What ya gonna do?
Commenter Steegness wondered in a post Tuesday how The Sun’s policy of not changing the words in direct quotes meshes with the injunction to avoid phonetic spellings such as gonna except in limited circumstances. Does changing gonna to going to constitute “cleaning up” a quote for the speaker’s benefit?
The thing to keep in mind is that the newspaper presents articles of different kinds. What may be inappropriate in a straightforward news story, for example, may be permissible in the looser tone granted to a columnist. No one wants the editorial page, the features cover and the sports pages to sound exactly alike.
But throughout we are converting the spoken language to the written language, and the two do not coincide, as anyone who has grappled with the vagaries of English spelling recognizes. Spelling is a convention of written English that does not exist in spoken English, but we must use it when representing speech.
That gonna for going to has become so commonplace in both speech and writing as to get an entry in Webster’s New World College Dictionary — “phonetic sp. of going to (in informal pronunciation)" — leads us to permit it in the paper in certain contexts.
But we remain resistant to phonetic spellings in general, which can be (a) distracting to the reader and (b) insulting to the subject.
When Dudley Fitts translated the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, he gave the Spartan women Southern accents. Whether or not you think it was an apt choice, it is the kind of choice that fiction and drama offer to practitioners. I want to argue that while journalists may make use of literary techniques, journalism has more limits than fiction or drama. Ah doan think yew wahnt the payper to show how Suthrons tahk, for example.