That's What They Say
8:16 am
Sun March 10, 2013

You're gonna wanna see this...

This time on "That's What They Say," host Rina Miller and University of Michigan Professor Anne Curzan discuss the colloquial "gonna" and "wanna," and how these words are not just mispronunciations of their original verbs, but are developing their own distinct meanings.

"If you think about the verb 'go' as a main verb, it has directionality to it. So I could say 'I'm going to swim,' which would imply some kind of direction," explains Curzan. "But if I say 'I'm gonna swim,' that means at some point in the future, I'm gonna swim."

Curzan says that this evolution of the meaning of the verbs is due to the lack of definitive future-tense construction in the English language.

"Interestingly in English, some people would say that we don't have future-tense because we only have one tense marker, which is 'ed' for the past-tense. To talk about the future, we use these little auxiliary verbs like 'will,' which also used to be a main verb. Now 'go' is becoming an auxiliary verb. So this is now one of the ways we talk about the future," Curzan says.

"Wanna," says Curzan, is also developing a new auxiliary verb meaning.

"If you say something like, 'You're gonna wanna take a left up there,' it doesn't probably mean that you actually want to take a left; it's a piece of advice. I'm advising you to take a left. It's developed into an auxiliary that has an advice meaning component to it," says Curzan.

This "grammaticalization" of content words into grammatical constructions is fairly common in today's English.

"We hear this happening with 'hafta,' which is replacing 'must.' Some people say 'suposta,' as in 'I'm suposta do that,' Curzan says.