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.”

  19. michael byrne says

    Yam comes from yo’am??? Ive never used the term yo’am in yow’am in other parts it maybe. I live in what was South Staffs. I use the word ye’m for you are so it would be pronounced more like yu’m or yer’m, so it would be ye’m alroight int ya? Ar ah’m okay, ta. It would make (mek) more sense for it to be ye’m rather than yo’m which sound nothing like yam anyway. Ye is archaic for you and is found all over the British Isles but is still archaic. Yo is sometimes used at the end of sentences and in other areas yow but these are regional ways of saying you as opposed to an archaic word. Other words like okherd for awkward, arc as in ‘arc at ‘im’ look at him are dialectual. Birmingham is different as it doesnt use dialect as much but simply has an accent. I do know a difference in that Brummies say oy for I and Black Country says ah for I, Black Country is more deeper tones Brummie more whiney sound. Some speak quick in Black Country and absorb words like watcha shouldna. Where ye bin? Ah bin ter tha shops, der ye wanna goo? Some do make mistakes when writing it down and mishear which is why some say odebury for Oldbury as im 6mins away from Oldbury i say ollbry same with wednesbury, wensbry.

  20. michael byrne says

    There is differences across the ‘Black Country’ too. Each town has unique phrases and words. Gornal doesnt speak like West Brom. I did read West Brom and surrounding areas use double sounds such as shu’wa for sure and pu’wa for pure and sku’werl for school. I would pronounce man not mon but more mun as in firemun, policemun im not sure how others say it. Its more lower as opposed to man which is higher and rounded. Maybe its the rounding of words thats tough? There certainly is ‘a’ sounds at the end of words winda, kinda, linga especially when it ends ‘er’. And S’s are z’s in the middle of words as in lezzoes for leasowes.

  21. Thanks, nice to hear from someone with local knowledge!

  22. michael byrne says

    No problem. It is difficult as i think different areas have different local words but obviously there are common words. I know people in north West Brom on the border with Birmingham they speak utterly different to Brummie and support WBA but they use ayn for isnt as i do but elsewhere its ay and use laff when loff is used elsewhere instead of laugh. Street slang amonst young is in there too and people have moved about a bit, plus everyone poshes up to make themselves understood.

  23. michael byrne:

    ‘arc at ‘im’ comes from ‘hark at’ – ‘listen to’, not ‘look at’…

  24. It does indeed, but it’s possible that in local usage it’s changed meaning. Or are you from the Black Country yourself?

  25. It does indeed, but it’s possible that in local usage [‘ark] has changed meaning

    There’s no way to Google for Black Country speakers exclusively, but a quick search shows that most uses seem to mean roughly ‘to pay attention; to direct one’s regard’:

    I’ve got Rangers Player (‘oo, ark at ‘im!) so I presume they’ll have the Radio London stream complete with Phil Parry’s musings about all things

    Ohh ‘ark at im with the nice dress on, talking about shirt lifters. I’d get the beard trimmed ducky if I was you, so 1960s

    Oooooohhh, ‘ark at ‘im. “I will decide whether further regulatory action is necessary.” Sounds like tough-man Edmonds is gunning for a job at the new super regulator.

    Both ‘look’ and ‘listen’ would be adequate glosses, though I’d tend to use the former myself.

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