“When going to is used as a tense-former, it is typically pronounced /ɡənə/, e.g. What’s going to happen /ˈwɒts ɡənə ˈhæpən/. This form (sometimes shown as ‘gonna’ in dialogue) is often criticised by prescriptivists, but is in fact the norm in colloquial NRP [=current RP] and all other varieties of native-speaker English.”
I find this description of the contracted weak form of the phrase going to correct, but not totally. And now, I’m ɡənər – or ɡənu – explain why.
As my readers will know, going to, when it is used as a modal for expressing the future, can be pronounced in very many ways. Its ‘strong form’ is generally (ˈ)ɡəʊɪŋ tə/tu, usually depending on whether the following word begins with a consonant or a vowel sound. Its weak forms (the usual pronunciations) can vary, depending mainly on the rate of delivery and/or on more or less formal styles of speech. LPD (p. 344), for instance, has (ˈ)ɡəʊ in ə/u, (ˈ)ɡən ə/u, and (ˈ)ɡəʊ ɪnt ə/u for RP, and (ˈ)ɡoʊ‿ən ə, ‿ənt̬ ə, for GenAm. Spelling pronunciations are sometimes possible, too, especially in reading: RP ˈɡɒnə(r), ˈɡʌnə(r); GenAm ˈɡɔːnə, ˈɡɑːnə.
Contrary to what we read in Practical Phonetics and Phonology, the use of (ˈ)ɡənə(r)/(ˈ)ɡənu is not at all restricted to colloquial RP. It can, in fact, also be found in more formal/less relaxed styles of speech. Here’s, for example, a selection of video clips from YouTube with Prime Minister David Cameron:
1) In this first video (28th January 2011), the Prime Minister is addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Notice how he pronounces the following utterances:
i) ...how are we ɡənə get... (02.37)
ii) ...it is never ɡənə happen... (12.10)
iii) ...are you ɡənu invest... (14.33)
iiii) ...or are you ɡənu invest where... (14.42)
2) In this second video (28th March 2010), Cameron, not yet Prime Minister, is asked a number of questions by a studio audience:
i) ...it’s not ɡənə be government... (02.32)
ii) ...it’s ɡənə be the private sector... (02.36)
iii) ...it’s ɡənə be business... (02.37)
iiii) ...our plans to recognize marriage aren’t ɡənə disadvantage anyone... (08.16)
iiiii) ...we’re ɡənə hear it during the election campaign... (10.08)
iiiiii) ...as we’re probably ɡənə talk about... (10.20)
iiiiiii) ...when are you ɡənə be saying... (05.20 – uttered by BBC presenter Jon Sopel)
3) And in this third video clip, Mr Cameron is being interviewed by Ben Lowe:
i) ...and you never know that when you’re ɡənə get the one that’s really... (0.51)
Finally, in connection with the possible pronunciations of going to, here’s another video (18th February 2011) in which the Prime Minister, as he’s explaining his opposition to the alternative vote (AV), pronounces the phrase want to as ˈwɒnə, a form which most teachers of EFL/ESL tend to shun because it is generally regarded as non-standard:
i) ...you wɒnə know the best thing... (11.27).