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Is is OK to pronunce "asked" as "aksed" ?

A long time friend has the habit of pronouncing the word "asked" as "aksed" (or "axed"). She's African American and her pronunciation is common among the people she has grown up with. Because she's getting some flak for that pronunciation she has asked if her way is ok or not. My response is that life is easier if we conform to the ways of the dominant culture, but I do find her pronunciation in the dictionary as a "dialectic" or "nonstandard" pronunciation. So my conclusion is that "asked" is a preferable pronunciation but I don't feel we should call her way "wrong". The question gnawed at me so I did a little searching on the internet and some experimentation; here is what I found.

The American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition) includes a paragraph on "Our Living Language" which makes these points.

  1. "The widespread use of this pronunciation should not be surprising since "ax" is a very old word in English, having been used in England for over 1000 years.
  2. Chaucer used these words and variations of them in "The Canterbury Tales".
  3. "Ax" has become stigmatized as substandard -- a fate that has befallen other words, like "ain't", that were once perfectly acceptable in literate circles."

On further search, I found a report of a radio station was concerned that newscasters were pronouncing the word as "asst". The newscasters were unaware that they were not including the "k" in their pronunciation and that they were ending the word with a "t" sound rather than a "d" sound. The station hired a speech coach to teach them the "correct" pronunciation. (Dimensions of literacy: a conceptual base for teaching reading and writing ... By Steven B. Kucer, page 78)

That got me to wondering about myself; and I discovered that I was also saying "asst" when I meant "asked". To actually pronounce "asked" correctly required some care and some careful tongue twisting for me. That evening I asked my wife to repeat a sentence with "asked" in it and, sure enough, she too said "asst". Today I asked a neighbor with the same result. We are highly educated Caucasians and have not been aware that we are careless with that word.

So this raised an interesting cultural question. It seems there are ways to be wrong that are ok and other ways of being wrong that are stigmatized. I'm going to need to do a litle more thinking on this dilemna.

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