The Brummie accent is an example of a regional accent of English.
Examples of celebrity speakers include comedian Jasper Carrott, historian and broadcaster Carl Chinn, the Goodies actor and TV presenter Bill Oddie, rock musicians Ozzy Osbourne (and all other members of the original Black Sabbath), Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne (ELO founders), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), broadcaster Les Ross, politician Clare Short, 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”.
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 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 [a]) can be  or .
The vowel of goat (RP ) can be close to  (so to an RP speaker, goat may sound like “go-t”).
Final unstressed /i/, as in happy, may be realised as [i], though this varies considerably between speakers.
The letters ng often represent // where RP has just // (e.g. singer as [si]). See Ng coalescence.
Both the vowels of strut and foot as , as in northern England. See foot-strut split.
Short ‘a’, [a] as opposed to  in RP, in words like bath, cast and chance (but aunt and laugh both have ). See trap-bath split.
The vowels in “price” and “choice” may be merged as  so that the two words would rhyme.
In more old-fashioned Brummie accents, the FORCE set of words takes  and the PURE set takes [u:], so both sets were in two syllables. In such an old-fashioned accent, the words paw, pour and poor would all be said differently: [p], [p], [pu:]. In more modern accents, all three are said as [p].
Final unstressed // may be realised as [a].
In a few cases, voicing of final /s/ (e.g. bus as [bz]).
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.)
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”).
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 (“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.
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”.
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.
Hands, “Go and wash your donnies”
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 car’s 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.
A children’s hard sweet (as in “give us a rock”) (In the black country it would be “gie us a suck” Suck being a hard sweet)
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 an badly scraged my knee’.
Throw a paddy
To become sulky or have a tantrum.
To leave suddenly, or flee.
Up the cut
Up the canal (not unique to Birmingham).
A bread roll (comes from the fact bread rolls look like street cobbles).
Another word for a glass of fizzy drinks, do you want a glass of pop.
Affectionate term, used by a husband refering to his wife.
(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.
Other Midlands English dialects
Potteries dialect (North Staffordshire)
How to Speak Brummie
Ask Oxford Brum
^ John Wells, Accents of English, page 364, Cambridge University Press, 1981
^ Time online: Brummie accent is perceived as ‘worse than silence’
Talk Like A Brummie Day On 20 July.
Talk Like A Brummie – A wiki-based Birmingham dialect dictionary.
ebrummie.co.uk Dr Steve Thorne’s website devoted to the study of Brummie, including a dictionary, MP3 speech samples, discussion of his research on stereotypes, etc. No Longer Online.
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
English Accents and Dialects, British Library Collect Britain website features samples of Birmingham speech (wma format, with annotations on phonology, lexis and grammar): Sue Long, Aubrey Walton, Harry Phillips and Billy Lucas.
Why Brummies Why not Birmies? Etymological article by Dr Carl Chinn
Brummie and Black Country sayings
BBC guide to Brummie
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
Face of the Halifax given a makeover … and a cockney’s voiceover Guardian January 20, 2003
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
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Dialects and accents of English by continent
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Categories: Birmingham, England | English language in England | Languages of the United Kingdom | People from Birmingham, England | Regional nicknames | English dialectsHidden categories: All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements from April 2009 | Articles needing more detailed references
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