The Second City
Where is Birmingham?
I often hear the term ’British accent’ banded around the media, particularly outside of the UK. I can tell you now that there is no such thing as a British accent, instead there are many different regional accents, many of which are specific to individual cities. Some accents are quite soft, melodious and easy on the ear. Others can sound cold, guttural, and to the untrained ear, make the speaker come across as unfriendly, hostile or sometimes even stupid. There are even some accents that sound totally incomprehensible even to other Brits. I can understand most regional accents, although I do struggle to understand Glaswegian (a strong Scottish accent, spoken by natives of the city of Glasgow), especially if I’m trying to have a conversation on the phone.
Each accent carries a certain reputation with it. Received Pronunciation (RP) or the Queen’s English is the accent of the elite, and thus speakers are perceived to be people of great authority and education, even if they’re not. This is the accent that is generally referred to as the ’British accent’.
Of all the accents and dialects spoken around the British Isles, none attract as much scorn as the Brummie accent, the accent spoken by people (including myself) native to the city of Birmingham. Quite why this is, I’m not quite sure, but then again I am a Brummie myself, and therefore to my ears Brummie sounds wonderful.
You may be wondering why people like me, who are natives of Birmingham are called Brummies? Where does the word come from? Well, the modern city of Birmingham was originally founded as Brummagem in around 600 AD and despite the name altering slightly over the centuries, the original name has remained etched in our collective minds. Even today, Brummagem is still used to refer to Birmingham as slang, and this is often shortened to just Brum. As a result, natives of the city are collectively known as Brummies, and the accent is known by the same name.
Unlike most regional accents, Brummie uses a downward intonation at the end of each sentence. This means that typically the voice lowers in pitch and the sound of the last word fades away slowly. This is a stark contrast to an accent such as Scouse (the Liverpool accent) which has an upward intonation, and an increase in pitch during talking, giving this particular accent a great deal of vibrancy and appeal. Brummie is a rather monotone accent, only hitting one note, usually a low one, and sticking to it no matter what. This lack of aural variation may be the primary reason why the Brummie accent has such a negative reputation in the UK. Normally, whenever a Brummie is portrayed on British TV, they are rather dull, unimaginative and stupid. Naturally, as a native Brummie, I feel that this stereotype is most unfair. There are signs that things may be changing however, as the success of gangster TV series Peaky Blinders has allowed the Brummie accent to reach a much wider audience.
The strength of the Brummie accent is actually highly variable across the city. The general rule of thumb is that the closer to the city center you live, the stronger your accent is. Although, in recent decades many people who were born and bred in the heart of the city have moved out to the suburbs and even in to nearby towns such as Solihull, Tamworth, Sutton Coldfield, Redditch and Bromsgrove, giving the accent a far broader distribution than previously.
Ozzy Osbourne Speaking With a Brummie Accent
In Brummie, the vowels are key to both speaking and understanding the accent. Below is a list of regular English and the ways in which Brummie manipulates them:
- The regular vowel ‘I’ is often replaced with ‘oy’ in Brummie. For example the phrase “ I quite like it” becomes “Oy kwoyt loik it”. The sound of the ‘oy’ is actually fairly similar to the ‘oy’ that you hear in most Irish dialects. This could have arisen due to the large influx of Irish that settled in the city over the course of time.
- The ‘u’ in words like ‘hut’ is often lengthened to become ‘oo’ as in ‘took’.
- The ‘o’ and ‘a’ sounds in words such as ‘go’ and ‘day’ often sound lazy and drawly to the non-native. They bear an uncanny similarity to the Cockney dialect.
- The ‘ar’ in words such as ‘star’ is also lazy and again sounds drawly. Sometimes, the vowel shortens and ‘ar’ becomes ‘a’ as in the word ‘cap’.
- The ‘i’ in ‘pit’ becomes ‘ee’ in Brummie, making the word sound more like, but not quite the same as ‘peat’.
- In broader versions of Brummie, ‘you’ becomes ‘yow’ and the ‘y’ at the end of the word becomes ‘ay’.
In the UK there is a strong regional variation in terms of the way certain words are pronounced. In the South (anywhere south of the Midlands) words such as ‘plant’, ‘bath’ and ‘basket are pronounced ‘plarnt’, ‘barth’ and ‘barsket’ respectively. Whilst the North (anywhere north of the Midlands) pronounces these words the way they are spelt. The Brummie accent falls into line firmly with the north.
The Voice of Tom Ross- A Famous Brummie Football Commentator
- Brummies’ often employ a mild form of the ‘r’ sound often heard in the Spanish language. This sound is produced by vibrating the tongue at the top of the mouth. However, this is only done for certain words such as ‘alright’. Brummies’ tend to use the word ‘alright’ as a greeting rather than the usual ‘hello’. If we do say ‘hello’ then we end to drop the ‘h’ thus saying ‘ello’ instead.
- The ‘g’ in a word with ‘ng’ in it is often over articulated by Brummies and is effectively pronounced twice.
- As mentioned above, Brummies frequently drop the ‘H’ from many words and we also omit the ‘T’ from the ends of words occasionally. For example ‘what’ becomes ‘wha’.
The Peaky Blinders
Just in case, you ever feel like you want to try and speak with a Brummie accent, or if you ever find yourself in Birmingham and want to figure out what on earth everybody is talking about. I will now write a few suitable sentences of written English and then translate them phonetically into Brummie, so as to give you an idea of what it sounds like. Firstly, the standard written English one:
Birmingham is one of the largest cities in the United Kingdom. It is probably most famous for the Bull Ring and Spaghetti Junction, but it has a lot more to offer. The National Exhibition Centre is a great source of pride to the local inhabitants and steps have been taken in recent years to improve the appearance of the city.
