English dialect quiz of the day

« previous post | next post »

What is this woman saying, and where is she from?

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

For several American listeners, these have turned out to be surprisingly difficult questions. I'll give the answer and the broader context later today.

Update — but the answer was easy for many LL commenters, though there seem to be a few UK and even Brummie ringers in the set. This is from a video interview with Lisa Ponter at the re-opening of the MG production facility at Longbridge, from Caroline Gammell, "First new MG for 16 years rolls off Birmingham production line", The Telegraph 4/13/2011:

The 1.8 litre MG6 was designed and engineered in Britain, but some of its production has taken place in China.

It will vie for competition from the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus and costs between £15,500 and £19,000.

All the testing and engineering has been carried out at MG Birmingham, a factory built on the former Longbridge site which closed six years ago with the loss of 6,500 jobs.

Around 400 people now work on site, a fraction of those who worked for Rover at its peak.

The rest of Ms. Ponter's clip is here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

As several commenters understood, she starts by saying "((it's)) brilliant coming back, it's um it's great to see a car on the line".

[Many readers have written to ask about  Michael Dunn, Simon J. Greenhill, Stephen C. Levinson & Russell D. Gray, "Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals", Nature published online 4/13/2011. I'll post something about it this evening, but meanwhile I can recommend the explanation that Russell Gray has put on the Austronesian Database website in Auckland.]


  1. Spell Me Jeff said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    "Brilliant coming back . . . it's, um, great to see a call on the line."


  2. Chandra said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    "It's brilliant coming back, it's um it's great to see a (call?) on the line."

    Northern England-ish-y? My default guess for when I can't recognize an accent is usually South African, but I don't think that's the case here.

  3. Rob Grayson said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    What I can hear:

    "Brilliant coming back, it's, um, it's great to see a car on the line."

    At a guess, I would say she's from Merseyside, England. Definite scouse (Liverpool) overtones, especially in the way she pronounces "back" in a kind of gutturam fricative.

  4. Lolwhites said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

    Sounds like the Black Country, in England.

    "It's brilliant coming back, it's great to see a …."

  5. Rob Grayson said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    Scratch that – I think what I heard as a guttural fricative was a noise in the background. Having listened again, I'd say she's from the "Black Country" – that part of the West Midlands that lies to the north and west of Birmingham and the south and east of Wolverhampton.

  6. Richard said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    It's brilliant coming back, it's um it's great to see a car on the line.

    Birmingham, UK area – possibly Dudley region.

    (a Brit, brought up in Buckinghamshire, lived in Birmingham for 4 years, now California for 10yrs).

  7. Alan said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    I concur with the above transcription, though — and I say this as a complete layman, and, what's more, an American — it strikes my ear as rather Brummie-ish.

  8. Heather said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    "It's brilliant coming back. It's um it's great to see a car on the line."

    I got what she said, but other than somewhere UK? No idea where she's from.

  9. QoB said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    North of England, Liverpool or close to it.

  10. DonBoy said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

    I should have listened before reading the other impressions….it must be "caller on the line", although only from context — it "sounds like" "call on the line" to me.

  11. Lolwhites said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    It certainly sounds like "…car on the line" but why would a car be on a line?

  12. Chandra said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    I forgot to add that I'm Canadian with one British parent, FWIW.

  13. Mary said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

    It's brilliant coming back. It's, um, it's great to see a car than the lorry.

    England (region unknown)

  14. Mo said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

    Northern Irish?

  15. Alan said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    Heh. I started typing my earlier post when Spell Me Jeff's comment was the only one visible. Then I paused, went back to listen again once or twice, finished typing, and pressed "Submit" — and three more comments had appeared.

    To clarify, then, I heard the same words as Spell Me Jeff, and my guess of Birmingham was semi-anticipated by Rob Grayson — the locals would doubtless insist, and rightly, that the Birmingham and Black Country accents are very different, but I lack the experience to reliably distinguish them. Must keep training that ear…

  16. Spell Me Jeff said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    "car than the lorry." Interesting.

  17. Rube said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

    I'm hearing something like: "It's brilliant coming back, it's,um, great to see a card on the lorry". Unfortunately, that makes no sense.

    And she sounds like a character on "Coronation Street" to me, which would make her from Manchester way.

    I'm really bad at this stuff.

