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Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:00 PM

Ask or aks? How linguistic prejudice perpetuates inequality

Teacher and artist Sunn M'Cheaux has been posting on social media about “linguicism” after a reader asked him about the word “ax”, saying: “Why did we struggle saying ‘ask’? Like when I was little, I always said ‘ax’. Like I couldn’t say the word correctly.”

M'Cheaux’s response counters the common idea that “ax” (spelled also “aks”) is incorrect: “ax” isn’t a mispronunciation of “ask” but an alternative pronunciation. This is similar to how people might pronounce “economics” variously as “eck-onomics” or “eek-onomics”, for example. Neither of these pronunciations is wrong. They’re just different.

Linguicism is an idea invented by human-rights activist and linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas to describe discrimination based on language or dialect. The prejudice around “aks” is an example of linguicism.

Decades of research shows that the idea that any variation from standard English is incorrect (or, worse, unprofessional or uneducated) is a smokescreen for prejudice. Linguicism can have serious consequences by worsening existing socio-economic and racial inequalities.

Flawed argument

Pegging “ax” as a mark of laziness or ignorance presumes that saying “aks” is easier than saying “ask”. If this were the case, we would – and we never do – hear “desk”, “flask” and “pesky” pronounced “deks”, “flaks” and “peksy”.

The “s” and “k” being interchanged in “aks” and “ask” is an instance of what linguists call metathesis – a process which is very common. For example, wasp used to be pronounced “waps” but the former has now become the go-to word. Many of the pronunciations bemoaned as “wrong” are in fact just examples of language changing.

“Aks” has origins in Old English and Germanic over a millennium ago, when it was a formal written form. In the first English Bible – the Coverdale Bible, from 1535 – Matthew 7 was written as “Axe and it shall be given you”, with royal approval.

Beyond written English, “aks” was also the typical pronunciation in England’s south and in the Midlands. “Ask”, meanwhile, was more prevalent in the north and it is the latter that became the standard pronunciation.

Contemporary prevalence

In North America, “aks” (or “ax”) was widely used in New England and the southern and middle states. In the late 19th century, however, it became stereotyped as exclusive to African American English, in which it remains prevalent. American linguist John McWhorter considers it an “integral part of being a black American”.

Today, “aks” is also found in UK varieties of English, including Multicultural London English. This dialect, spoken mainly by people from ethnic minority backgrounds, came about through contact between different dialects of English and immigrant languages, including Caribbean Creoles, such as Jamaican Creole.

Multicultural London English was initially referred to in the media in a derogatory fashion as “Jafaican”. That label wrongly reduced the dialect to something imitated or used inauthentically..........

https://theconversation.com/ask-or-aks-how-linguistic-prejudice-perpetuates-inequality-175839

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Reply Ask or aks? How linguistic prejudice perpetuates inequality (Original post)
Goonch Jun 2022 OP
brush Jun 2022 #1
Hugh_Lebowski Jun 2022 #6
2naSalit Jun 2022 #2
2naSalit Jun 2022 #3
Goonch Jun 2022 #4
TygrBright Jun 2022 #7
XanaDUer2 Jun 2022 #5
2naSalit Jun 2022 #8
3catwoman3 Jun 2022 #10
2naSalit Jun 2022 #18
zuul Jun 2022 #9
3catwoman3 Jun 2022 #11
Goonch Jun 2022 #13
zuul Jun 2022 #14
intheflow Jun 2022 #15
Glorfindel Jun 2022 #12
3catwoman3 Jun 2022 #16
Anon-C Jun 2022 #17
LastDemocratInSC Jun 2022 #19
IbogaProject Jun 2022 #20

Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:08 PM

1. Nah. Aks is a mispronunciation of ask.

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Response to brush (Reply #1)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:27 PM

6. +1000 not buying either (nt)

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:13 PM

2. When I was young...

I was punished for not speaking and writing in a specific version of English and was told that anyone who could not pronounce words properly had inferior education. It also went with a host of other alleged tells indicating people to be avoided.

As I got older and traveled quite a bit I realized that there was a whole country of English speakers who had numerous varieties that were more regional than anything else. In college I really got into dialects, because I knew so many and my advisor was excited to meet a code switcher, I was able to go pretty far with it for an undergrad. Language and food, staples of cultural identification and camaraderie.

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:14 PM

3. And then there's nookyool'r.

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Response to 2naSalit (Reply #3)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:19 PM

4. And then there's Feb U wery

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Response to Goonch (Reply #4)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:28 PM

7. And lie-berry. And sang-widge.

I frequently variant-pronounce common words according to idiomatic usage even though I'm perfectly capable of sticking to "standard" English.