Now here’s the same passage but written phonetically in the Brummie accent.
Berminggum is wun ov the larges citays in the u-nyted kingdem. It is pRRobebLay moest faymus fer the buLLRRingg and spagettteee jungshun, but ittas aLo-mor to offa. The nashnul eksibishun senta is-a gRRayt saws of pRRoid te the lowkel in-abitents and steps av bin tayken in RResunt yeers to impRRoov the apeeReents ov the citay
If you do try and attempt to speak with a Brummie accent, remember to keep your voice at one tone and also remember the downward intonation at the end of each sentence. Roll your ‘R’s’ in the appropriate places, but don’t go overboard. Of course the only real way to get a flavor of any language, dialect or accent is to listen to a native speaker, as only they understand the rhythm of their native tongue perfectly.
Each regional dialect/accent in the UK has certain slang words and expressions that are unique to it, and Brummie is no exception. Below is a list of common Brummie slang words and expressions accompanied by their meaning.
- Babby- variation of “baby”
- Bab- variation of “babe”
- Bawlin- to shout and scream at someone- “bawlin and shoutin”
- Cack-handed- doing something in a clumsy way.
- Cob- a bread roll.
- Deff off- to ignore someone.
- Ee-arr- here you are.
- Ent- it is not.
- Fizzy pop- fizzy drink.
- Gambol- a forward roll.
- Garage- Petrol or Gas station.
- Gully- an alleyway.
- Island- a roundabout.
- Mither- to pester someone.
- Mom- unlike the rest of the UK, Brummies call their mothers “Mom” rather than “Mum”. This makes buying Birthday and Mother Day cards highly frustrating in the UK, as almost all cards will have “Mum” on them.
- Nause- someone who makes a mess.
- Pop- a word used for squash drinks.
- Round the Wrekin- going the long way round. The Wrekin comes from the Wrekin Hills in nearby Shropshire.
- Tara-a-bit- see you later.
- Tip-top- a long, fruit flavoured ice lolly.
- Wench- an affectionate term for a young lady.
- Yampy- a mad or daft person.
Give It A Go
© 2018 James Kenny
Dan on August 28, 2020:
Also, a nause is somebody who is annoying and has nothing to do with making a mess.
Fizzy pop is just pop. Squash is just squash and sometimes water from the tap is council pop.
Dan on August 28, 2020:
Some of the things in this article are just incorrect. You will never find a brummie saying "pit" as "peat", for example. I feel like this is yet another example of people over exaggerating certain aspects of the dialect. This is coming from someone who has lived in Birmingham my whole life.
David on May 11, 2020:
I didnt know that some of these words were brummie i thought they wuite common in the rest of england especially island
Roma Taylor on March 26, 2020:
I am writing about my great grandmother who lived
in Edgbaston. I'll put in a few colloquialisms. Thanks for your help
I watched the water boatman recently. Nice to see you on it. Great contributions to the world. I am proud to be a Brummie as well as an aussie Pom
Jean Bicknell on March 04, 2020:
I moved away from Brum many years ago but always caught the 'buzz' into town never the bus.
thegardener on October 10, 2019:
I would just like to add that I always laugh to myself when I go to the off-licence, because all through my teenage years in Brum it was called the Outdoor!
James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 13, 2018:
I spent the night in a village called Flixton. I actually spent the morning walking around Scarborough town before moving on to Filey and then rounding off the day at Flamborough Head. Back in Birmingham now but I'm planning on returning to Yorkshire as soon as possible.
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on August 13, 2018:
Whereabouts near Scarborough is that, James? I lived at various addresses in the town centre, although got out and around near Scalby, Newby and round the north side. Since I started to drive I've found a lot more, out towards Pickering and Hackness (Forge Valley). I don't think you can lose an accent as strong as Brummie, though. It'll always find its way back, like a homing pigeon.
James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 12, 2018:
I am very proud Alan. We are all indeed English but we all have our regional identities. I'm currently staying at a place near Scarborough and love hearing the Yorkshire accent. It's very catchy. If I ever moved here I'd probably find it hard to retain my Brummie accent.
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on August 12, 2018:
West of Watling Street (the Roman road that linked London with Chester) the population remained by and large 'Aenglisc' (English), whereas to the east a large influx of Danish in East Anglia, East Midlands and Yorkshire 'coloured' the language to the extent of adding a new vocabulary that has stayed with us through the ages from the Peterborough Chronicle ('E') where it was written in the vernacular.
'King's English' (nothing to do with the current monarch but the name of a specific form of English that comes down to us from the Anglo-Danish) owes its origins to this source, whereas the English of, say Worcester or Stafford remains essentially Anglian down to Oxfordshire (the kingdom of Mercia under Penda and his grandson Offa stretched from the Welsh Marches to the North Sea, South and parts of West Yorkshire either side of the Cheshire-Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire boundaries) to a line from Herefordshire-Oxforshire-Hertfordshire as far as Cambridgeshire which was and still is East Anglia (Raedwald's kingdom). Beyond that was Wessex, the collective Saxon enclave that swallowed up Jutish Kent, Isle of Wight and the Itchen valley. The Saxons spoke a language with a different vocabulary and grammar to that of the Aengle or Angles. There's no such thing as 'Anglo-Saxon', a term invented by archaeologists to explain away similarities in construction and styles of clothing.
Be proud of the way you speak, be you Brummie, Scouse, Geordie or Tyke. We're all English now, after all.