May 13th, 2018


Ax me about Jesus

I was reading Acts 1 in John Wycliffe's translation this morning: the story of the Ascension in Middle English. Wycliffe translates: "they asked him" as thei . . . axiden hym.

Some dialects of English -- particularly Black English -- still say "ax" for "ask." (I axed him why he did that.) This is marked as incorrect in our Standard English, but in fact, it's the original form of the verb. In Old English, it was acsian. Over time, the two sounds 'k' and 's' switched places. That's an easy mistake to make for an individual, but a community of speakers over a long period of time will sometimes do the same thing, until it hardens into a rule.

But not all speakers. Many dialectal forms are the relics of previously standard forms. And what was once considered aristocratic and highly educated is now scorned as rustic or low-class.

This has little to do with the Bible story, you might say; but if reading the Bible in Middle English teaches me humility and respect for others, not to look down on those who don't speak as I speak, that's a not inconsiderable lesson.