This is a fairly rambling post on the syntax and semantics of ‘want to’ and ‘wanna’, so it’s almost all going below the fold. I would be interested to hear back if people agree or not with some of my judgments about the various cases.
Europa Malynicz sent me the following case, which it turns out we have different intuitions about.
Brian is running for election on the Monster Raving Loony Party ticket. He did not want to win when he entered, because he’s just smart enough to know that Monster Raving Loonies are bad for government. But, being a bit of a Monster Raving Loony himself, he’s now forgotten that he’s in the contest. While watching nightly news he sees himself dressed up as a Teletubby disguised as a teacup campaigning for votes. Not recognising who he is, but being very impressed with the hat he’s wearing, he forms the desire that that guy wins the election. In this context, which of (1) and (2) are true?(1) Brian wants Brian to win the election.
(2) Brian wants to win the election.
I think that (1) is probably true, although it might be misleading. But I think (2) is false. (Europa thinks it is also true but misleading, which is where the difference arises.) So the first reason I’m posting this is to check what your intuitions are. Could (2) really be true in this context? Could (1)?
This is a cute case, and it suggests a couple of wild hypotheses.
De Se Hypothesis
(2) is only true if Brian has a de se desire, a desire that is essentially self-directed. It’s false in the case described because he has a de re desire that that guy wins, a desire that is directed at the guy on TV, which just happens to be him.
It’s really hard to explain the difference between (1) and (2), i.e. that one of them is true and the other false, if there is a hidden pronoun PRO between ‘wants’ and ‘to’ in (2). So here’s some evidence that there isn’t one. (I make no claims to originality here – debates about hidden pronouns are very well worked over so I suspect someone has made this point before.)
Thinking about PRO makes me think about wanna, but thinking about wanna just makes me confused. Here’s roughly why. How grammatical do each of the following seem to you?
(3) a. I want to be adored
b. I wanna be adored
(4) a. You want to be adored
b. You wanna be adored
(5) a. He wants to be adored
b. He wanna be adored
(6) a. She wants to be adored
b. She wanna be adored
(7) a. They want to be adored
b. They wanna be adored
My intuitive judgments are that all the a sentences are OK, while 5b and 6b are very bad, and 7b is pretty bad. It turns out Google agrees that 5b and 6b are much worse than 3b and 4b, but it also thinks 7b is just as bad as 5b and 6b. Still, all the forms are used widely enough that they seem kinda acceptable at least to some. Here are the counts for searching for pronoun followed by “want to” or “wanna”.
want to wanna Ratio I 10,600,000 2,390,000 4.4 You 16,400,000 1,510,000 10.9 He 1,760,000 11,800 149.2 She 816,000 16,500 49.5 They 4,030,000 79,400 50.8
79,400 is many more hits than I expected for a phrasing I regard as marginal, an 28,300 between ‘he’ and ‘she’ is way more than I expected for a phrasing I regard as clearly bad. At least the ratios were way down than from ‘I’ and ‘You’.