Brummie

Brummie

Brummie (sometimes Brummy) is a colloquial term for the inhabitants, accent and dialect of Birmingham, England, as well as being a general adjective used to denote a connection with the city, locally called Brum. The terms are all derived from Brummagem or Bromwichham, historical variants or alternatives to 'Birmingham'.

Accent

Brummie is a prominent example of a regional accent of English.

Examples of celebrity speakers include comedian Jasper Carrott, historian and broadcaster Carl Chinn, BBC financial presenter Adrian Chiles, the Goodies actor and TV presenter Bill Oddie, rock musician Ozzy Osbourne, broadcaster Les Ross, politician Clare Short, and SAS soldier and author John "Brummie" Stokes.

It is not the only accent of the West Midlands, although the term, Brummie, is often, erroneously, used in referring to all accents of the region. It is markedly distinct,from the traditional accent of the adjacent Black Country, although modern-day population mobility has tended to blur the distinction. For instance, Dudley-born comedian Lenny Henry, Daniel Taylor, and Smethwick-born actress Julie Walters are sometimes mistaken for Brummie-speakers by people outside the West Midlands county.

Birmingham and Coventry accents are also quite distinct in their differences, despite the close proximity of the cities. To the untrained ear, however, all of these accents may sound very similar, just as British English speakers can find it hard to distinguish between Canadian and American accents, or Australian and New Zealand accents.

As with all English regional accents, the Brummie accent also grades into RP English. The accent of presenter Cat Deeley is listed by her voiceover agency, Curtis Brown, as "RP/Birmingham".

Pronunciation

Despite there being marked differences between Brummie and Black Country dialects, there appears to be confusion by people outside the West Midlands county when it comes to distinguishing between the two. Impressions of a Brummie will often contain vowel pronunciations that belong to the Black Country. A common example is when a Brummie impersonator will pronounce 'money' as 'mun-ay',which is a Black Country pronunciation; Brummies actually pronounce 'money' in the same way conventional English speakers do. This is not to say that the impersonator is doing a Black Country accent instead of a Brummie one when this occurs; it is entirely possible that they are just doing an inaccurate Brummie stereotype which makes the mistake of adding Black Country dialect.

Below are some common features of the Brummie accent (a given speaker may not necessarily use all, or use a feature consistently). The letters enclosed in square brackets [] use the IPA. The corresponding example texts enclosed in double quotes (") are spelt so that a reader using Received Pronunciation (RP) can approximate the sounds.

  • The vowel of mouth (RP [aʊ]) can be [ɛʊ].
  • The vowel of goat (RP [əʊ]) can be close to [ɑʊ] (so to an RP speaker, goat may sound like "go-t").
  • Final unstressed /i/, as in happy, may be realised as [əi], though this varies considerably between speakers.
  • The letters ng often represent /ŋɡ/ where RP has just /ŋ/ (e.g. singer as [siŋɡə]). See Ng coalescence.
  • Both the vowels of strut and foot as [ʊ], as in northern England. See foot-strut split.
  • Short 'a', [a] as opposed to [ɑː] in RP, in words like bath, cast and chance (but aunt and laugh both have [ɑː]). See trap-bath split.
  • Final unstressed /ə/ may be realised as [a].
  • In a few cases, voicing of final /s/ (e.g. bus as [bʊz]).
  • Some rolling of prevocalic /r/ (some speakers; e.g. in "crime").

Recordings of Brummie speakers with phonetic features described in SAMPA format can be found at the Collect Britain dialects site referenced below.

Rhymes and vocabulary in the works of William Shakespeare suggest that he used a local dialect (Birmingham and his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, are both in the English West Midland dialect area.)

Stereotypes

A study was conducted in 2008 where people were asked to grade the intelligence of a person based on their accent and the Brummie accent was ranked as the least intelligent accent. It even scored lower than being silent, an example of the stereotype attached to the Brummie accent.

According to Birmingham English: A Sociolinguistic Study (Steve Thorne, 2003), among UK listeners "Birmingham English in previous academic studies and opinion polls consistently fares as the most disfavoured variety of British English, yet with no satisfying account of the dislike".

Since, as he shows, overseas visitors in contrast find it "lilting and melodious", he argues that such dislike is driven by various linguistic myths and social factors peculiar to the UK ("social snobbery, negative media stereotyping, the poor public image of the City of Birmingham, and the north/south geographical and linguistic divide").

