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.
Examples of celebrity speakers include, comedian Jasper Carrott, hip-hop and garage musician Mike Skinner, rock musicians Ozzy Osbourne (and all other members of the original Black Sabbath), Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne (ELO founders), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Barney Greenway (Napalm Death), Dave Pegg (of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull), broadcaster Les Ross, politician Clare Short, SAS soldier, author John "Brummie" Stokes and many actresses and actors; Martha Howe-Douglas, Donnaleigh Bailey, Nicolas Woodman, Sarah Smart, John Oliver and Ryan Cartwright.
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, Smethwick-born actress Julie Walters, award winning soap actress Jan Pearson, comedian Frank Skinner, Bill Odie, and Adrian Chiles are sometimes mistaken for Brummie-speakers by people outside the West Midlands county.
Additionally, population mobility has meant that to a degree, the Brummie accent extends into some parts of the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull, although much of the accent within the borough might be considered to be closer to contemporary RP. For example Solihull-born presenter Richard Hammond (despite often being referred to as a Brummie) does not speak with a strong Brummie accent.
The Brummie accent and the Coventry accent are also quite distinct in their differences, despite only 17 miles ( 27 km) separating 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 different North American accents, or Australian and New Zealand accents.
The strength of a person's accent varies greatly all across Birmingham. Like most cities, the accent changes relative to the area of the city. A common misconception is that everyone in Birmingham speaks the same accent.
There are also differences between Brummie and Black Country accents not readily apparent to people from outside the West Midlands. A Black Country accent and a Birmingham accent can be hard to distinguish if neither accent is that broad. The phonetician John Wells has admitted that he cannot tell any difference between the accents. Urszula Clark has proposed the FACE vowel as a difference, with Birmingham speakers' using /ʌɪ/ and Black Country speakers' using /æɪ/. She also mentions that Black Country speakers are more likely to use /ɪʊ/ where most other accents use /juː/ (in words such as new, Hugh, stew, etc.).
Below are some common features of a recognisable Brummie accent (a given speaker may not necessarily use all, or use a feature consistently). The letters enclosed in square brackets –  – use the International Phonetic Alphabet. 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 [æʊ] or [æə]
- The vowel of goat (RP [əʊ]) can be close to [ɑʊ] (so to an RP speaker, goat may sound like "gout")
- Final unstressed /i/, as in happy, may be realized 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 are pronounced [ʊ], as in northern England. See foot–strut split
- The majority of Brummies use the Northern [a] in words like bath, cast and chance, although the Southern [ɑː] is more common amongst older speakers.
- The vowels in "price" and "choice" may be almost merged as [ɒɪ] so that the two words would almost rhyme. However, the two are still distinct, unlike the Black Country dialect.
- In more old-fashioned Brummie accents, the FORCE set of words takes [ʌʊə] and the PURE set takes [uːə], so both sets were in two syllables. In such an old-fashioned accent, the words paw, pour and poor would all be said differently: [pɔː], [pʌʊə], [puːə]. In more modern accents, all three are said as [pɔː]
- 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")
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 and only about 35 miles apart).
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". He alleges that, overseas visitors in contrast find it "lilting and melodious", and from this claims 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"). However, the Brummie accent is the only 'northern' accent to receive such attention.
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.
Advertisements are another medium where many perceive stereotypes. Journalist Lydia Stockdale, writing in the Birmingham Post, 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. In 2003, 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.
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:
- variation of "baby"
- Bawlin, bawl
- to weep, as in "She started to bawl'"
- a bread roll (comes from the fact that bread rolls look like street cobbles)
- a West Midlands term for a forward roll
- 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
- Our wench
- affectionate term, meaning 'sister' or sometimes used by a husband referring to his wife; derived from the older 16th and 17th meaning of "woman"
- The outdoor
- exclusive West Midlands term for off license
- another word for a carbonated drink, e.g. "Do you want a glass of pop?". (common in other parts of England)
- 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"). May also refer to the tin containing lunch, a "snap tin", as taken down the pit by miners
- a scratched cut, where skin is sliced off. For example "I fell over and badly scraged my knee"
- another word for drain, as in "put it down the suff"
- Throw a wobbly
- to become sulky or have a tantrum
- to leave suddenly, or flee
- Up the cut
- up the canal (not unique to Birmingham)
- (often "dead yampy") mad, daft, barmy (also used is the word "saft", as in "yow big saft babbie"). Many Black Country folk[specify] believe "yampy" is a Black Country word, originating from the Dudley-Tipton area, which has been appropriated and claimed as their own by both Birmingham and Coventry dialects
Midlands English dialects
- Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, page 148
- Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, page 151
- Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, pages 145-6
- John Wells, Accents of English, page 364, Cambridge University Press, 1981
- Collect Britain Samples of Birmingham speech (wma format, with annotations on phonology, lexis and grammar)
- Brummie accent is perceived as 'worse than silence' Times Online, 4 April 2008
- "Pig ignorant about the Brummie accent" Birmingham Post, 2 December 2004 (From The Free Library)
- Face of the Halifax given a makeover ... and a cockney's voiceover The Guardian, 20 January 2003
- Talk Like A Brummie Day On 17 July 2009
- Talk Like A Brummie A wiki-based Birmingham dialect dictionary
- Brummies Talking Discussions and games
- ebrummie.co.uk[dead link] Dr Steve Thorne's website devoted to the study of Brummie, including a dictionary, MP3 speech samples, discussion of his research on stereotypes, etc.
- Birmingham English sample using a test paragraph including most English sounds: George Mason University Speech Accent Archive. Compare a Dudley (Black Country) sample
- Sounds Familiar? Listen to examples of regional accents and dialects from across the UK on the British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' website
- Why Brummies Why not Birmies? Etymological article by Dr Carl Chinn
- Brummie and Black Country sayings
- Brummie is beautiful BBC News, 28 August 2003
- Brummie is Beautiful! University of Birmingham press release about Dr Steve Thorne's PhD thesis, Birmingham English: A Sociolinguistic Study
- Paul Henry on Benny's accent Noele Gordon and Crossroads Appreciation Society interview
- English Accents and Dialects, British Library : Sue Long, Aubrey Walton, Harry Phillips and Billy Lucas.
- English Accents and Dialects, Warwickshire speakers - William Sewell of Hockley Heath, Mr Calcutt of Aston Cantlow, Mr Duckett of Lighthorne, and Harry Cook of Shipston-on-Stour - show progressive accent change moving south-east from Birmingham across isogloss
- Whoohoo Brummie translator