  18. Barrie England said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Birmingham, or thereabouts.

  19. Chris B. Behrens said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    It's brilliant coming back. It's, um, it's great to see a carn (?) and the lorry.

    "Coo-ming" is definitely Irish, though the "great" sounds Australian. I'll go with Irish.

  20. Dunx said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    It's a "car on the line" and she's definitely from the West Midlands, but I'm both British and cheating by recognising the larger context.

  21. Paul said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    "It's brilliant coming back. It's great to see a car on the line."

    As a resident of the UK, it's obvious (to me at least!) that it's a Birmingham accent. The mention of cars and lines makes me think it's related to the recently re-opened Longbridge car factory.

    Spoiler alert:
    A quick google, and I find that the person talking is Lisa Ponter, a worker at the factory:

  22. Martin said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    I can't make out the second part, but to me the first part is "while you're coming back".

  23. Richard said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

    Adopted Brummie. Is this a reference to the restarting of car production at Longbridge?

  24. Mary Bull said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    I'm an American, native of Texas, transplanted to Tennessee over 60 years ago. I heard,
    "When you're coming back, it's great to see a comb on the lorry."
    Which, of course, makes no sense.

    Does sound like somewhere in the UK, though. (I listened several times — before I read any of the comments. At the time I started this post, there were 7 comments. Then I lost my server for awhile.)

    Be very interested to read what the answers turn out to be.

  25. Peter said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

    "It's brilliant coming back. It's um it's great to see a car on the line."

    Clearly a Birmingham area accent to my Southern British ears. I'm guessing Longbridge from the context.

  26. J Lee said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

    is this use of 'brilliant' not a UK giveaway? i.e. is it used in commonwealth countries too?

  27. Aviatrix said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    'S brilliant coming back. It's um it's great to see a car on the lane.

    That vowel sound she uses in the last word was the same one my grade 12 lab partner seemed to use in all three of "alkane" "alkene" or "alkyne," so it could equally be lane, line or lean. She was Irish, so that's my guess.

  28. LaC said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    It's only through dialects that English attains its true and most powerful form, where any vowel can be pronounced as any other. In the future, English speakers are going to realize that the use of vowels in writing is a poor fit for their language, and switch to an abjad.

  29. Astrid said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    It's brilliant coming back. It's great to see a car on the line.
    West Midlands, maybe towards the direction of Stoke. Not so sure exactly.

  30. Russell Borogove said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    I got most of it after repeated listenings, but couldn't quite be sure if it was 'car' or something else. My classification scheme for British English accents consist of "Received Pronunciation" and "Everything Else", and she's clearly the latter.

    I'm Californian born and raised but watched a lot of BBC comedies on public television in my youth.

  31. Astrid Coleslaw said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    What fun! Let's do more of these.

    I also heard "car on the lorry" or "column and the lorry" at the end there, but I think my American brain tried to be clever and fill in the Brit word for "truck" when it couldn't make out the word.

    Russell — that's pretty much my classification system too. Except I add "Beatles" in there as well. The first time I met a man from Liverpool I thought he was faking the accent because it seemed just too dead on Beatle-y to be true.

  32. blahedo said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    It's interesting hearing a British dialect that *isn't* one of the standard batch that Americans get exposed to; as others have noted above there are aspects that sound British (choice of "brilliant"), Irish or North British (vowel of "coming"), and Australian (vowel of "great"), plus a general incomprehensibility of the last few words. Before reading further, I listened and the best I could come up with for the ending was "ca??n malloy"; I thought about "car on" or "car in" but that didn't make sense, and I was really stuck on the last bit. I think my brain turned the "the" into a "ma" just because the name "Malloy" was the only thing remotely like what I heard that I could put down. (I did also come up with "?? lorry" as a possibility, which also didn't make much sense.)

    On reflection, it was the vowel of "line", which I hear as a strong [oj] or even [o:.i], that really threw me, not being very familiar with Brummie. Even re-listening to the clip I still can't hear an [n] at the end. If I'd been able to map [oj] -> /aj/ I might've got the rest of it, though.

  33. Gregory Dyke said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    I got it straight away. Brought up in Switzerland but with lots of british TV. Jasper Carrott is the "model" I have for birmingham.

    The very high back unrounded vowel in "line" is typical and distinguishes it from other similar accents, I think

  34. dw said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

    She is saying "It's brilliant coming back, it's great to see a car on the line"

    She's from Birmingham (England), and has a broad local accent. I actually grew up in Birmingham, although I never had a broad accent like hers.

