The Black Country is “a loosely-defined area of the English West Midlands”; its name is apparently a reference to the color of the coal-filled local soil. Aside from coal and pollution, it is “known for its distinctive dialect,” which is the subject of a BBC story:

People that live in the Black Country are very proud of the way they speak. They have their own dialect and vocabulary as opposed to just being a different accent.
One of the most famous features is the ‘yam yam’ sound when saying certain phrases. ‘You are’ is pronounced yo’am and ‘are you’ is pronounced ‘am ya’.
Vowels are also often changed. When people greet each other they use the phrase ‘Yow awight’ meaning ‘you alright’.

It’s a superficial little piece, but it links to a fairly extensive dialect dictionary (there’s another one here).


  1. Terry Collmann says:

    Many of the words on the BBC site aren’t “Black Country dialect” at all, but either normal English words as pronounced in a Black Country accent, or “non-standard” English words found throughout Britain.
    “bonk” for hill, for example – “bonk” is simply the Black Country pronunctation of bank, which IS the dialect word for hill, so that “Quarry Bank” is pronounced “Quarry Bonk”.
    “baerk” (“idiot”) is just the Black Country pronunciation of “berk”.
    “Grizzle” is pretty much a universal Brit Eng word for whingy crying by a small child, I would have thought, and similarly “clobber” for “clothes” and “gob” for mouth are found throughout the British Isles.
    And so on – frankly I CBA to find more examples of “dialect” that isn’t, there are too many.

  2. <Insert obligatory I yam what I yam reference here.>

  3. Yes, I agree with Terry. I was born in the Black Country (although I’m in Devon now, and my dominant accent is Norn Irish) and it’s just pronunciation and words like ‘grizzle’ that are recognised pretty much all over Britain.
    (V.interesting blog btw, been lurking for a while and enjoying your posts!)

  4. Ah well, shows you how little I know about English dialects. But that’s why I have a comment function! (Glad you like the site, Kamilshka.)

  5. I can’t believe it was five years ago, but I read about this in the Grauniad.

  6. ‘You are’ is pronounced yo’am
    This seems like a strange statement to me. If I heard someone say “yo’am”, I would probably think they were using the word “am” where I would expect “are” — not that they were using the same word I expect but pronouncing it differently.

  7. Och, chances are I’m wrong too – I suppose a lot depends on the definition of ‘dialect’, which is something i certainly don’t know much about. I love accents, but haven’t had much to do with dialects, especially within Britain.
    (and thanks! :D)

  8. mollymooly says:

    In Ireland, apart from the British slang we use ourselves, there’s plenty more, regional or otherwise, that we recognise from TV etc. But I don’t remember ever hearing tell of this “grizzle”.
    The Guardian’s ‘The language has an entirely different verb “to be” which is conjugated “yam, you am, they am”.’ agrees with Jeremy Osner. Not an “entirely different” verb, though; just a simpler conjugation. What’s the past tense, anybody?

  9. “What’s the past tense, anybody?”
    “Bin” as in “where yow bin?” or “where’s ya bin?”.

  10. mollymooly says:

    Thanks, JCass; I was hoping for a preterite (~was,were) rather than a participle (~been)…

  11. That would be “wuz”: “I wuz, yow wuz, e wuz, er wuz, it wuz, we wuz, they wuz”.

  12. Terry Collmann says:

    Cue for a joke:
    Dustbin man (or refuse collector) to householder: “Where’s ya bin, mate?”
    Householder: “I bin on holiday!”
    Dustbin man: “Don’t mess me about, mate, where’s ya wheely bin?”
    Householder: “No, no, I weally bin on holiday!”
    (Note to non-Britons – wheely bin = large wheeled contained for household rubish)

  13. Thanks, I enjoyed that!

  14. As for accent rather than dialect, I remember when West Midlands Public Transport Executive (WPMTE – pronounced “wumpty”) used a bee as their symbol, because they were in charge of the “buzzes”.

  15. (WMPTE of course)

  16. The Black Country is “a loosely-defined area of the English West Midlands”
    When I lived in Birmingham I didn’t at all get the impression that the Black Country was loosely defined. It was used in quite a precise way. Birmingham, for example, is not in the Black Country, and I don’t think Wolverhampton is either, but most of the comparatively small region between them is. Outside the West Midlands the definition may be loose, and before I lived in Birmingham I probably did think it was in the Black Country.

  17. It’s probably one of those terms that’s understood quite differently by insiders and outsiders.

  18. Another joke:

    A Brummie walks into a trophy shop and asks the assistant if he has any gold trophies sculpted like a dog.
    Assistant says, “18 carats?”
    Brummie says, “No, chowin’ a bone.”

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