Grammaticalization is the process in which a lexical item becomes a grammatical item. Lexical items, or content words, are vocabulary words with specific and identifiable meanings such as the noun dog and the verb run. Grammatical items, or function words, are words that perform definite grammatical functions but lack definite lexical meanings such as the determiner a and the conjunction and. Lexical items become grammaticalized when such words lose their lexical meanings and begin to fulfill grammatical functions. Grammaticalization is also referred to as grammatization and grammaticization.
Two frequently used lexical items that have become grammaticalized in English are the auxiliary verb constructions be going to and be fixing to. Both auxiliary structures are verb phrases whose meanings have been metaphorically extended. Metaphorical extension is defined as the extension of meaning in a new direction.
First, the meaning of the verb phrase be going to has been extended from movement in space to movement in time. For example, the use of be going to in The woman is going to Chicago means that the woman is physically moving through space to the city of Chicago; however, the use of be going to in The man is going to cook dinner means that the man is metaphorically moving through time and will be cooking dinner at a future time.
Similarly, the auxiliary verb construction be fixing to developed from the obsolete meaning of the verb fix, which used to mean “to concentrate one’s attention or mind on”; therefore, the grammaticalized meaning of be fixing to means “to decide to do something in the future” or “is about to.” For example, We are fixing to leave means that we have decided to leave.
Both be going to and be fixing to refer to actions and decisions in the future and are therefore considered future markers. Be going to and be fixing to are grammaticalized constructions of the progressive aspect also followed by a verb phrase complement in the form of an infinitive: compare the grammaticalized be going to and the lexical be listening to in I am going to read a book and I am listening to some music.
Be Going to
The grammaticalized auxiliary be going to has three tense and aspect conjugations:
- Present Progressive Active Indicative – am going to, is going to, are going to
- Past Progressive Active Indicative – was going to, were going to
- Past Perfect-Progressive Active Indicative – had been going to
- I am going to study linguistics.
- He is going to clean the bathroom.
- They are going to bring dessert.
- She was going to help me move the piano.
- We were going to go to Kansas this summer.
- He had been going to take sociolinguistics this semester.
The use of be going to as a future marker is more certain than the use of the modal verb will as a future marker. For example:
- I will call you. (It is possible that you will receive a call from me in the future.)
- I am going to call you. (It is certain that you will receive a call from me in the future.)
Going to is often pronounced and sometimes written as gonna.
Be Fixing to
The grammaticalized auxiliary be fixing to also has three tense and aspect conjugations:
- Present Progressive Active Indicative – am fixing to, is fixing to, are fixing to
- Past Progressive Active Indicative – was fixing to, were fixing to
- Past Perfect-Progressive Active Indicative – had been fixing to
- I am fixing to eat.
- He is fixing to watch football.
- We are fixing to leave.
- The building was fixing to fall down.
- They were fixing to attend.
- Things had been fixing to get better.
The use of be fixing to as a future marker is most often used for decisions about actions. Note that be fixing to is more prevalent in Southern American Englishes and African American Englishes.
Fixing to is often pronounced and sometimes written as fixin' to or finna with finna more frequent in African American Englishes.