Brummie dialect

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Birmingham Dialect
Brummie Dialect
Native to United Kingdom
Region Birmingham, England
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
Location of the Birmingham area within England.

The Brummie dialect or more formally the Birmingham dialect is the accent and dialect of Birmingham, England. The term "Brummie" derives from Brummagem or Bromwichham, historical variants of the name Birmingham. It is also a demonym for people from Birmingham.

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.[1] 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, Walsall-born rock musician Noddy Holder, Smethwick-reared actress Julie Walters, Wollaston-born soap actress Jan Pearson and West Bromwich-born comedian Frank Skinner, 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, but 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 but is identifiably from the West Midlands.

The Brummie accent and the Coventry accent are also quite distinct in their differences, despite only 19 miles (31 km) separating the cities. To the untrained ear, however, all of these accents may sound very similar, just as British English speakers may find it hard to distinguish between different North American accents or Australian and New Zealand accents.

In popular culture[edit]

Ozzy Osbourne is known for his Brummie accent.[2]

Examples of celebrity speakers include TV presenter Adrian Chiles, comedian Jasper Carrott, Goodies actor and TV presenter Bill Oddie, 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 and author John "Brummie" Stokes, and many actresses and actors including Martha Howe-Douglas, Donnaleigh Bailey, Nicolas Woodman, Sarah Smart, John Oliver and Ryan Cartwright.


Phoneme Brummie example
/æ/ [a] trap
/aʊ/ [æʊ~æə] mouth
/eɪ/ [ʌɪ] face
/əʊ/ [ɑʊ] goat
/ʌ/ [ʊ] strut
/ʊ/ [ʊ] foot
/ɔr/ [ʌʊə] force

The strength of a person's accent varies greatly all across Birmingham.[1] 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. It could be argued Brummie is an accent rather than a dialect as in Black Country, which is a dialect with unique words and phrases, as in owamya? for how are you, which many comment is not used in Brummie speech. Similarly Brummies pronounce I as 'oy' whereas Black Country uses the dialect 'Ah' as in 'Ah bin' meaning I have been.

There are also differences between Brummie and Black Country accents not readily apparent to people from outside the West Midlands.[1] 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.[3] Urszula Clark has proposed the FACE vowel as a difference, with Birmingham speakers' using /ʌɪ/ and Black Country speakers' using /æɪ/.[4] 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.).[5] This /ɪʊ/ is also present in some North American dialects for words like eww, grew, new due, etc., contrasting with /u/ (words like boo, zoo, to, too, moon, dune etc.). Other North American dialects may use /ju/ for this purpose, or even make no distinction at all.

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 words in italics 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 South-Eastern [ɑː] is more common amongst older speakers.[6]
  • 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 in 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][7]
  • Final unstressed /ə/ may be realised as [a]
  • In a few cases, voicing of final /s/ (e.g. bus as [bʊz])
  • Some tapping of prevocalic /r/ (some speakers; e.g. in crime or there is)

Recordings of Brummie speakers with phonetic features described in SAMPA format can be found at the Collect Britain dialects site.[8]

Rhymes and vocabulary in the works of William Shakespeare suggest that he used a local dialect, with many historians and scholars arguing that Shakespeare used a Stratford-upon-Avon, Brummie, Cotswold, Warwickshire or other Midlands dialect in his work.[9] However, the veracity of this assertion is not accepted by all historians.[10]


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").

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" is UK slang for a hammer.[11]

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,[12] 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.[13]


According to the PhD thesis of Steve Thorne at the University of Birmingham Department of English,[citation needed] 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:[14][dead link]

variation of "baby"
variation of "babe"
Bawlin, bawl 
to weep, as in "She started to bawl" (not unique to Birmingham, common in Australia)
a popular and enjoyable song
a crusty bread roll (comes from the fact that bread rolls look like street cobbles and may be as hard as one; soft bread rolls are known as rolls or baps)
a milder and more nuanced version of the swear word fuck
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
the common variation of the word "Mum"
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-licence
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 (not unique to Birmingham, common in Australia)
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 babby"). 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, although yampy is found in areas of the black country both outside Birmingham and Tipton/Dudley so might have been a general south Staffordshire and north Worcestershire areas.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Simon Elmes (2006). Talking for Britain: a journey through the voices of a nation. Penguin. p. 130. 
  2. ^ "Why is the Birmingham accent so difficult to mimic?". BBC. 12 December 2016. 
  3. ^ Wells, John (2011-06-13). "John Wells's phonetic blog: the Black Country". Retrieved 2014-05-18. 
  4. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, page 148
  5. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, page 151
  6. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, pages 145-6
  7. ^ John Wells, Accents of English, page 364, Cambridge University Press, 1981.
  8. ^ Collect Britain Archived 2005-05-21 at the Wayback Machine., Samples of Birmingham speech. (WMA format, with annotations on phonology, lexis and grammar.)
  9. ^ Metro reporter (29 August 2003). "Bard spoke loik a Brummie". Evening Standard. Retrieved 24 February 2018. 
  10. ^ Finch, Ellen (27 March 2016). "Shakespeare 'did not' use Midland dialect, claims academic". The Birmingham Post. Retrieved 24 February 2018. 
  11. ^ Eric Partridge (2 May 2006). A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-134-96365-2. 
  12. ^ "Pig ignorant about the Brummie accent" Birmingham Post, 2 December 2004 (From The Free Library)
  13. ^ Face of the Halifax given a makeover ... and a cockney's voiceover, The Guardian, 20 January 2003.
  14. ^ Birmingham Mail Survey

External links[edit]