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September 2, 2021
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This thread started with a question on 'ask' vs. 'ax'. Let's look at it from a linguist's perspective, shall we? In Old English, while there is still some debate, it appears we 'asked' for things. But all language evolves, and at some time during the evolution from Old English to Middle English, the 's' and 'k' became transposed, producing 'aksed'/'axed', or any one of the other spelling variants. I won't get any further into the weeds on the entomology. Beowulf uses that pronunciation. Chaucer, using his native Later Middle English, wrote it as 'ax'. The 1585 version of the King James Bible wrote it that way. It was pronounced that way during that time period.
While in England the evolution of English eventually resulted in it being pronounced 'ask' again, you had people migrating to the new world in the 17th Century, when 'ax' was still in use. This was the case even though amongst the educated elite, 'ask' had become the norm by Shakespeare's time. It must be kept in mind that most people who came to the New World were not the educated elite. So, the majority of English spoken in the colonies would have used 'ax'.
Interesting factoid: when a language is exported elsewhere, it tends to remain static in the place it lands, until outside forces cause it to change. Where English was concerned, the language evolved far more quickly in England than in the colonies. There are linguists that maintain certain forms of American English still more closely resemble Later Middle English than any English produced in England today.
Eventually, American English was influenced by newer forms of British pronunciations through exposure to the influx of British immigrants over many years. But certain populations largely escaped the levels of exposure necessary for 'ask' to become ingrained. One example of that is the Gullah-speaking people of the OuterBanks, which until recently has been quite isolated. Still other examples are certain dialects within the Appalachias, where use of 'ax' continues to this day (albeit primarily amongst older residents.) In addition, until very recently, large segments of the Black population in general used 'ax'. Why Blacks? Segregation, of course. But that has been rapidly changing. With the advent of integration has come exposure to 'ask', and with exposure has come change. It's still early days in that process, but in the 'ax' pronunciation is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule.
It's important to note that whatever your personal views on the 'correctness' of this word's pronunciation might be, linguists do not view 'ax' as an aberration or a bad thing; merely a dialectical difference, easily explained by history. I suggest y'all take up the same mantle.
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