I would like us to get past the assumption that people don't use standard pronunciations because they 'can't' due to ignorance or poor education, etc.

English is colorful, plastic, and creative. I love every millimeter I can squooze out of it, myself.

Sure, there's a place for standard English in various institutional communications, but other than that, "lighten up, Francis..."

amusedly,
Bright

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:23 PM

5. I know someone from NY who says youse

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Response to XanaDUer2 (Reply #5)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:32 PM

8. And they also say yooge,

I can guarantee it!

I ran into a woman from CT today when I stopped for coffee and I outed her instantly. We have both lived away from New England for decades but there are little bits of that accent that is like tattletale grey. We joked about it for a minute as others looked on, it was fun.

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Response to 2naSalit (Reply #8)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:54 PM

10. My husband grew up on "Long Guyland," and he definitely says "yooge"...

...when describing large things. He also pronounces across as "acrosst." I never say anything, but the find the latter mispronunciation really annoying. He's starting to slip into the common sloppiness of saying "I" when he should be using "me." That really bugs me and I will probably have to speak up some day. He has no trouble commenting on my many faults and flaws, so commentary can go both ways.

His dad had an "earl boiner" in the basement - oil burner.

I freely confess to being a proper usage, spelling, pronunciation and grammar nerd.

I consider "aks" a regionalism. I do NOT consider it an alternative pronunciation of ask.

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Response to 3catwoman3 (Reply #10)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:17 PM

18. I confess...

To being a nerd too.

And I can't argue with you on aks being a regionalism. I don't know why they say it like that but who am I to judge?

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:37 PM

9. I live in New Orleans where a whole lot of natives

pronounce it as ‘aks.’ The ones I know personally who mispronounce it are highly educated professionals. They don’t even realize they’re doing it.

What I find really odd is that my boss pronounces it as ‘aks’ while both of his adult sons, who also work for us, pronounce it correctly (ask.)

My boss has a very strong Yat accent, but the sons do not. I asked the sons why they don’t speak Yat and both said they weren’t even conscious of their dads’ accent. Weird.

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Response to zuul (Reply #9)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 05:56 PM

11. What is Yat?

???

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Response to 3catwoman3 (Reply #11)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:05 PM

13. Often, the term "Yat" refers particularly to the New Orleans accents

that are "strongest" or most especially reminiscent of a working-class New York City accent

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Response to 3catwoman3 (Reply #11)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:05 PM

14. New Orleans accent that sounds a lot like a Brooklyn accent.

Most movies and tv shows set in New Orleans give native New Orleanian characters a soft southern drawl whereas the real accent is very harsh. And there are a lot of New-Orleans-specific slang words that are used here and considered as part of the Yat language.

It is believed that the term ‘Yat’ was derived from the phrase “Where ya at” which is generally accepted as a greeting like “How are you?”

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Response to zuul (Reply #9)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:06 PM

15. I live in Western Mass and the local dialect includes

'aks' and 'liberry.' It used to bug me, but one day I read something that was like, "Do you understand what's being said? Because that's what language is supposed to convey: understanding." After that, I don't care how anyone pronounces anything, as long as I can understand what they're saying. I still mess up but I'm working on it!

Put another way, I'm trying to shift focus onto whoever is speaking to me, to understand what they are saying rather than making it all about my discomfort with the way others express themselves.

Edited to add: the dialect is more pronounced in the Black population here, but the local white kids often speak it, too.

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:04 PM

12. I can't criticize anyone for saying, "aks"

when I pronounce the "h" in "wh" words such as "which," "white," "when," and "what," but put the "h" before the "w" and say, "hwich," "hwite," "hwen," "hwat," and the like. English is a wonderful, changing language. I really enjoy speaking and reading it.

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:10 PM

16. "Like when I was little, I always said 'ax'. Like I couldn't say the word correctly."

Little kids commonly say "psiketti" instead of spaghetti. I know of no adults who say pisketti. I do not think this is at all the same.

Nor do I think the example of the different pronunciations of economics is valid. Both of those pronunciations use the same spelling.

Ask does not spell axe.

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:16 PM

17. There is nothing wrong with anyone's speech...

...really.

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 06:49 PM

19. It's linguistic metathesis. We all do it.

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Response to Goonch (Original post)

Fri Jun 10, 2022, 08:31 PM

20. The post itself shows it was pronounced both ways in England

I grew up with kids who used the Cingular form of cents, so it was 18 cent instead of 18 cents. Not every kid said that but it was common enough that it stopped seeming weird to me. I've since read an academic paper that delved into how that and other differences in their speech was rooted in their historical languages.

Here is a different paper that covers some of this and how being a stickler for spelling and grammar originated in the 19th century. https://daily.jstor.org/black-english-matters/

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