I’m all for language evolution, it really fascinates me, but something that concerns me is the increasingly common use of the word ‘aks’ instead of ask.
I heard this very occasionally in the UK and assumed it was dialectal, specific to certain communities, possibly derived from a pidgin or creole language. You commonly hear it now on TV or in films especially among some Americans.
But increasingly I hear it from university students that have no cultural background from where this could have emerged. I would be interested to hear their parents speak – do they say it – and if so, where did they pick it up from?
You don’t start saying something like this suddenly as a young adult. It’s something that must have emerged in their language development early on, but rarely does it seem it’s pointed out to them – either by their parents or teachers – or anyone else.
On a number of occasions when students have approached me to “aks a question” I do point it out to them. Their reaction is usually one of total surprise. They had no idea they were saying it.
Does it really matter? Well it depends.
As a journalism educator teaching specifically in the broadcast area – there’s a strong focus on the spoken word. If I was a News Director it could influence who I employ.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. I went through a similar problem myself when I started as a journalist in commercial radio.
My first news editor picked up on the fact that I said ‘say-z’ rather than ‘sez’.
He made it very clear to me that I would have to correct this. I did. Every time I saw the word says in anything I had to record or read live to air – I underlined it and wrote sez above it. It took a while, but it worked.
If I hadn’t done this I doubt very much my career would have progressed to the BBC where I regularly presented the news and went on to present three-hour radio programmes.
You can imagine my surprise then when I heard the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh use the word aksed in a recent TV news report. I Tweeted the fact and got this response from her:
At least she was aware she was doing it.
But should she break the habit? Is there really anything wrong with saying aks instead of ask?
In standard English it is still considered a mistake. Although I did find an interesting explanation on World Wide Words by Michael Quinion who says it’s an example of metathesis – where a sound changes place with another in a word.
The reaction to my Tweet about Anna Bligh’s usage of aks is something to consider.
A number of people used it as an opportunity to make derogatory comments about her.
At a time when she is about to fight for her political life, when her critics will launch very personal attacks on her, it’s important to remember that impressions do count.
Maybe her media advisors should help by underlining the word in any speech, notes etc prepared for her. By constantly doing this – as I proved – you can break the habit if you really want to do so.