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Brummie dialect

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Birmingham dialect
Brummie dialect
Native toUnited Kingdom
RegionBirmingham, England
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3

The Brummie dialect, or more formally the Birmingham dialect, is spoken by many people in Birmingham, England, and some of its surrounding area. "Brummie" is also a demonym for people from Birmingham. It is often erroneously used in referring to all accents of the West Midlands,[1] as it is markedly distinct from the traditional accent of the adjacent Black Country, but modern-day population mobility has tended to blur the distinction. 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 Received Pronunciation (RP).


The term Brummie derives from Brummagem or Bromwichham, which are historical variants of the name Birmingham.[2]


The strength of a person's accent can vary greatly all across Birmingham.[1] As with most cities, the local accent changes relative to the area of the city in question. A common misconception is that everyone in Birmingham speaks the same accent. It could be argued that Brummie is an accent rather than a dialect as opposed to Black Country speech, which is a dialect with unique words and phrases, such as "owamya?" for how are you, which, many comment, is not used in Brummie speech. Similarly, Brummies generally use the word I while pronouncing it as 'oy', whereas Black Country natives instead use the dialectal term 'Ah', as in 'Ah bin', meaning I have been.

Thorne (2003) has said that the accent 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.

There are also differences between Brummie and Black Country accents, which are 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. Phonetician John Wells has admitted that he cannot tell any difference between the accents.[3]

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.[4] However, the veracity of this assertion is not accepted by all historians,[5] and his accent would certainly have been entirely distinct from any modern English accent, including any modern Midlands accent.[6]


According to 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.[7]

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, the puppet simply known as Pig from Pipkins and ITV's "Dave the window-cleaner pig" all had Brummie accents.[8] 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.[9]


Vowels of the Brummie accent
Lax vowels Long vowels R-coloured vowels Closing diphthongs Reduced vowels
Keyword Realisation Keyword Realisation Keyword Realisation Keyword Realisation Keyword Realisation
TRAP/BATH a PALM ɑː START ɑː(ɹ) FACE ɛi̯~aɪ̯~ɐɪ̯~ʌɪ̯ lettER ə(ɹ)~ɐ(ɹ)
DRESS ɛ~e THOUGHT o̞ː~ɔː NORTH o̞ː(ɹ)~ɔː(ɹ) GOAT aʊ̯~ɐʊ̯~ʌʊ̯ commA ə~ɐ
KIT ɪ~i FLEECE əi̯~ɪi̯ FORCE o̞ː(ɹ)~ɔː(ɹ), ʌʊ̯ə(ɹ) PRICE aɪ̯~ɒɪ̯~ɔɪ̯ happY əi̯~iː
LOT ɒ GOOSE əʉ̯~əu̯ CURE əuɐ(ɹ)~uə̯(ɹ)~ʊə̯(ɹ)~ʊɐ̯(ɹ), ɔː(ɹ)~o̞ː(ɹ) CHOICE
STRUT ʌ~ə~ɤ~ʊ NURSE ɘ̝͗ː(ɹ)~əː(ɹ)~ɜː(ɹ) MOUTH æə̯~æʊ̯~ɛʉ̯~ɛ̝̈ʊ̯
FOOT ɤ~ʊ SQUARE* ɛə̯(ɹ)~ɛː(ɹ)~ɘ̝͗ː(ɹ)~əː(ɹ)~ɜː(ɹ)
NEAR əiɐ(ɹ)~iə̯(ɹ)~ɪə̯(ɹ)~ɜː(ɹ)
Formant chart of eight Brummie vowels according to Malarski (2002)ː FLEECE /ɪi/, GOOSE /ʊʉ/, TRAP /a/, FACE /æɪ/, GOAT /ʌʊ/, PRICE /ɒɪ/, MOUTH /æʊ/, CHOICE /oɪ/

*In Brummie, some SQUARE words have shifted to the NEAR lexical set, such as there and where, which are thus pronounced as /ðɪə/ and /wɪə/ instead of /ðɛə/ and /wɛə/, respectively.

