Birmingham has a rich social, cultural and linguistic history. This is reflected in the arts - texts from the city have been written in the local dialect both for performance and literature.
However, the local language variety has been neglected by linguistic researchers. Past thinking has been that rural dialects are ‘pure’ and urban dialects are subject to many influences. What these previous studies overlooked is that:
- Urban dialects are fascinating because of this variety
- Within cities, small tight knit communities can exist where dialects are just as ‘pure’ as those in rural locations.
Our project aims to redress the lack of knowledge about the Birmingham dialect, to examine local opinion about it and find out how it’s used by the locals.
We will look at the possibility that speakers can choose how they want to present themselves and that they use different language features to do this. In short, we can become more or less ‘Brummie’ if we wish.
Dialect and the performing arts
To examine the relationship between the way people want to present themselves to others and why, we will examine performance data – including performance poetry, stand up comedy, open mic poetry and song. We will look at the ways people choose to be more or less local in their language choice in relation to the content of their performance.
People sometimes have negative perceptions of Birmingham and its dialect. We will examine the impact this has.
Carrying out the research
To address these ideas, we are collecting three sets of data:
- Existing recordings of performances, scripts of performances, plays, short stories, poetry and other written texts
- Two performances will be recorded and transcribed so that we can look in detail at dialect use
- Interviews will be held with performers and members of audiences at performances.
Our project is expected to produce unique ideas about the way people choose to speak the way they do. It should prove we all choose what we do with our language and that we are not tied to one way of speaking.
This research is supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.