A curious example of a regional speech pattern prevalent among some natives of the southern United States is the aberration of the words "told" and "asked". People who have adopted this speech pattern say the word "told" with a silent L, as in "tode" or "toad", while the word "asked" is pronounced as though the S and K were transposed: "aksed", sounding like the word "axed".

Growing up in the deep South, I have come into contact with a good number of people who speak this way. As a young child, my first recognition of this as an identifiable speech pattern came from individuals that were African-American, and since I had never encountered people from other races that spoke this way, I made the foolish assumption that this was some racial linguistic distinction. The term "ebonics" would not be coined for another two decades or so, but it was always clear to me that some people of color spoke English differently than others.

It wasn't until early adolescence that I recognized this speech pattern as being distinguished perhaps by region rather than by race. I have known several people over the years who spoke these variations of "told" and "asked" that were of mixed Creole descent, and more interestingly, they all grew up in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

The most recent example of this phenomenon I have is my supervisor at the job I have had for the past three years. His family has owned a large sugar plantation in Louisiana for over a century, and when I first went to work for him, he used "toad" and "axed" quite regularly in conversation. One day a few years ago I mentioned to him that I noticed he was using these pronunciations, and asked him pointedly: 1) if he was aware that he was doing this, and 2) if he knew that what he was doing was noticeable. He sort of shrugged off the questions, and ever since then he has never exhibited this speech pattern in my presence again. All I can figure is that I embarrassed him a little, and he has made a concerted effort to correct his pronunciation of these words.

I did a little research on speech pathology pertaining to this subject, and was surprised to find that the "ax" variation on "ask" is not only recognized as a nonstandard commonality of English as it is spoken the world over, but has been so since the first millennium. Chaucer used the two forms interchangably in The Canterbury Tales, as was the practice of those who spoke Middle English. Its use is still common in certain regions, including small areas of the American South and parts of New England.

The permutation of the ks and sk sounds is a linguistic process known as Metathesis, and is not necessarily the result of any speech defect. This rambling evolution of language to its "most easily pronouncable forms" could easily explain the story behind "told" and "toad" — or we could write that one off to lazy tongues. The most fascinating aspect of this phenom to me is its irony. Both "told" and "asked" are past tense verbs for the act of speaking; to give a detailed account of, and to put a question to. Yet when speaking these words, they are mispronounced. How strange and beautiful.

Source information:
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Thanks go to Ereneta for his kind assistance.

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