Sound and vision blog

07 January 2014

You cor call Black Country Brummy but they both ai half bostin!

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Kings Norton, Dudley, Hampton-in-Arden, Handsworth and Wolverhampton: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC WM. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a set of prompt words and, in the case of Dudley and Hampton-in-Arden, also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

In a recent review of Channel 4 sit-com 'Raised by Wolves' Guardian TV critic Stuart Jeffries bemoaned the dearth of actors able to produce convincing West Midlands accents and general lack of awareness of the distinction between speech in Birmingham and in the Black Country. Although these conversations confirm a number of shared pronunciation features and common vocabulary, e.g.babby [= 'baby'], caggy [= 'left-handed'], mom [= 'mother'] and pumps [= 'child's soft shoe worn for PE'], they also demonstrate that the differences, albeit subtle to outsiders, are extremely important locally.

A striking feature of Black Country dialect that distinguishes it from speech in Birmingham is the negative marking of verbs. I remember one of my earliest encounters with Black Country negation was when my school cricket team (in 'posh Brummy' Sutton Coldfield) crossed the border into the Black Country to play a match in Walsall. Batting second and requiring six from the final over, our batsman launched the ball to 'cow corner' (the term favoured by our purist cricket master to express his disdain for any unorthodox leg-side slog). As the ball landed agonisingly short of the boundary their closest fielder yelled enthusiastically to his team-mates it day goo owva. The umpire, rightly interpreting this statement as confirmation that the ball 'did not go over' [the boundary], signalled four and indicated a home win.

This is an example of the Black Country English system of marking a verb as negative simply by modifying its vowel. This occurs in a small number of verbs in Standard English, such as will > won't, do > don't, can > can't and shall > shan't, in which a word final <-nt> sound also clearly represents a contracted form of the negative particle not. In Black Country dialect, however, speakers not only omit the final <-nt>, but also extend the pattern of vowel modification to most auxiliary and modal verbs such that 'be', for instance, is negated as ai in the present tense and wor in the past, negative 'do' surfaces as doh in the present and day in the past tense, negative 'will' converts to woh, 'can' mutates to cor [= 'can't'] and so on. There are numerous examples in the recording in Dudley, such as:

0:46:41 how could you say that a bloke who was a pattern-maker or summat like that in a foundry that that'd got a strong dialect accent who who was building things that were being shipped round the world [...] these blokes wor [= 'weren't'] thick they was anything but

0:55:38 I've just spoke about, you know, the passion of the industry and stuff like that but I kind of rebelled against that I day [= 'didn't'] wanna work in a factory I day [= 'didn't] wanna work in a foundry I day [= 'didn't'] wanna do all them jobs

The routine use of mom [= 'mother'] in the West Midlands is, interestingly, considered an Americanism by British Jamaicans in Handsworth, although Stuart Jeffries' fury at the 'misuse' of mum in 'Raised by Wolves' suggests mom's the word in this part of the UK and has been for quite some time. These speakers' preference for muma and other wonderful Jamaican English expressions like crepes [= 'child's soft shoe worn for PE'], fenky-fenky [= 'easily tired'], bringle [= 'annoyed'] and no brought-upsy [= 'ill-mannered'] alongside well-established Black Country and Brummy terms in these conversations gives a sense of the  diversity of voices to be found in and around the UK's second city.


Someone asked where yam yam comes from and couldnt understand how yome or yow'm was yam. I doe say yome or you or even yow'm but I say ye (with a slight 'a' sound) so its ye'm barmy or ya'm barmy, I think yow is a dudley thing but it not like brummie speech either.

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