February 5, 2010
A million people live there and it’s the second-largest city in Great Britain. I lived there briefly in 2000-2001 for an ill-advised tilt at graduate school at the University of Birmingham. The poor city: it’s mostly reviled by the British and ignored by the rest of the world.
Birmingham natives have one of the most easily-recognizable regional accents of the entire English collection. And it has about as much cachet as New Jersey. The “Brummie” accent (Brummie is a general epithet for all things Birmingham-ish because, see, you can’t really make an adjective out of Birmingham easily) is distinctive and quite often ridiculed. People from Southern England especially dislike the sound of it, leading a guy in a video called “Birmingham: Reputation vs. Reality” to claim that the city consists of “a million people with a speech impediment.” How tolerant.
I think Brummie accents are kind of endearing. Hallmarks of it (at least to my rather un-nuanced ear) include a lot of “ai” sounds and a tendency to rise in tone such that the speaker often sounds like he or she is asking a lot of questions mid-sentence. Finding solid examples of it online is hard because the vast majority of accent-related videos on YouTube are people imitating accents. The most classic expression of it I ever heard was when I was walking, glumly, one night in the mid-winter along the canal near the university and a grizzly middle-aged man walked past and said, out of nowhere, “Cheer up, love.” Yes, they say “love” quite nicely. It is, as a young woman says in the video, like “Brummies sing at people.”
Here’s part one of the Reputation vs. Reality series. I find it fascinating, but then again, I lived in Birmingham. Interesting coverage of accents starts a couple of minutes in.
While we’re on the subject of accents, this video of a woman imitating 21 accents is fairly eerie and nifty. She doesn’t quite nail all of them 100% but it’s pretty impressive: