View Larger Map
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.
In yesterday’s Sunday Times a reader complained
The West Midlands conurbation is based on Birmingham, and the area known as the Black Country is part of this conurbation. The second biggest place within the conurbation is Wolverhampton, but people don’t all agree whether Wolverhampton is part of the Black Country or not (the Wikipedia article thinks not). Everyone seems to agree that the centre of the Black Country is Dudley and that it includes Rowley Regis and Walsall. Everyone agrees that central Birmingham is NOT part of the Black Country.
I’m aware of certain lexical and grammatical matters that are characteristic of the Black Country rather than of Birmingham or of the West Midlands in general. Under ‘lexical’ I include various traditional-dialect pronunciations such as ˈbæbi for baby (but I’ve heard that in Derbyshire too). I’ve never actually heard anyone say hɒnd for hand, which is also supposed to be typically Black Country. But jaʊ for you is notorious, though of course even people from the Black Country don’t always pronounce the pronoun that way. Nor do they always say jaʊm (‘yowm’) for you are.
Here’s a clip of Adrian Chiles, which will enable you to hear his ‘Black Country tones’.
Here’s another, longer, one with Adrian Chiles and Frank Skinner, both Black Country lads.
And for comparison, here’s one of Jasper Carrott, who for the letter writer is a representative Brummie.
None of these broadcasters seem to use the characteristic high-rise-level declarative intonation pattern that I hear from some Birmingham people (the “Brummie whine”).
The best phonetic description that I know of is Anna Grethe Mathisen’s article on Sandwell in Urban Voices (ed. Foulkes and Docherty, 1999, Arnold). The very first words in this article, however, are far from helpful in enabling us to distinguish between the two varieties.
Of all the West Midland boroughs, Sandwell has the greatest variety of Black Country accents, including the Birmingham-types...
For someone from Halesowen, like the writer of the letter quoted, it is no doubt true that the Brummie and Black Country accents are “linguistically miles apart”. But not for the rest of us. Help! Is there any phonetician who can pin down for us just what it is that the locals latch onto in recognizing the distinction?