    The giveaways, as far as I can tell, are
    * the close rounded vowel of "COM-ing", which indicates the North or Midlands of England.
    * The wide diphthong, and open back starting point, of "great", which (afaik) rules out most of the true north of England, leaving the Midlands. (It could also apply to London-area accents, but they have already been ruled out by the close vowel in COM-ing).
    * The pace, lilt and intonation, which I would say characterizes only Birmingham among British accents, although Liverpool is similar.

    I think that the reason people hear "lorry" instead of "line" is the open starting point and very close endpoint of this diphthong, with the ending point being so close that it could possibly have been an alveolar tap realization of /r/ in some accents, such as Liverpool (but not Birmingham).

  35. Keith M Ellis said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

    I'm glad I wasn't the only one who heard "lorry". But were we all Americans? I like Astrid Coleslaw's suspicion.

  36. Rube said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    @Keith — I'm one of the "lorry" hearers, and I'm Canadian… doubt if any Britons made the mistake. I too, am glad I'm not the only one.

  37. Dw said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

    A few people think that the vowel of "COM-ing" sounds Irish.

    Although the Irish vowel in words like STRUT or "come" is typically rounded, I think it's usually quite a bit more open than the vowel in this recording. (At least that's my impression — I would welcome correction from those with a better knowledge of Irish varieties of English).

  38. Carl Burke said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

    Not an accent I'm familiar with. Even coming to this too late to miss the reveal, I still had to listen to the clip two or three times before the words appeared. (It still sounds like she's saying 'a car on the loin'.)

  39. Nathalie said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    It's brilliant coming back. It's great to see the car and the lorry OR a car in the glory.

    It might be Geordie.

  40. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    I'm not sure this woman is from Birmingham itself – I'm with Lolwhites in hearing Black Country, a bit further west. It's an interesting accent, the most famous feature being /ɒ/ for RP/GA /æ/, as in mon for man.

    I'm intrigued that people are hearing Liverpool (Scouse) here, which is not very similar at all, as English accents go. This might be over-analysing a touch, but could it be that when she says back, that background noise cuts across it and makes the /k/ sound like a fricative /x/, which is a marked feature of non-initial /k/ in Scouse?

  41. Dw said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 3:55 pm


    I'm intrigued that people are hearing Liverpool (Scouse) here, which is not very similar at all, as English accents go.

    I think it's fairly similar, especially prosodically (I'm from Birmingham myself). It also shares features like non-NG-coalescence.

  42. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

    @ DW –

    You may be right about the prosody; the /ng/ feature is common to a lot of northern and midlands accents though. I think Scouse is off on its own really – it has lots of Lancashire features but is so heavily influenced by Irish that it's really distinct. In particular I don't think the systematic lenition of intervocalic stops is paralleled in any other English accent.

    By the way, for Americans or others unfamiliar with a Birmingham accent, the most famous owner of one is probably Ozzie Osbourne. Robert Plant's a Brummie too, but even in early interviews he's learnt to posh it up to RP.

  43. Bill Walderman said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    Here's something else that might warrant a posting:


    along with an article in The New York Times:


  44. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    Without context, the one word I couldn't get was "car"; I thought it might be "cairn". As for region, all I knew was that it was in the UK and somewhere north.

  45. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    …Whether West Midlands is actually "north" I'll leave for those who know to argue.

  46. Sili said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

    Dane here and I got "lorry", too.

  47. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

    It's not, it really is in the middle:


    Midlands accents are pretty distinct from northern and southern ones, though they do share some northern features, especially (as you'd expect) the further north you go.

  48. flerdle said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

    Coming in late (time zones!) I'm Australian. I heard "It's brilliant coming back, it's um, it's great to see a car on the lorry". That last word I was not at all sure about, as it sort of tapered off in a kind of "loy" sound. I would have placed it somewhere in the middle of England, but no more exact than that.

  49. Gordon Campbell said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

    I'm Australian. I picked it as Brummie within a second or two, and didn't have any trouble understanding it.

  50. Kelly McCluskey said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    Can we have more phono-puzzles, please? These are much better than Sudoku in the morning…..goes well with kawfee n such….

  51. Adrian Morgan said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

    I don't understand why some commenters think the pronunciation of 'great' sounds remotely Australian. It doesn't.

