Why Do People Say “Axe” or “Aks” Instead of “Ask”?

Blog ask1

‘Shetland Islanders, descendents of Jamaican immigrants living in London, and African Americans all tend to say “axe” or “aks” instead of “ask” when speaking. Linguist Geoff Lindsey traces the history of differing pronunciations of ask/aks from all the way back to the beginnings of written English up to the present day….’

— via kottke

I really enjoyed this discussion that centered around John McWhorter’s take on historical and ethnic speech diversity. I’m not only interested in linguistic prejudice, but it imposes hurdles on me every day as a psychiatrist. Communication is such an intrinsic part of my work, and I interact with people from diverse backgrounds and linguistic styles. This is particularly important because when people are in distress, they may not make the effort to ‘code-switch’ to standard English, which can make it difficult to understand them. Just this week, a colleague shared an anecdote with me about her recent difficulty in understanding a client on death row in the rural South during a forensic consultation.

Entertaining fact gleaned: something similar to what is happening to the word “ask” was true of “fish”, which started out as “fisk,” 

with the same -sk ending that “ask” has. Over time, in some places people started saying “fisk” as “fiks,” while in others they started saying “fisk” as “fish.” After a while, “fish” won out over “fiks,” and here we are today. The same thing happened with “mash.” It started as “mask.” Later some people were saying “maks” and others were saying “mash.” “Mash” won.

Maybe you had to be there…

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