For instance, despite the city's cultural and innovative history, its industrial background (as depicted by the arm-and-hammer in Birmingham's coat of arms) has led to a muscular and unintelligent stereotype: a "Brummagem screwdriver" or "Brummie screwdriver" is UK slang for a hammer.

Steve Thorne also cites the mass media and entertainment industry where actors, usually non-Birmingham, have used inaccurate accents and/or portrayed negative roles. Examples include Benny from the soap Crossroads, a feckless character played by Paul Henry with a hybrid Birmingham-Worcester accent many viewers assumed to be Birmingham because of the setting, and characters played by Battersea-born actor Timothy Spall: for instance,Barry Taylor in Auf Wiedersehen Pet (The character Taylor was actually supposed to be from Tipton) and Andy, the sarcastic virtual reality attendant in the Red Dwarf episode "Back to Reality". The actor Mark Williams also specialises in amiable but stupid Birmingham characters. One of Harry Enfield's comedy characters, portrayed an exaggerated Brummie ,whose catchline was "we are considerably richer than yow". Lennie Godber is a criminal from Birmingham in the Television series, Porridge.

Advertisements are another medium where many perceive stereotypes. Journalist Lydia Stockdale, writing in the Birmingham Post ("Pig ignorant about the Brummie accent", December 2, 2004), commented on advertisers' association of Birmingham accents with pigs: the pig in the ad for Colman's Potato Bakes, Nick Park's Hells Angel Pigs for British Gas and ITV's "Dave the window-cleaner pig" all had Brummie accents. More recently, a Halifax bank advertisement featuring Howard Brown, a Birmingham- born and based employee, was replaced by an animated version with an exaggerated comical accent overdubbed by a Cockney actor. The BBC has alleged that intonation and rhythm is unvaried and that most sentences end with downward intonation. This can give a false impression of despondency and lack of imagination. Apart from intonation “Brummie” resembles other Midlands dialects. Steve Thorne disagrees. Thorn insists that no accent is a monotone. If an accent lowers logically it varies. Thorn claims further that typical Birmingham speech frequently rises in tone.

Thorn recorded samples of similar people speaking with different English accents. One was Brummie. About a hundred native speakers and another hundred non-native English speakers rated the recordings. British listeners who did not distinguist between Brummie and Black Country accents rated Brummie higher than Black Country. Foreign speakers rated Brummie highly.

Dialect

According to the PhD thesis of Steve Thorne at the University of Birmingham Department of English, Birmingham English is "a dialectal hybrid of northern, southern, Midlands, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire speech", also with elements from the languages and dialects of its Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities.

Traditional expressions include:

  • "A bit black over Bill's mothers" ... Likely to rain soon (now widespread). [Commonly attributed to Black Country dialect: "Bill's mothers" features in a variety of forms - such as the reference to any obscure location being "the back of Bill's mothers".]
  • "Babby" ... Variation of baby.
  • "Go and play up your own end" ... Said to children from a different street making a nuisance. It has been used as the title of the autobiographical book and musical play about the Birmingham childhood of radio presenter and entertainer Malcolm Stent.
  • "Gunter" ... to fix, work on or repair, mainly used a verb (example usage "I'm gonna gunter the car" equates to "I'm going to repair the car"), other forms include 'guntered' (example usage "the cars guntered" equates to "the car is fixed", alternate usage "I guntered the tele, but it still doesn't work" equates to "I worked on the television, but it is still broken").
  • "Keep away from the 'oss road" / "mind the 'orse road"/ "Kip aert th'oss road" ... An admonition to travel safely, originally a warning to children in the days of horse-drawn traffic.["Th'oss road" may also have referred to the towpath alongside the canals found throughout the region - which presented the additional hazard to the unwary of falling into the canal. These expressions too, are commonly attributed to Black Country dialect rather than that from Birmingham.]
  • "Rock" ... a children's hard sweet (as in "give us a rock").
  • "Snap" ... food, a meal, allegedly derived from the act of eating itself (example usage "I'm off to get my snap" equates to "I'm leaving to get my dinner").Snap ay food, it's the tin it comes in, a "Snap tin". the miners took their food down the pit in their "Snap tin"
  • "Trap" ... to leave suddenly, or flee.
  • "Up the cut" ... Up the canal (not uniquely Birmingham).
  • "Yampy" (often "dead yampy") Mad, daft, barmy (also used is the word "Saft", as in "Yow big saft babbie") - Although, many Black Country Folk believe yampy is a black country word originating from the Dudley/Tipton area and has been stolen and claimed as their own by both Birmingham and Coventry.

See also

Other Midlands English dialects

References

External links

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