    I couldn't understand the bit after "see a", but the rest of the sentence was perfectly clear. I knew it had to be from northern England someplace where the accent is influenced by Irish/Scottish without actually being Irish/Scottish.

  52. Paul Dennett said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

    @ Pflaumbaum: 'This might be over-analysing a touch, but could it be that when she says back, that background noise cuts across it and makes the /k/ sound like a fricative /x/, which is a marked feature of non-initial /k/ in Scouse?'

    I think you're right. I have no training in accents or phonetics and am from Australia so not an expert in British accents by any means, but I think you have got it spot on.

  53. army1987 said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

    The i in "it's" is too close, and the e in "great" too open, for her to be Irish, especially northern Irish.

  54. army1987 said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

    @Dw: /U/ for STRUT is not uncommon in the Dublin area, and neither is /OI/ for PRICE, but otherwise she doesn't sound like from Dublin at all.

  55. Adrian said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

    Having lived in (north) Birmingham for 20 years, this was nice to hear and easy to get! As has been pointed out, local knowledge also helps, since the trials and tribulations of local car production are known to all.

    Her accent is reasonably strong – sounding at first hearing a little Black-Country, as has been suggested – but in the Black Country the accent is even stronger than this; the word "line" would be pronounced more like "loyen".

    I grew up in Cheshire with a Stoke-ish accent, but considered the way I spoke was much better than the way Birmingham people spoke. (The Brummie accent is one of the least-loved accents of the UK.) It was natural that having had such a belief I would ending up living here, bringing up a Brummie daughter! God likes his little jokes…

  56. Paul Drye said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

    "Brilliant coming back, it's um great to see a car on the line."

    I had to listen to it a second time to understand it. I thought she was maybe from Somerset, but then I couldn't have described her pronunciation formally as a lot of previous users are doing before nailing her down to the West Midlands.

    I'm Ontarian, but my parents are Scots so I'm pretty good with non-NA accents in English.

  57. Bob Kennedy said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

    I came to the same conclusion as DW (Birmingham) in the same way – the relatively close vowel of "COMing" (STRUT = FOOT), which indicates Midlands or North of England, plus the wide closing diphthong of "great", which indicates Midlands or South. The vowel of "car" is also too far back to be Liverpool or Manchester. If we're all saying where we're from to contextualize our answers, I'm a Canadian living in the US but I have the advantage of teaching a class on accents. (Otherwise I would have guessed Liverpool or Manchester).

  58. Julie said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

    I found it pretty much unintelligible. I hid the giveaway and listened to it over and over.

    Past 'brilliant,' I got stuck. With the help of my husband standing behind me, we got most of it….except that bit at the end. I heard "Carmen Malloy." Makes no sense, but that was as far as I could get. "Com on the lorry" was another alternative that made no sense. Neither of us got to "car on the line."

    We're both natives of Northern California.

  59. ken lakritz said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    I couldn't get her at all.

    SNL has the ultimate commentary on this phenomenon:


  60. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

    I got "line" but I think the main barrier to comprehension for me was what sounds like an additional N sound between "car" and "on". Is this a feature of Birmingham accents or just a minor vocal stumble?

  61. Craig said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

    My dialect is mid-Atlantic US, but her statement was almost perfectly clear to me. I say almost because "car" sounded like it ended in a weak "l" to me.

    It definitely helps that the ex-boyfriend of one of my friends is from Birmingham.

  62. Peter G. Howland said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 2:04 am

    After three strained listenings, these septuagenarian So. California ears got:
    "(They don't) come in baskets, (something, something) card on a line."
    Now you know why I don't (can't) watch (understand) British accented films. How sad.

  63. Mark Gould said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 3:09 am

    Despite the fact that the answer was disclosed before I came to this post, I still identified the accent and content correctly.

    Except that I am not sure about the word following 'car'. Everyone else appears to hear 'on', but I think it may be 'along': "It's great to see a car along the line." This also makes more sense to me: a car moves along the line as it is built, rather than being static, as 'on' suggests.

  64. Athel Cornish-Bowden said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 3:30 am

    Like Mark Gould, I had seen the answer before listening, but I'm sure I'd have got it immediately. However, I lived in Birmingham for 16 years, seven of them in a district adjacent to Longbridge, so it was too easy for me. I think I understood every word she said (I agree with those who think the word after "car" is "on").

