Friday, July 01, 2005

Gonna, hafta, useta

Ruth Walker, at Verbal Energy, decides to accept "gonna," "gotta" and other reductions.

Why? In part because of the book "Unfolding of Language," by linguist Guy Deutscher.
The specific insight from the book that made me relax a bit was that "going to," used in reference to a specific physical/geographic destination, never elides into "gonna," not even in casual conversation. Compare: "I'm going to the gym tonight. I'm gonna work out."

In other words, the temporal "gonna" is not just sloppy diction and muddled thinking. It's different from the more carefully enunciated spatial "going to." No one would say, "I'm gonna the gym tonight."
She also talks about the differences between "let us" and "let's, "gotta" and "got to."

She's not ready to let them all slide into the pages of the Christian Science Monitor -- at least, not quite yet.

Her latest post is worth a read, too. It's about rules that aren't rules -- against split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions.
Split infinitives, I've found, really are something that people bring up with copy editors in social situations where a bit of small talk is called for. "Hmm, by the way, how do you feel about split infinitives?"

Funny you should ask. I just happen to have an opinion in here somewhere. In Latin, as in a number of other tongues, infinitives are one word. The basic reason one "shouldn't" split an infinitive in English is that one can't split it in Latin.

That said, the rule, however dubious its logic, was enforced fiercely enough over the years by English teachers and others that many careful writers avoid the split anyway. After all, an infinitive is a unit, even if expressed on the page as two words.

And yet there are times when the split may be the best way to express an idea.
A good example? She gives President Bush's desire to partially privatize social security.


At 9:03 PM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, but I don't think it really addresses the reason why those of us who copy-edit newspapers prefer to avoid "gonna" -- specifically, that when we transcribe "gonna" in a quote, it almost always reads as if we're trying to make the speaker look illiterate or sloppy.

-- EMorse

At 2:28 AM, July 02, 2005, Blogger James d. said...

Following up on the previous comment, especially because President Bush is so often quoted used "gonna" and "gotta" that it opens a paper up to a political bias (or at the least, a dialectical bias).

At 3:27 PM, July 05, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

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At 3:29 PM, July 05, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

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At 1:51 AM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Ruth's columns are great, but sometimes it seems that portions of them have been dumbed down a bit too far:

Now just what is an infinitive? You can think of it as a verb form that is keeping its options open.

At 9:41 PM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Yeah, I agree, Peter. I often feel as if I agree with the point of her column but don't necessarily enjoy trogging through it. I'll love the concept, if not the actual column.


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