Monday, September 18, 2006

Careful, the readers are 'gonna' blow!

Out in Sacramento, it seems the readers of the Bee are gonna be a might annoyed if they see that slang term again.

Public Editor Amando Acuna addresses the complaints in his Sunday column. As one reader wrote in an e-mail slugged "Gonna blow if I see 'gonna'":

'Gonna' is being used with increasing frequency in The Bee, and in news stories -- not just features -- on a fairly random basis," said Smith's Sept. 9 message. "It doesn't seem to be used as a way to communicate the flavor of a dialect someone might be using, nor does it seem to be intended to indicate education level ... is 'gonna' an accepted word in English grammar these days?

Has it been blessed by the AP stylebook? More importantly, does it often lead to a negative perception of those quoted, when it's based on what the reporter heard rather than what the person speaking actually meant to say? If I were quoted that way, I think I'd be offended unless I had purposely tried to sound slangy to make a point."

Acuna found the word used at least 30 times in the Bee since Sept. 1. As he notes, while the AP discourages "gonna" for "going to," the stylebook does allow for its use when there is a genuine need to convey dialect or similar tone in a quotation.

Acuna found a gratuitous use or two, but most of the Bee's usages were in quotations or song titles (hey, when that happens what are ya gonna -- sorry, going to -- do?). The paper's features desk seems to be most willing to give some leeway on this, but surprisingly, the paper's sports desk has banned the word's use. That's going to require a lot of search and replace.

Sports copy desk chief Paul Bauman says a compelling reason to use the word is rare.

Acuna notes the increased pressure the Internet puts on news organizations to consider being less stuffy. But I think I'll let him have the last words on this. Cut them out and paste them over the newsroom door:
Along these same lines, as the paper attempts to attract young readers, it sometimes falls into the trap -- in print and online -- of relying on slang instead of wit and style to appear hip.


At 9/23/06, 9:48 PM, Blogger fev said...

Seems to me the big worry on this is that the common visual attempts to mark dialect in writing -- gonna, gotta, dunno, goin' and the like -- tend to be applied by inexperienced writers (or those annoying ones who have one year of experience 20 times over) to people they think talk funny, and that tends to heavily delineated by race, class and culture.

That means that in the paper, First Ward residents and black athletes speak dialect. Bank officials, professors and city planners, whose speech features are often just as distinctive, have their quotes rendered in "standard." Until we can fix or neutralize that tendency, my inclination is to ban all attempts to reproduce dialect by anybody who isn't T.R. Pearson, Roddy Doyle or the like.

Yes, and anybody who writes "ya'll" is fed to hamsters, but that's spelling, not dialect.

At 9/25/06, 5:59 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I agree wholeheartedly, but it's yet another thing that can't be subject to a blanket ban. One exception I came across recently: a quote that was otherwise ungrammatical in a way that would make "going to" look absurd.

"I said, ‘Young man, God gonna give you a blessing and you won’t even know where it came from.' "

At 9/27/06, 9:12 PM, Blogger fev said...

Auxiliary deletion's a bit different. Almost every dialect has some contractions of the "gonna" sort in some cases, and in my experience, people tend to hear features like that in other groups' speech but not their own. But the deletion is much less a matter of judgment (also much more stigmatized, as above; I wouldn't call that example "ungrammatical"). If you put the auxiliary back, you _would_ be changing a quote, which in most cases you aren't if you change a "gonna."

Most of these, like most rules of writing, aren't absolute. If the writer can convince me that dialect is essential to the story, and that it's applied evenhandedly, and that he/she can consistently and accurately write it (I'll settle for a note from his/her phonetics prof), I'd consider it.


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