Urszula Clark has proposed the FACE vowel as a difference between Birmingham and Black Country pronunciation, with Birmingham speakers using /ʌɪ/ and Black Country speakers using /æɪ/.[10] 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.).[11] This /ɪʊ/ is also present in some North American dialects for words like ew, grew, new, due, etc., contrasting with /u/ (words like boo, zoo, to, too, moon, doom, etc.). Other North American dialects may use /ju/ for this purpose, or even make no distinction at all.

Birmingham monophthongs KIT /i/; DRESS /e/; TRAP /a/; LOT /ɔ/; FOOT /ʊ/ and NURSE /ɨː/ according to Thorne (2003)

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 realised as [əi], though this varies considerably between speakers
  • In Birmingham, STRUT and FOOT may either be distinguished or merge. If the two vowels merge, they are pronounced either as [ɤ] or [ʊ], as in northern England—see foot–strut split.
  • Birmingham diphthongs FLEECE /əi/; FACE /ʌɪ/; PRICE /ɔɪ/; MOUTH /ɛʊ/; GOAT /ʌʊ/; GOOSE /əu/ according to Thorne (2003)
    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.[12]
  • 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~ʊə], so both sets were in two syllables in broad transcription. 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].[13]
  • Final unstressed /ə/ may be realised as [a]
  • The letters ng often represent /ŋɡ/ where RP has just /ŋ/ (e.g. singer as [ˈsiŋɡɐ], Birmingham as [ˈbɘ̝͗ːmiŋɡəm])—see NG-coalescence.
  • /r/ is not pronounced except when prevocalic (followed by a vowel); the Brummie accent, as an urban accent of the West Midlands region, is characteristically non-rhotic. The use of linking R and intrusive R in Birmingham and the rest of the urban West Midlands region is practically universal.[14][15][16]
  • Some tapping of prevocalic /r/ (some speakers; e.g. in crime or there is)
  • In a few cases, voicing of final /s/ (e.g. bus as [bʊz])

Recordings of Brummie speakers with phonetic features described in SAMPA format can be found at the Collect Britain dialects site.[17]


According to the PhD thesis of Steve Thorne at the University of Birmingham's Department of English,[18] Birmingham English is "a dialectal hybrid of northern, southern, Midlands, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire speech" also containing elements from the languages and dialects of its Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities.

Traditional expressions used in Brummie speech include:[19]

variation of "baby"
variation of "babe"
Bawlin, bawl
to weep, as in "She started to bawl" (not unique to Birmingham, common in other parts of England, Canada, Australia and South Africa)
a popular and enjoyable song
to weep/cry
a crusty bread roll (originates from the idea that bread rolls look like street cobbles and may be as hard as one; soft bread rolls are known as rolls or baps)
everyone (as in "Good evening each")
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 than one's own that are making a nuisance of themselves. Used as the title of the autobiographical book and musical play about the Birmingham childhood of radio presenter and entertainer Malcolm Stent
a common variation of the word "Mum" (also common in the United States, South Africa and elsewhere)
Our kid
used to refer to siblings (as in "Our kid fell off his bike.") Also commonly used in the north of England
Our wench
an affectionate term meaning "one's sister", also used sometimes by husbands referring to their wives. Derived from the word "wench"'s older 16th- and 17th-century meaning of "young woman"
The outdoor
an exclusively West Midlands term for the off-licence, or liquor store
another word for a carbonated drink, e.g. "Do you want a glass of pop?" (common in other parts of Great Britain, as well as in Canada and parts of the United States)
food, a meal, allegedly derived from the act of eating itself (usage example: "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 into the pit by miners
a scratched cut where skin is sliced off (example, used as a verb: "I fell over and badly scraged my knee")
another word for a drain, as in the phrase "put it down the suff"
Throw a wobbly
to become sulky or have a tantrum (not unique to Birmingham; also common in England, Australia and South Africa)
to leave suddenly or flee
Up the cut
up the canal (not unique to Birmingham)
mad, daft, barmy. Many from the Black Country believe "yampy" originates from the Dudley-Tipton area of their region, with the word also being appropriated and claimed as their own by speakers of both Birmingham and Coventry dialects. However, usage of the word is, in fact, found in areas of the Black Country both outside Birmingham and Tipton/Dudley, including areas of south Staffordshire and north Worcestershire; therefore, the term might have originated throughout a more general zone than is popularly thought.

