Instructor and artist Sunn M’Cheaux has been posting on social media about “linguicism” after a reader requested him concerning the phrase “ax”, saying: “Why did we battle saying ‘ask’? Like once I was little, I all the time mentioned ‘ax’. Like I couldn’t say the phrase appropriately.”
M’Cheaux’s response counters the widespread concept that “ax” (spelled additionally “aks”) is wrong: “ax” isn’t a mispronunciation of “ask” however another pronunciation. That is just like how individuals may pronounce “economics” variously as “eck-onomics” or “eek-onomics”, for instance. Neither of those pronunciations is mistaken. They’re simply completely different.
Linguicism is an concept invented by human-rights activist and linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas to explain discrimination based mostly on language or dialect. The unfairness round “aks” is an instance of linguicism.
A long time of analysis reveals that the concept that any variation from commonplace English is wrong (or, worse, unprofessional or uneducated) is a smokescreen for prejudice. Linguicism can have severe penalties by worsening current socio-economic and racial inequalities.
Pegging “ax” as a mark of laziness or ignorance presumes that saying “aks” is less complicated than saying “ask”. If this had been the case, we might – and we by no means do – hear “desk”, “flask” and “pesky” pronounced “deks”, “flaks” and “peksy”.
The “s” and “ok” being interchanged in “aks” and “ask” is an occasion of what linguists name metathesis – a course of which is quite common. For instance, wasp was once pronounced “waps” however the former has now turn out to be the go-to phrase. Most of the pronunciations bemoaned as “mistaken” are actually simply examples of language altering.
“Aks” has origins in Outdated English and Germanic over a millennium in the past, when it was a proper written kind. Within the first English Bible – the Coverdale Bible, from 1535 – Matthew 7:7 was written as “Axe and it shall be given you”, with royal approval.
Past written English, “aks” was additionally the everyday pronunciation in England’s south and within the Midlands. “Ask”, in the meantime, was extra prevalent within the north and it’s the latter that grew to become the usual pronunciation.
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Up to date prevalence
In North America, “aks” (or “ax”) was extensively utilized in New England and the southern and center states. Within the late nineteenth century, nonetheless, it grew to become stereotyped as unique to African American English, by which it stays prevalent. American linguist John McWhorter considers it an “integral a part of being a black American”.
Immediately, “aks” can be present in UK types of English, together with Multicultural London English. This dialect, spoken primarily by individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds, happened by means of contact between completely different dialects of English and immigrant languages, together with Caribbean Creoles, comparable to Jamaican Creole.
Multicultural London English was initially referred to within the media in a derogatory vogue as “Jafaican”. That label wrongly lowered the dialect to one thing imitated or used inauthentically.
Different languages have, after all, influenced Multicultural London English. However the English language has been in a continuing state of flux for millennia, exactly because of contact with different languages. Once we speak about “salad”, “beef” or the “authorities” we’re not imitating French, regardless of the French origin of those phrases. They’ve merely turn out to be English phrases. In the identical approach, Multicultural London English is a completely fashioned dialect in its personal proper and “aks”, as with all different pronunciation on this and different English dialects, is by no means mistaken.
Accents or dialects haven’t any logical or scientific declare to “correctness”. As an alternative, any status of which they may boast derives from being spoken by high-status teams.
Many individuals now wag their finger on the phrase “ain’t” or at individuals dropping the “g”, rendering phrases like “working” as “runnin’”, and “leaping” as “jumpin’”. In, 2020, British dwelling secretary Priti Patel bore the brunt of this mistaken criticism, when journalist Alastair Campbell tweeted, “I don’t desire a Dwelling Secretary who can’t pronounce a G on the finish of a phrase.”
Criticisms of “dropping g” exist regardless of the pronunciation’s origins in Center English, and to not point out the truth that properly into the twentieth century, the British higher courses spoke on this approach too. This was satirised in a 2003 episode of the British comedy present Completely Fabulous, entitled Huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’.
Now that “dropping g” is stereotyped as working class, nonetheless, it’s stigmatised as mistaken. Analysis reveals that linguistic prejudices, nonetheless unintentional, towards immigrant, non-standard and regional dialects have held again generations of kids from attaining their greatest in class and, after all, past it.
Schoolchildren who naturally say “aks” (or every other non-standard type of English) are tasked with the additional burden of distinguishing between how they communicate and the way they’re anticipated to write down. Conversely, no such barrier is confronted by youngsters who develop up talking commonplace English at dwelling, which may additional entrench inequality. These youngsters are already advantaged in different methods as they have an inclination to return from high-status teams.
The way in which we communicate has actual implications in how we’re perceived. Analysis in south-east England discovered that younger adults from working-class or from ethnic minority backgrounds are usually judged as much less clever than others – a prejudice based mostly solely on the best way they spoke. The impact was worsened if the particular person was from Essex or London, or even when they had been thought to have an accent from these locations.
The instance of “aks” neatly demonstrates the absurdity, the baselessness and, crucially, the pernicious affect of deeming anyone type of English to be “right”. Accent prejudice and linguicism is a reframing of prejudice in the direction of low-status teams who, merely, communicate in a different way.
The authors don’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and have disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.