SLE edition:46 location:Split date:17-21 September 2013
The development of a prospective future function of be going to INF remains a dragon’s hoard for linguists to pillage. The common assumption is that a main verb go ‘go somewhere’ + purposive adjunct was reanalyzed into an auxiliary go + to + infinitival main verb, marking (immediate) future. Analogy has usually been assigned a secondary role in this process, and proposed analogues have been mostly convincingly dismissed as unlikely (e.g. Traugott’s 2012).
This talk discusses the constructions (i) [be about to INF] and (ii) [go about to INF] and the major role they played in the grammaticalization of (iii) [going to INF]. My data come from an off-line corpus-conversion of the huge EEBO database of Early Modern English.
(i) Þis luþere wummen weren ... A-boute to bringue luþer þou3t.
‘These evil women were... about to bring evil thought.’ (c1300)
(ii) This false iuge gooth now faste aboute (‘busily about’) To hasten his delit. (c1390)
The original sense of (ii) is spatial (‘go to several places in order to do something’), but from around 1530 a sense ‘try to’ and, more generally, prospective aspect appeared, as in (iib), which is also an early instance of participial go.
(iib) They shall begyle your simple playnesse with feyned communicacion, not going about to wynne you vnto Christe. (1549)
(iii) [going to INF], which unlike (iib), remained limited to cases of motion with a purpose until the end of the sixteenth century:
As they were goynge to bringe hym there, ... cometh one Piers Venables (1439)
Preliminary data suggest that prospective [go about to INF] was common enough – making its absence in the literature quite problematic – to model for [going to INF]. More importantly, while [going to INF] caught up with [go about to INF] only around 1700, it overtook [going about to INF] more than a century earlier, around the time when [be Ving] (the ‘progressive’) started to grammaticalize (Elsness 1994). At this point, only [go about to INF] had developed prospective aspect uses without motion. I argue that the grammaticalization of the progressive, though, led to production pressures: be going to was phonetically much lighter, and hence extended to going about to’s motionless uses through formal and semantic similarity. Only much later did going to outcompete go about to in general.
My talk draws attention to various theoretical issues. First, the formal and functional similarity between be about to, go(ing) about to and going to, together with their frequency histories, corroborates the importance of analogy in the grammaticalization of going to, and may serve as a starting point for operationalizing the distinction between what Traugott (2012) calls ‘analogical thinking’ (which is everywhere) and ‘constructional analogization’. Second, the relation between the success of going to and the progressive construction illustrates how grammaticalization may be triggered by a shift elsewhere in the grammatical system (see e.g. Petré & De Smet 2012).