Notable speakers[edit]

Ozzy Osbourne is known for his Brummie accent.[20]

Examples of speakers of the Brummie dialect include TV presenter Adrian Chiles, singer/musician Christine McVie, comedian Jasper Carrott, Goodies actor and TV presenter Bill Oddie, hip-hop and garage musician Mike Skinner, rock musicians Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward (all members of the original Black Sabbath), Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne (ELO founders), Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and Dave Pegg (of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull), broadcaster Les Ross, politicians Clare Short and Jess Phillips, SAS soldier and author John "Brummie" Stokes, TV presenter Alison Hammond, internet meme Danny G, and many actresses and actors, including Martha Howe-Douglas, Donnaleigh Bailey, Nicolas Woodman, Julie Walters, Cat Deeley, Sarah Smart, Felicity Jones, footballer Jack Grealish, John Oliver and Ryan Cartwright.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Elmes (2006), p. 130.
  2. ^ Michael Pearce, “The Ethnonym Geordie in North East England” Names, Vol. 63 No. 2, June 2015, 75-85
  3. ^ Wells, John (13 June 2011). "The Black Country". John Wells's phonetic blog. Blogspot. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014. I have a terrible confession to make. I can't reliably distinguish between a Birmingham accent ("Brummie") and a Black Country accent. Sorry, but that's the truth.
  4. ^ Metro reporter (29 August 2003). "Bard spoke loik a Brummie". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 24 February 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  5. ^ Finch, Ellen (27 March 2016). "Shakespeare 'did not' use Midland dialect, claims academic". The Birmingham Post. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  6. ^ See Early Modern English#Phonology.
  7. ^ Eric Partridge (2 May 2006). A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-134-96365-2.
  8. ^ Stockdale, Lydia (2 December 2004). "Pig ignorant about the Brummie accent". Birmingham Post. Archived from the original on 23 December 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2010 – via The Free Library.
  9. ^ Ezard, John (20 January 2003). "Face of the Halifax given a makeover ... and a cockney's voiceover". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  10. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, page 148
  11. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, page 151
  12. ^ Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004, pages 145-6
  13. ^ John Wells, Accents of English, page 364, Cambridge University Press, 1981.
  14. ^ Thorne, Steve (2013). "West Midlands English". World Englishes. I: 152. doi:10.5040/9781474205955.ch-005. ISBN 978-1-4742-0595-5. Retrieved 24 March 2023. The English of rural areas of the West Midlands [region] ... is predominantly rhotic ... whereas the English of urban areas such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and the Black Country is non-rhotic. In continuous speech, ... the linking r ... and intrusive r ... are categorical.
  15. ^ Smith, Alison (2017). U wot m8?: American and British Attitudes toward Regional British Accents (BA). 1045. Scripps Senior Theses. pp. 16–17. Retrieved 22 March 2023. The Brummie accent is characterized by numerous phonological qualities, including ... non-rhoticity, ...
  16. ^ "h2g2 - How to Speak Brummie - Edited Entry". H2g2.com. 2001. Archived from the original on 24 March 2023. Retrieved 24 March 2023. Not every written 'r' is articulated. Here, the Birmingham accent mirrors RP quite closely. With a word like 'Centre', the 'r' sound is completely ignored. ... [In t]he word 'Birmingham' therefore, ... the 'r' is not pronounced at all.
  17. ^ Collect Britain Archived 2005-05-21 at the Wayback Machine, Samples of Birmingham speech. (WMA format, with annotations on phonology, lexis and grammar.)
  18. ^ Thorne 2003.
  19. ^ Bentley, David (2017). "50 top Birmingham and Black Country sayings".
  20. ^ BBC (22 September 2014). "Why is the Birmingham accent so difficult to mimic?". BBC News. Retrieved 12 December 2016.


External links[edit]