's not very similar to circus in fact, so the aitch remains unexplained.

  11. Albatross said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

    Why the extra "h" in "spohrts" and "scohrz"? I can't see how it changes the pronunciation one way or the other.

  12. Peter said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    @Alex: that kind of preferential treatment — transcribing some speakers’ gonnas to eye-dialect, where others’ would be “corrected” without even a thought — can apply to the white middle-class as well, when writers want to stigmatise them for other reasons. I think it’s been discussed here before, regarding Sarah Palin’s speech in particular?

  13. hector said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    The basic problem is, "go-ing" is difficult to say quickly. A west coast Canadian, I abbreviate the word by either diphthongizing it so that it almost rhymes with "boing" (as in "boing boing") or I say "gonu" ("I'm gonu go to the store"). "Gonna" sounds very American to me. Americans love them drawled a's. My wife, who grew up in North Dakota, says "gonna" all the time. If I, on the other hand, try to say "gonna," I have trouble with it; it slows my speech down, rather than speeding it up.

  14. GeorgeW said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    @Dan Lufkin: The distinction you make demonstrates the grammaticalization of gonna. We can say, 'I'm going to the office.' But, we cannot say, '*I'm gonna the office.' Gonna requires a main verb.

  15. LDavidH said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    As a ESL speaker living in the UK, I'm intrigued by the possibility of pronouncing "going to" as "munna" (as illustrated in the… well, illustrations). Where would that be common?
    Also, I find that saying "goin' to" doesn't seem to take any longer than "gonna" in my idiolect (admittedly losing the -g). But then again, I'm a foreigner…

  16. John Thayer Jensen said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    Nice one in one of Peter DeVries' novels – I forget which one – one of his characters is asking "Could we see him?" – 'Could we' is spelt 'Kwee'

    jj

  17. Ellen K. said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    @LDavidH

    The illustration does not have "going to" pronounced as "munna". It has "I'm going to" pronounced as "Ah munna". The M comes from "I'm".

  18. Xmun said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    I remember an Oxford professor of French lecturing on the history of the language — what in those days we called "philology" — and mentioning in an aside the "new" English auxiliaries "gonna" and "gotta". That was in the mid-fifties. He was of course referring to speech, not writing.

    Sorry, I can't remember his name.

    [(myl) These have been standard examples of lexicalization and/or grammaticalization for a long time -- for example, I think that Trager & Smith 1957 have aspectual going to in their paradigm of verb forms (with the "gonna" pronunciation explicitly indicated) but I don't know who first suggested this.]

  19. language hat said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    So if a publication decides to allow both "going to" and "gonna" in quotations, there ought to be some guidelines to ensure that it's used somewhat accurately, and not simply as a way to depict some speakers as being uneducated or ethnically marked.

    I think it's unlikely verging on impossible that such guidelines would be followed consistently; the rich and powerful are always going to be treated with kid gloves unless they fall from grace, and I favor maintaining the official "going to" spelling for everyone simply to close off one way to smuggle in class prejudice.

    [(myl) Your point is a plausible one, but don't you think that something similar happened during the process of making written contractions (mostly) respectable? In 1850, would you have favored always writing "will not" for "won't" because some people considered it a vulgar error long after it because nearly-universal practice?]

  20. Spell Me Jeff said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

    I mostly agree, language hat, but what will we do when someone like Obama or Palin deliberately "lowers" their register for populist or comical effect? Ignore it? That seems wrong somehow. Yet a policy for discriminating the willful from the un could be a bit dicey.

  21. m.m. said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

    Ah, standardizing a sound into text.

    I can't imagine how I'd spell my [,ə.mən.'ə] xD

    Pflaumbaum said,
    June 25, 2011 @ 11:52 am
    Have you in the US had the quasi-phonetic Google Voice Search ads?

    If we do, I luckily haven't seen them. The last thing I want to see is fauxnetic transcriptions, by GOOGLE no less.

  22. Ben Hemmens said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

    "In 1850, would you have favored always writing "will not" for "won't" because some people considered it a vulgar error long after it because nearly-universal practice?"

    That's a good question. First let's eliminate the "vulgar error" reason for changing the spelling. We like nothing better than a vulgar error if it can give a decent account of itself.

    What remains? In the will not and won't case, certainly that we still pronounce both and write both in sentences depending on rhythm and emphasis. Same goes for can not and can't, I am and I'm. There's a use for both forms.

    But I don't see any such duality with going to / gonna. I'm a speaker of English from a background that many people in my country of origin (Ireland) would consider elitist and anglophile, and yet as far as I can tell, I simply do not have the "going to" pronunciation. The furthest I get in that direction is what seems to be a kind of mini glottal stop where the t should be. If you want me to believe this has only become dominant in recent decades, you'll have to point me to some evidence.

