Brummie (sometimes spelt Brummy) refers to things connected with the city of Birmingham in England: particularly its people, known as Brummies, and their accent and dialect of the English language. The word is derived from Brummagem (commonly shortened to Brum) which is a local name for the city.
Brummie is a prominent example of a UK regional accent. The accent is regarded as 'lilting and melodious' by overseas visitors, though surveys have shown that it elicits among the least favourable responses of any accent of British English, and there is peer-reviewed academic research indicating that a police suspect with a Brummie accent is more likely to be perceived as 'sounding guilty' than speakers of other accents. The unusual tones of the accent lead some to describe it as being similar to Scandinavian in sound.
Brummie should not be regarded as the only accent of the Midlands or West Midlands, although the term is often used by outsiders to refer to all accents of the region. For example, speakers from Wolverhampton or the Black Country (the conurbation to the north-west of Birmingham) have an accent and dialect which is very different from Brummie in many respects. The Birmingham and Coventry accents are quite distinct, even though the cities are not very far apart. To the untrained ear, however, the accents may sound very similar, in the same way that British speakers of English can find it hard to distinguish between the accents of Canada and the United States of America.
Below are some common features of a Brummie accent. Not all features may be used by a given speaker. The letters enclosed in slashes (//) use the International Phonetic Alphabet. The corresponding example texts enclosed in double quotes (') are spelt so that a reader using Standard (British) English pronunciation can approximate the sounds.
- /ai/ -> /oi/ (e.g. 'five' -> 'foiv')
- /ao/ tending towards /eu/ ('how' -> 'heo')
- /I/ -> /i/ ('bit' -> 'beat')
- Final unstressed /i/ -> /ei/ ('free' -> 'frey', though this varies considerably between speakers)
- Short 'a' in words like 'cast' (but 'aunt' and 'laugh' both have long 'a')
- In some cases, unstressed /ə/ before a consonant -> /i/ ('helmet' -> 'awmit')
- Final unstressed /ə/ -> /a/ ('swimmer' -> 'swimma')
- Post-vocalic /l/ -> /u/ before a consonant, or finally ('milk' -> 'miwk')
- /el/ -> /au/ ('Elvis' -> 'Awvees')
- Merging of /o:l/ and /ol/ (so there is no distinction between 'told' and 'tolled')
- Stopped final /t/, but not /k/ or /p/ (with aspiration at the end of, e.g., 'bike' or 'pipe')
- In a few cases, voicing of final /s/ ('bus' -> 'buzz')
- /ŋ/ -> /ŋg/ in stressed syllables ('singer' -> 'sing-ga')
- /ŋ/ -> /n/ in '-ing' suffix ('doing' -> 'doin')
- Dropping of initial /h/ (some speakers)
- Some rolling of prevocalic /r/ (some speakers; e.g. in 'crime')
A large number of local words and phrases exist derived from an amalgamation of various cultures and dialects which have combined to produce an unusual but familiar voice. Some claim that 'old' Brummie is the most likely accent that William Shakespeare would have used, at that time Birmingham would have been in Warwickshire. Some words are simple variations of those used elsewhere, such as mom instead of Standard English mum, while others are unique to Birmingham.