Is 'Gonna' a Word or a Pronunciation?
Bill Clinton made a point on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos about party politics and presidential elections, and ABC News rendered it this way:
You can break the rules, nobody’s gonna say anything.
Putting aside any debate over comma splices, it’s interesting that ABC News chose the “gonna” spelling in its transcript of the interview. That spelling also appeared in a Washington Post blog this morning. In a distillation of the interview put out by ABC News, the quote is given as “going to.”
Gonna is considered dialectal, and we don’t write in dialect unless we want to make a particular point about the speaker’s background. Transcriptionists often take an exacting approach, sometimes even including all the “ums” and “ahs.” Those are normally left out when we quote someone, just as quotes are likely to ignore a false start or a sloppy pronunciation. The official transcript of President Obama’s second inaugural address, for example, has him saying “tenets of our faith” when he clearly said “tenants of our faith.”
As much as we proclaim quotes to be inviolable, we regularly clean them up just a little to avoid the appearance of mocking someone’s speech. Gonna becomes going to. Would of becomes would have. Warsh becomes wash.
A case could be made that gonna is not an issue of pronunciation like warsh, but a word of its own, and therefore acceptable. The American Heritage Dictionary and the New Oxford American Dictionary take that approach, both labeling gonna as an informal contraction. But Webster’s New World College calls it a phonetic spelling, and Merriam-Webster Collegiate does not include an entry.
To anyone who has heard President Clinton speak (which includes just about everyone), there is little surprise that the former governor of Arkansas pronounced it “gonna.” It is a bit surprising that ABC News and the Washington Post would render it that way. Gonna still carries association with uneducated speech. It’s a word that is heard perhaps more than going to, but it has yet to reach full acceptance in writing.