The Brummie Black Hole.

Lucy Townsend of BBC News describes a situation I had not been aware of:

The accent frequently comes bottom in polls of people’s favourites. It is rarely heard on television or in films unless they are comedies.

It is also rarely pronounced correctly – the rounded vowel sounds and the hard “ing” are often emphasised like a caricature. Phrases like “alroight bab” and “trarabit” appear in screen versions of Brummie far more than in real life.

Steven Knight, the Birmingham-born writer of the BBC’s post World War One gangster series Peaky Blinders, has described the accent as “harder even than Geordie” to get right.

It’s considered so difficult to master that production companies have shied away from setting dramas in Birmingham: “There’s been a big black hole in the middle of the country as far as TV production goes.”

There’s a good deal more discussion, as well as a little glossary of words and phrases (in which, oddly, the local version of goodbye is given as “tarabit” rather than “trarabit” as in the second paragraph — Google supports both variants). I’ll be interested in people’s thoughts on Brummie as well as on any other accents/dialects they consider frequently done wrong. (Thanks, Paul!)

Comments

  1. John Burgess says:

    While living in London, I was always amused by British TV actors’/actresses’ attempts at American English. It seemed to be a melange of regional accents with a goodly dose of Canadian thrown in. State and screen actors tend to do a better job of it.

  2. As a native speaker of the accent, I would say the phrase is more acccurately rendered ‘tara-a-bit’.

  3. What’s its etymology, then?

  4. General British ta-ta ‘bye-bye’ plus, I suppose, (for) a bit, i.e. ‘for a little while’.

    I love Brummie and Black Country English. Somebody has to. Birmingham is the dialectologist’s/sociolinguist’s idea of the paradise.

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I lived in Birmingham for 16 years before coming to Marseilles (and also for a few months when I was less one year old, but I don’t remember that). I never thought of it as paradise! In England it is usually regarded as the ugliest accent that exists, so that might be one reason that it doesn’t feature much in television. (Whether it really is the ugliest, or whether indeed that description has any meaning, is irrelevant: I’m referring to the impression of it that most non-Brummies have). I’m surprised that it’s perceived as more difficult to imitate than Geordie, which for me would be impossible.

  6. I just learned that BBC productions are now being passed off as “Netflix Originals” in the United States.

  7. Very interesting. Birmingham and the Black Country seem to be to the English dialect system as the asteroid belt is to the solar system, or perhaps the central black hole to the Milky Way, with more complex variation in a small space than anywhere in England — rather like the Scottish lowlands, and perhaps for similar reasons. The complexity certainly shows up in Anderson’s structural atlas, the SED on which it’s based, and Ellis’ work as well, so it’s quite old.

  8. Ian Press says:

    Not a Brummie, but Oldham Lancashire right on the border with the West Riding of Yorkshire. ‘Tara’ and ‘Tada’, both with a schwa first vowel and lengthened second, are very common (the former always struck me as of lower prestige!). ‘Tata’, with similar vowels but also quite a strong likelihood of a full first vowel, very common too – I always felt it was the original. The second vowel is always lengthened. I suspect ‘Tada’ is my own most likely version.

  9. A friend of my mother’s used to say “tara, pet” on taking her leave, and with the stress on ‘ra’ it sounded more like “tra pet.” I don’t know whether that has any relation to “tara-a bit,” which I haven’t heard. My mother’s friend wasn’t Brum, but from somewhere a bit further north — maybe Lancashire.

  10. “Tara-well” was a common departure greeting in Liverpool in the mid-1960s. For all I know, it still is.

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