    So (sorry for the repetition) we spell it "going to" and pronounce it "gonna". Somehow it got left out of the wave of changes that gave us wouldn't, isn't, don't, etc. So big deal. If we've learnt anything from LL and associated works, it is that expecting English spelling, grammar etc. to follow simple logic (myself, yourself, *hisself) is barking up the wrong tree. So why change this now? It's just part of the geology.

  23. hanmeng said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    Closed captioning on television always seems to present "gonna" as "going to" and "wanna" as "want to". I believe this is the reason that several non-native speakers (graduate students) have used these spellings in their emails to me.

  24. Ray Dillinger said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

    I hear another form of this on my frequent trips to east Oakland, California; frequently "I'm going to" is shortened to something like "Ahmo" in sentences like "Ahmo see what's over there." This might be part of an African-American dialect in that area.

  25. Joe Fineman said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

    In "Inner City Romance", a comic book by Guy Colwell set in San Francisco (1972), blacks are represented as saying "Ahmo" throughout.

    In a lot of old American songs, tho, their "going to" is rendered as "gwine" or "gwineter".

  26. Ellen K. said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    I think Dan Lufkin's point in the first comment was not to point out the different uses of "going to", but rather to note that there are some cases, when writing something spoken, where always using "going to" is going to create an ambiguity that's likely to be misunderstood, even though the original statement wasn't at all ambiguous.

  27. Ellen K. said,

    June 25, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

    And, though I don't know if I every say "going" to in those gonna-type situations, clearly it's part of my written vocabulary, and I do hear it that way – going to — in my head while writing. My use of it above, unlike Dan Lufkin's, is not ambiguous. The ambiguity in those examples comes from "work" and "succeed" each having two meanings. (Or, in the case of "work", more specifically two different parts of speech.)

  28. Peter G. Howland said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 3:42 am

    Me gotta go, Louie.

    For my personal use, it’s a matter of register or emphasis…and it has its variations:

    - I’m gonna be going to the store and then I’ll be going to the library. It’s gonna be a while.
    - I’m going to be going to the store, then I’ll be stopping by the library. It’s not going to take long.

    - You will *not* be going to the mall, young lady, even if you say you’re gonna go!
    - You’re *not* gonna go to the mall, young lady, even if you *say* you’re going to!

    - That ain’t gonna happen, mister, even if you *think* it’s going to.
    - I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, sir, even if you hope it’s gonna.

    However, no matter how emphatic or grumpy my intentions or how sympathetic and understanding I hope my audience to be, “going to” most often comes out something like “goin nuh”.

    Of course, if I want to be quoted as informing you that I’m going to use “gonna” in my writing, I’ll say I intend to employ that form and I would hope to see both “going to” and “gonna” in the transcribed quote.

    It seems that for now, at least until “gonna” becomes universally respectable, it would be best when quoting prominent figures in the news without implications of class prejudice to stick with “going to” because that is the intention, regardless of the individual’s lack of ability in or care for precise enunciation.

    [(myl) There's no question that there's variation here; and we certainly expect the variation to depend on register and attitude and audience, among other things. But the general experience has been that intuitions about usage are not always reliable, and sometimes are badly wrong, especially with respect to stigmatized variation and variation in pronunciation. So I'd take such intuitions as sources of hypotheses to test, rather than as evidence to explain. And to-contraction is an area where there's been surprisingly little systematic collection of data, given the relevance of the facts in various realms of theory.]

  29. J. Goard said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 8:01 am

    Not sure whether I brought up this comic in LL comments when it was new, but the spelling in the bride's bubble struck me as very wrong.

    http://calamitiesofnature.com/archive/?c=473

    ?? "I'm never going to hafta put out again."

    I seem to have a ranking in which the informality suggested by spelling "gonna" is lower than that for "hafta", such that any among {"going to have to","gonna have to", "gonna hafta"} is fine, but the writer's actual choice isn't.

  30. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    In my office it was once de rigeur to say, at around 11:45, "Gee-chet?". To which the standard reply was "Squeet".

  31. LDavidH said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

    I still don't remember ever coming across "munna" for "I'm going to" – I did realise that the m was from "I'm", but where is that form used? And what would the equivalent 2nd and 3rd person forms be? I'm just curious!

  32. Randy Hudson said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    Growing up in the deep South, I heard many people say /ɑ: mõ:/ . Is the nasalization not present for those who write "I'ma" (or whatever)?

  33. Chris Waters said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

    LDavidH: west coast US definitely has "eye-munna" (as well as "going to", "goyna", and "gunna"). Second-person is pronounced like "urine-ah"; third would be "heezinna", "sheezinna", "thurinna".

  34. David Bloom said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

    Randy Hudson: I don't think there is any nasalization in these examples (like the famous Kanye West moment). But surely what you have is the missing link etymon.

  35. Spell Me Jeff said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    I think I pronounce something like this when I'm "going to the" store:

    goʊnəɽə
    or maybe
    gɔːnəɽə

    I don't think there's a comfy way to eye-write these.

  36. Carl said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

    This reminds me of a story from the Washington Post from 2007 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/10/AR2007081001922.html

    Here is a key paragraph:

    Several readers of an early edition of the July 28 Sports section noticed different versions of the same quote from Redskins running back Clinton Portis in a story by Howard Bryant and a column by Mike Wise. In Bryant's story, Portis said: "I don't know how anybody feels. I don't know how anybody's thinking. I don't know what anyone else is going through. The only thing I know is what's going on in Clinton Portis's life." Wise quoted him as saying: "I don't know how nobody feel, I don't know what nobody think, I don't know what nobody doing, the only thing I know is what's going on in Clinton Portis's life."

  37. Mark F. said,

    June 26, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

    I was going to say that the situation with "gonna" is different from the example of Clinton Portis, that people have an awareness that "gonna" is common among educated speakers, and that people transcribe it that way to indicate informal speech more than stigmatized speakers. But when I did a Google Books search on the word, in dialogue it seemed almost exclusively limited to dialect. So point taken.

    Still, in the NYT, David Pogue quotes himself using it here:

    http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/a-look-back-at-the-space-shuttle/

  38. John F said,

    June 27, 2011 @ 5:10 am

    Humbly I submit 'goantil'/'goanʔil' *

    In Northern Ireland, 'gonna/gunna' is also common, but 'til' is often used instead of 'to' and is common in both major communities. e.g. "I'm goantil the town the day"**

    The 'to'/'til' part can also become a generic 'tuh' or 'ta' or a glottal stop, so the speaker might say "I'm goantuh the town". For some it might even sound like "I'm goant the town", (where goant would sound like 'don't')

    * where ʔ is a glottal stop.
    ** "the day" is a variant of today.

  39. Mark Dunan said,

    June 27, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    @Joe Fineman – "Gwine" was always a word that bothered me when I saw it in 19th-century writing. How are you supposed to pronounce it? Something like [gwajn], rhyming with "twine"?

    I don't think I've ever heard anyone say it like that; so prevalent is today's "gonna".

  40. Svafa said,

    June 27, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

    In my own usage I tend toward "going to" in formal settings, both written and spoken, and "gonna" in informal settings, again both written and spoken. For instance, at work I might say, "I'm going to fix that tomorrow," while with a friend over lunch I might say, "I'm gonna fix that tomorrow."

    In thinking through this and analyzing my own speech patterns I did notice something I found interesting though. I balk at saying something like, "I'm gonna be at the game tonight," regardless of the setting. The combination "gonna be" irks me for some reason.

    @Mark Dunan – In my experience, the closest to "gwine" I have heard is something like [gə'wajn], but I could imagine it being contracted further.

  41. HP said,

    June 27, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    I have my doubts as to whether "gwine" was ever an accurate transcription of AAV speech from the 19th/early 20th c. I've managed to collect a fair number of early sound recordings (c. 1890-1920), including examples of white minstrelsy, black minstrelsy, and black gospel/spirituals, and I've never heard it. Even when the titles or published song lyrics show "gwine," the performers invariably sing either the "gonna" or "ahmo" variants.

    I suspect that "gwine" is basically a typographical race marker, rather than an honest attempt at eye dialect. E.g., "This is how we spell 'going to' when a black person says it."

    This is just personal observation, though, and I betcha someone has actually done the research.

  42. James Kabala said,

    June 28, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

    I agree with Alex and Language Hat. (P.S. There was already some discussion of this issue and the broader issue of written g-dropping in general in the "Automatic classification of g-dropping" post linked to above.)

  43. Ben Hemmens said,

    July 6, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    I only just noticed the update. FYI, I'm Irish (from Ireland) & lived in Scotland for some years; I think I'm used to the general spectrum of BrE.

    I think my actual pronunciation is more like Spell Me Jeff and John F describe. What my wife said was, as usual, spot on: she said she doesn't feel "gonna" would be much closer to what people say that "going to" is. Again, her exposure to English has been mostly non-US.

    US-Americans trying to sound presidential, of course, carefully pronounce "going to". I guess this is all much more of an issue / is perceived much more sharply as a marker of social status & refinement of manners in the US.

  44. iTEFL said,

    July 29, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    Dear Prof Liberman,
    I do argue that it's apropriate to write "gonna" for "going to". As Svafa puts it, I tend toward "going to" in formal settings, both written and spoken, and "gonna" in informal settings, again both written and spoken.
    Plus, I've written you an email, asking about the non-native using of "having been doing" — the compound particilpe as an adverbial and noun. Would you please write a post here? Looking forward to your kindest help!

  45. Nadalee said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 8:56 am

    Is "commonest" a word? Wouldn't you say "most common?" Americans butcher the English language, finding easier, quicker ways to say things because we are lazy. I love listening to English people talk. It's so refreshing.

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