Have you ever had anyone ‘aks’ you a question? Have you ever ‘aksed’ anybody for something? Do you think it’s annoying or ‘bad english’ when you hear the word pronounced like that?
Pronouncing ‘ask’ as ‘aks,’ (like axe) is a linguistic phenomenon known as metathesis, or the reversal in order of two adjacent letters. It’s not wrong, and it doesn’t mean somebody is stupid, either. It’s just another way of pronouncing a word.
The (now) non-standard pronunciation of ‘aks’ is a recognizable feature of African American English, but its roots can be traced back throughout the evolution of the English language.
Similarly, the history of African American English can be traced back to a multitude of sources, both English and African in origin. Differences in the way people talk aren’t necessarily wrong, just different, and oftentimes there’s a a concrete historical precedent for it.
In fact, the pronounciation of the word ‘ask’ has a long and fascinating history in the English language. The two pronunciations were at one time both spoken in different dialects of English 1000 years ago in England. Consider an example from the Medieval text of Chaucer’s ‘The Knight’s Tale,’ when the knight Palemon says: “Yow loveris, axe I now this questioun.” It just happened that due to political circumstances, the people who spoke the dialect of English with the ‘ask’ pronunciation became the more dominant social group. And thus, ‘ask’ prevails as the standard today. So, lovers of language, I axe you to reconsider your thoughts and attitudes on the usuage of this non-standard pronunciation of ‘ask.’