Brummie vs. Cockney: Differences in Dynamic Dialects

If you speak English, you might think Brits sound “posher” than Americans.

Many Americans think so.

There’s a certain air of authority and sophistication in what one might term the “British accent.”

But funnily enough, the umbrella term we use for the “British accent” is basically the Queen’s English.

There are dozens of regional British accents and dialects within the language, all very different from one another.

Last week, we talked about the rhyming slang of the working-class Cockney dialect.

This week, let’s explore its West Midland cousin: Brummie.

Birmingham Brummie

The term, Brummie, comes from the city of Brummagem, which was founded in the UK in 600 AD.

Although the city later became known as Birmingham, the name is commonly shortened to Brum, and locals are known as Brummies.

What’s It Sound Like

If you hear the Brummie accent in Birmingham, you might think, “Oy kwoyt loik it.”

But you might be alone in that.

If you’re trying to conjure up the Brummie accent without audio, possibly the most famous Brummie is Ozzy Osbourne.

Brummies are often portrayed in media as being daft or slow.

While there was a similar stigma for East Enders, there is a certain appeal to the Cockney accent amongst the Brits.

For many, the Brummie dialect does not carry with it that same charm.

James Kenny of Owlcation writes, 

“Of all the accents and dialects spoken around the British Isles, none attract as much scorn as the Brummie accent…Quite why this is, I’m not quite sure, but then again I am a Brummie myself, and therefore to my ears Brummie sounds wonderful.”

How Does Brummie Differ From Cockney & Scouse

While Cockney is known for its rhyming slang, Brummie is better known for its accent in the form of ending sentences in a downbeat.

This is in direct opposition to the Scouse accent of Liverpool, where the intonation rises in pitch.

Another unique aspect of Brummie is its monotonous tone and nonexistent aural variation. 

In comparison, Cockney is more upbeat in tone.

Brummie Slang

Just like any dialect, Brummie also has its own slang.

Some examples:

  • To say yes, you might utter “ar”
  • When complaining, you are “aggin’”
  • If you’re clumsy, you might be “cack-handed”
  • When you’re trying to flee the coppers, you’d be “legging it”
  • If you’re wearing a flat cap of the early 20th century Birmingham gang, you’re wearing a “peaky blinder” (yes, like the show)

These are just some of many terms that make up the Brummie “code.”

Next week, we’ll talk more about stereotypes related to dialects and accents.

Maybe She’s Born with It: Genetic Versus Acquired Behaviors

Last week, we talked about the evolution of color perception.

Why were traditional societies without the color “blue” in their vocabulary? Was it due to their culture? Or their genetics?

That’s exactly what researchers Paul Kay and Brent Berlin set out to investigate.

Inferiority

As discussed in our last post, the scientific community previously assumed that the so-called genetic inferiority of “primitive” societies resulted in a lack of color perception – and thus a lack of color language.

It was only in 1969 that Kay and Berlin took a deeper look.

In researching the languages of twenty ethnic groups, they collected the groups’ color descriptions, using twenty different color chips. In this way, they systematically compared these groups’ color vocabulary.

Their Findings

Primary colors were identified across nearly every culture, which suggests that color language is unrelated to retina development or genetics.

Evolutionary research also confirms that the eyes of Hebrews and ancient Greeks possessed the same color vision as they do today.

What Does This Mean?

This means that color language is a cultural norm; there is no difference in our genetics, our vision or our perceived color spectrum.

The difference is only in the language. And while some cultures differentiate distinct separations between certain colors, others don’t.

One example: Blue

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Take a look at this color spectrum.

In the Russian language, what English speakers call “light blue” qualifies as a different color from “dark blue.”

“Goluboy” and “siniy” in Russian, respectively.

Both light and dark blue are the same color in English, just two different shades of that color.

In fact, Russians may be more on point than the Brits on this differentiation. The wavelengths of light and dark blue differ as much as light blue and green.

So, equating dark and light blue makes as much physiological sense as calling light blue green and vice versa.

Now, consider early Russian scientists or linguists studying the English language.

The absence of vocabulary between what they saw as two distinct colors – goluboy and siniy -would certainly have made the English language – and, therefore, the British – seem primitive and uncivilized.

The Russians may have viewed their lacking color vocabulary as a lack of color perception and, therefore, genetic inferiority.

Civilized/Uncivilized

So, does color vocabulary (and the assumed “color perception” that accompanies it) make one culture more civilized than the other?

Of course not.

Whether your language lumps light and dark blue together or it differentiates between the two – or whether you have the color “blue” in your language at all – no color vocabulary is inferior to the other.

We’ll talk more about this next week.