Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Where Is Going to Going to Go? A Generative Proposal between Diachrony and Synchrony

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Where Is Going to Going to Go? A Generative Proposal between Diachrony and Synchrony

Article excerpt


The aim of this paper is threefold: first, to examine the diachronic development of the be going to construction in English from a historical point of view, investigating the formation of this construction, as well as its change in function and semantics, through its occurrence in texts of various kinds. Secondly, to provide a motivation for the grammaticalization of this construction, which also implies reanalysis, by proposing a possible diachronic derivation for this complex structure from a generative perspective. In fact, the development of be going to follows a grammaticalization path identified for a wide range of future constructions cross-linguistically, including the stages andative > purposive > future (Bybee & Dahl, 1989). In the third place, to formulate guesses on the future development of the construction through a synchronic corpus-oriented observation of its use in PDE. The current paper summarizes the results achieved by the research, with some original discussion to highlight some of the issues involved.

Keywords: Grammaticalization, Be going to construction, Diachronic language change, English language, Expression of future.

1. A Diachronic Approach to the be going to Construction

1.1 For a Definition of be going to + V

The be going to construction in English has been subject to a number of studies in historical linguistics, in particular by theorists of grammaticalization (e.g. Bybee & Dahl, 1989; Bybee/Pagliuca/Perkins, forthcoming). In fact, its emergence and diachronic development constitute a clear case of grammaticalization continuum as defined in the existing studies on the issue.

Before going into the structural grammaticalization of this structure, it is of fundamental importance to clarify its functional implications in Present Day English (henceforth PDE). The term generally utilized for a punctual description of this structure is 'prospective aspect', which, according to Frawley (1992: 322) and as reported by Cinque (1999: 98 ff.), marks 'a point just prior to the beginning of an event', which will be developed later in this paper for a comparison with other future marking structures. In certain frameworks, the be going to construction is conceived as a semantically unmarked future form: Joos (1964: 23), for instance, defines it as 'the only uncolored future that English has' and Haynes (1967: 32) identifies in this structure a 'neutral future signal'. Furthermore, Scheffer (1975: 80 ff.) assumes be going to to be a simple verb in the progressive aspect, without drawing a clear distinction between the different uses of the progressive (in the case in point, the specific difference, which we will analyze diachronically in this paper, between bare progressive and future marker).

1.2 'Grammaticalizing Movement': The A's and B's of the Phenomenon

Interestingly enough, according to Bybee/Pagliuca/Perkins (forthcoming), the grammaticalization of the be going to construction takes place along a continuum comprising movement > intention > prediction (otherwise conceptualized as allative > purposive > future, e.g. by Traugott/König, 1991), marking a development from a movement-based construction (i.e. from a structure in which the lexical verb only has a semantic value indicating material movement from a place A to a goal B) to one that refers to the expression of intention, to an eventual one in which it conveys immediate futurity and, following Bybee/Pagliuca/Perkins' line, also a sense of prediction based on objective evidence. Research on grammaticalization on a cross-linguistic basis has highlighted that the go is, among lexical verbs, the most susceptible to grammaticalization into a future marker, basically by virtue of the fact that it is the only one in the English language that is not marked at all for manner of movement (Note 1). That is, it does not imply any restrictions on the type of motion involved, as compared e. …

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