As most of us have heard (and some people get offended about), there are dialects of English in which the word ask undergoes metathesis and is pronounced aks. Are there English dialects in which this process is productive and replies to other words? That is, do some people who say aks for ask also say flaks for flask, deks for desk, etc?

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    Alternatively, there are probably some English dialects in which an original OE acsian persisted in place of ascian. Wikipedia has a summary. As for who does it, everybody does it some times. English consonant clusters ask too much of speakers, and are frequently ripped to shreds for it in normal speech. Check out Wolfgang Dressler's work – John Lawler Dec 29 '11 at 18:06
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    ...and not just with ks/sk, and not just in certain dialects, and not just in English. Metathesis is an extremely common language change. It would be surprising if the answer to your question was "no", with a dialect where only a single word undergoes metathesis. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metathesis_%28linguistics%29 – Mark Beadles Dec 29 '11 at 19:13
  • By the way, there's a self-demonstrating mnemonic (Methatesis) for the Greek term Metathesis (consonant switch), along the same lines as Haplogy for Haplology (repeated syllable deletion), Syncpe for Syncope (vowel deletion), and Epenethesis for Epenthesis (vowel insertion). – John Lawler Dec 29 '11 at 19:30
  • It's pretty common in children's language isn't it? – Brett Reynolds Dec 29 '11 at 20:14
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    Take a look specifically at the link jlawler posted: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… "For AAVE speakers with S-cluster metathesis the following words can undergo the following changes: ask → /ˈæks/ grasp → /ˈɡræps/ wasp → /ˈwɑːps/ gasp → /ˈɡæps/ S-cluster metathesis is lexically determined." – Mark Beadles Dec 30 '11 at 2:24

Take a look specifically at this subsection in the link @John Lawler posted: "Phonological History of English Consonant Clusters: S-Cluster Metathesis" at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_consonant_clusters#S-cluster_metathesis:

S-cluster metathesis is the metathesis of final consonant clusters starting with /s/ occurring in African American Vernacular English[13] as well as many other varieties of English "For AAVE speakers with S-cluster metathesis the following words can undergo the following changes:

ask → /ˈæks/

grasp → /ˈɡræps/

wasp → /ˈwɑːps/

gasp → /ˈɡæps/

S-cluster metathesis is lexically determined.


I have to reject your premise that these people "metathesize" ask. They do not. "Aks" is the standard pronunciation in their dialect, and has been for generations. It has undergone metathesis at one point, that much is true, but that was a thousand years ago, and they are not even aware of that.

Unlike children who try to say "spaghetti" and end up saying "pasketti", these people do not try to say "ask" and fail. Much rather, they actually want to say "aks" and then do just that. (Just like when you say "thirteen" — it's not like you are trying to say "threeteen" and failing.) Metathesis would be if they actually failed to say "aks" and ended up saying "ask" instead.

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    Ok, so forget what you call one in relation to the other. The OP is asking are there other pairs of 'ks' vs 'sk' that are consistently used by some speakers? – Mitch Dec 30 '11 at 1:26
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    This explanation helps because I was actually misled by the title to come here in the first place. – Kris Dec 30 '11 at 5:29
  • LOL and a +1 for 'pasketti'. My three-year old son says it all the time - you even spelt it right ;-) – 5arx Aug 1 '12 at 20:38

This is a training issue. People who have not trained themselves or been trained in school to enunciate the word "properly" say it in a manner that is more natural to the tongue and easier on the muscles.

Another word like this would be Youths - mispronounced like utes by many with a Brooklyn style accent.

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    Then what makes any pronuciation 'proper'? – Barrie England Dec 29 '11 at 22:14
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    There is no such thing as "more natural to the tongue". Aks is not easier to pronounce than ask, or vice versa. – RegDwigнt Dec 29 '11 at 23:58
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    @Reg: I have to disagree in one small respect. There are phonemic combinations that are more natural to the tongue for speakers whose pronunciation patterns have already been set. I find it extremely difficult, for example, to correctly pronounce the German r in a word like die Brücke, but have no trouble with it in traurig or berühmt. (And by "no trouble" I mean I can fool myself that it sounds natural to a German ear.) – Robusto Dec 30 '11 at 15:43
  • @RegDwight - Physiologically it requires less muscle effort to form the sounds required for aks than ask. Which is why children develop ability to form different sounds at different rates. As for the definition of properly... I am not sure who defines what the "proper" way to say things is. But I know that when I was in school "proper diction" was something that several teachers emphasized. – Chad Jan 3 '12 at 13:42
  • @RegDwightАΑA I would agree with the dissenters. It is much easier/ require less skill and effort with the tongue to say 'fink' than 'think'. Those whose parents allow them to get away with it as kids often end up saying 'fink', 'finking' etc. as adults. – 5arx Aug 1 '12 at 20:40

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