Those folks from Birmingham talk funny, and I mean that in a scientific way


In celebration of their tenth birthday, the Paramount Comedy Channel in the UK commissioned a study on how regional accents affect perceived funniness, and the conclusion was that people from Birmingham have the funniest accents. The Received Pronunciation, which is the only British accent most people in the United States are familiar with, came in dead last. I'm sure that there are some nuances of class that I miss out on when I watch a British-made film due to my lack of familiarity with the connotations that each accent brings to the table: Which accents are the aristocratic accents, the working-class accents, the stereotypical football fan accents, and so on.

I wouldn't be surprised if the advent of mass media has taken its toll on regional accents, softening the harsher edges and bringing them a little closer together. Which I think is kind of sad.

Personally, I think the northern accents are funnier, like the ones used by Wallace and Babs.

[Assorted typos fixed, 10:15am.]

Comments (18)
  1. Darren Winsper says:

    "I wouldn’t be surprised if the advent of mass media has taken its toll on regional accents, softening the harsher edges and bringing them a little closer together."

    Clearly you’ve never been to Glasgow ;)

  2. Matt Warren says:

    Which accents are the aristocratic accents?

    Anything that Hugh Grant does in a film.

    the working-class accents?

    Anything Ray Winstone does in a film.

    the stereotypical football fan accents?

    Anything David Beckam says.

    There it’s easy ;-), I have a Luton accent, which means I drop ‘t’ from words.

    Matt

  3. dave says:

    Oh, good. I’m not funny at all.

    -dave (from Suffolk, though I don’t have that ‘swede’ (root vegetable, not scandinavian) sound)

  4. Carlos says:

    The research just shows that Brummie’s have better comic timing.

    (And there’s a typo in your title: Birminghan.)

  5. Pops says:

    (…and the other type is "commissoined"…)

  6. Pops says:

    …or perhaps that should be "typo"…

  7. Aynuck says:

    (And there’s a typo in your title: Birminghan.)

    That’s roight, it is spelt "Brummagem" as any fule nose!

    @Matt – That much mek pomouncen yaw nerm difficult.

    Meh met Ayli n Oi stoped ter look at the stars on owm way home after the pub.

    "It meks yer yed reel when yow think about infinity" sed Ayli. "Fer instance, what’s the highest number in the universe?"

    Me brows furrerd with the magnitude of the question.

    "Er, that’d be a trillion or summat, wouldn’t it?" I sed.

    "Ah-ha!" says Ayli, "but worrabaht a trillion and one?"

    "Ar, fair play ter yer" I sez "but I wor far off, wur I?"

  8. Anonymous Coward says:

    "I wouldn’t be surprised if the advent of mass media has taken its toll on regional accents, softening the harsher edges and bringing them a little closer together. Which I think is kind of sad."

    A lot of linguists thought this would happen, but lots have research has shown that this does not appear to be the case.  Children seem to develop accents based primarily on their peers (in school and such, and moreso even then their parents) and through a process of identifying oneself with a group (if you are interested in this you should check out the writings of william labove, he’s done a lot of research in this area).  They don’t seem to pick up much in terms of accent from tv, radio, movies, etc.  

    In the USA right now, linguists say (I apologize for not having some cites right now, #include i_dont_know_what_im_talking_about.h) that regional accents are actually drifting further apart/becoming more pronounced.  One interesting modern example of this is the so-called "Northern Cities Vowel Shift" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_cities_vowel_shift).

    So don’t despair, Raymond!  The annoying Northern Cities accent is here to stay and is getting even more annoying!

  9. Mike Hearn says:

    AC – that’s true for people who learn to speak the language natively. I’ve known a couple of Scandinavian girls with American accents, picked up because they learned the language from watching films.

    Me? I speak mostly RP but tend to lose it quickly when in the company of Americans! D’oh :)

  10. /df says:



    >They don’t seem to pick up much in terms of accent from tv, radio, movies, etc.

    >…

    But this is far from the case for other aspects of language. I heard Swansea checkout girls speaking fluent "Friends" — except for the local accent (which anyone outside S Wales or the UK in general can sample by renting "Twin Town").

  11. kevshaw says:

    "Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?"

  12. kip says:

    I thought you were talking about Birmingham, Alabama (USA) until I clicked the link.  If it’s true that lowest perceived intelligence == highest perceived funniness, then I’d think Birmingham, AL would rank near the top of a similar American study. :)

    Disclaimer:  I’m from North Carolina and have been told I have a strong Southern accent, so.. y’all cain’t git mad it me fer makin funna dem Alabama boys.  :)

  13. kbiel says:

    Raymond,

    I suggest watching "Keeping Up with Appearances" [http://www.bbcamerica.com/genre/comedy_games/keeping_up_appearances/keeping_up_appearances.jsp] for an education in English classes.  There isn’t much to help you with regional accents per se, but there is plenty of dialogue that can help you learn the differences between the upper classes, the middle classes, the working folk and the chavs.

  14. WendyHome says:

    It’s a double edged sword – Accents act as cues to the character of people (stereo-type) and for any specific person may be innaccurate (prejudice).  My regional accent is South West (Bristol),  the stereotype I encountered from the South Easterners (London included) thought I sounded like a farmer.  But then,  I thought they sounded like ‘Essex’ Lads/gals,  I think I got the better deal…..  ;-)

    Brummy’s also thought I sounded like a farmer,  but they were funny and friendly so I love that accent and even learned to discern between Dudley, Brum and Coventry.  Dudley being my favourite,  they use the term ‘me ducks’ like the american’s use the term ‘Hun’ (short for Honey).  As a Brit,  being called a ‘Hun’ jars a little becauase I register the German reference before the sweet-thing reference…..

  15. Chris L says:

    I love Steve Coogan’s accent in Saxondale. The character is a former roadie who seems to have picked up a lot of American slang that sounds really funny the way he says it.

  16. Big Stew says:

    The study mentions 3 examples of "Birmingham" comedians.

    Well, Lenny Henry is from Dudley, Frank Skinner is from Oldbury. These accents are very different from the "Brummie" accent, of Birmingham born Jasper Carrott.

    Sorry, but I am from Dudley and it always annoys me when people call me a "Brummie"!

  17. Hayden says:

    Ah, Jasper Carrott.

    It was he who suggested that even reading the news was funny in Brum. He then proceeds to do so, bringing the house down.

    Sadly missed from our TV screens.

Comments are closed.