Back in 2005, Tom Delay spoke to prosecutors about his PAC’s swap of soft corporate money for hard campaign money with the RNC. This conversation was captured on tape. Now, in his trial for money laundering, his culpability seems to hinge on whether or not he knew ahead of time that an aide, Jim Ellis, was going to make the swap.
There’s this key passage, which jurors in Delay’s money laundering trial heard yesterday, quoting from the Austin-American Statesman’s report.
“Jim Ellis told me he was going to do it,” Delay said.
“Before he did it?” prosecutors asked.
“Uh-huh,” DeLay answered.
So that pretty much ends debate on the question of what Delay knew when — except that Delay is now saying (as he told reporters after the session) that his use of “going to do it” was an example of “Texas talk.”
Here’s where court transcription really matters, and the Statesman story doesn’t mention whether the transcript matches the tape. Did Delay say, “was gonna do it,” which was corrected to “was going to do it”?
But whether or not they match, Delay’s small linguistic defensive play makes no sense. Even if you reduce the pronunciation of the phrase the way it’s written to “was gonna do it,” it’s a clear reference to future action. Then any wiggle room is eliminated by the next exchange, basically:
“Are you talking about an event that preceded another event?”
But there is one aspect of Southern US English that would be certain to lead to involved judicial wrangling: the double modal. As in, “We might can go up there next Saturday.” [example taken from a 1989 American Speech article by Marianna de Paolo]. When I encountered the double modal living in Texas, I always took it as a polite hedge — a recognition that some future action could happen, but a noncommittal posture toward its happening. You can spin out some neat epistemological webs about it; it’s amazing that the language=culture crowd hasn’t capitalized on the double modal and, say, politics. Here’s an interesting proposal from Language Log: double modals don’t exist.
Geoff Pullum’s speculation on this would surely have gotten him called to Delay’s defense — if Delay had used the double modal, as in “Jim Ellis might could exchange the money.” But he didn’t. What you see here is good ol’ fashioned future perfect continuous.