  65. a different Steve said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 3:34 am

    It's brilliant coming back, it's great to see a car on the line

    She's from the Midlands, somewhere in the general vicinity of Birmingham. Dudley, Stourbridge, Walsall… Since "it's great to see a car on the line" I strongly suspect she used to work in one of the car factories there which were closed down, and that one of them has reopened.

    I'm cheating though – I'm from Scotland so I've been exposed to the accent before.

  66. Eric said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 3:53 am

    Whenever MYL posts these things, I get geared up for "Please tell Stella…"

  67. a different Steve said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 5:13 am

    Teach me to post the comment before reading the whole article. Still, it's nice to see I got it right, and quite surprising to see how difficult people from other parts of the world found it.

  68. John F said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 5:24 am

    As a UK resident, again, it's obvious to me she's a brummie (from Birmingham, which I believe is actually smaller than its younger namesake in Alabama).

    Rather than a question of understanding and placing an accent, I actually thought it was going to be a real dialect challenge with a question about some obscure village in Yorkshire! I consider Patrick Stewart to be an English speaker of exceptional clarity, but I've seen him do interviews where people ask him about growing up and when he says something in his native Yorkshire dialect it sounds like a different language to me. In this case I don't think the woman used any non-standard vocabulary.

    Anyway, cue the Henry Higginses who can place her to a specific street, because Birmingham is an huge conurbation with lots of towns and even cities within it that have accents indistinguishable to outsiders.

    @Adrian: I find the Brum/Black Country accent to be far preferable to strong Belfast or Essex accents. I loved Harry Enfield's "Considerably richer than yow" character!

    @Mo: As a Northern Irelander that nearly made me laugh out loud! Then again even though I can place a lot of Northern Irish people by accent, I would find it very hard to place an Irish accent. I suppose it's what you're exposed to. Due to the so-called cultural imperialism* of the US I can place some US accents to a coast or even a state, but I wouldn't have a clue about French accents.

    * we may rail against it, but the truth is that we all lap it all up, and the weird thing is that there's actually a huge French influence due to Vivendi.

  69. ambrosen said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 5:49 am

    Pflaumbaum: Being from nearby Longbridge myself, I'd place her as having grown up within a 3 or 4 mile radius of the factory, rather than being in the Black Country, which I think, John F, is the most specific guess anyone's made yet.

    Given that I normally speak with an accent closer to neutral RP than to Brummie, revealing where I come from almost always elicits the 'compliment': "but you don't have the accent", which I think says quite a bit about the perceived status of this accent within England (but not the rest of the UK, in my experience).

  70. Terry Collmann said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    Cqrl Burke: "It still sounds like she's saying 'a car on the loin'." "Loin" is exactly the "eye-dialect" way of writing a Brummie pronunciation of "line", as in "Oi'll give it foive".

  71. Colin Reid said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 6:53 am

    @John F: Boston (in Lincolnshire) and Richmond (in Greater London/Surrey) have both long been surpassed by the American cities they gave their names to, but the English Birmingham is still the world's largest.

  72. Ray Girvan said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    I kept out of this one, as my wife is from Birmingham and I lived for there for some years (for a while close to the Longbridge plant).

    Possibly interesting background: the Birmingham accent generally gets low popularity ratings in UK polls (not helped along by stereotyping, usually by Timothy Spall playing "Brummie gits" as here). Yet Steve Thorne – Birmingham English: A Sociolinguistic Study (2003) – reported that non-British listeners found it "lilting and melodious".

    [(myl) Yes — see "The beauty of Brummie", 7/28/2004.]

  73. Y ddraig werdd said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 8:42 am

    I'm not a native speaker of English but I had no problem understanding what she was saying, including the “on the line” part. Actually after reading the comments I listened again but could not hear lorry at all. Maybe because being form an non-dubbing European country I hear quite a lot of British accents.
    As I do have problems understanding some northern British accents I was thinking she was from somewhere in the Midlands, but not Birmingham. Probably because that accent is connected in my mind with Ozzy Osborne.

  74. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    @ ambrosen –

    I dare say you're right then. It's true she doesn't have the Black Country mon vowel I referred to – though I'm not sure how many of the younger generation do, and how lexically restricted it is even among those that do have it.

  75. dw said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 9:53 am

    @Adrian Morgan said,

    I don't understand why some commenters think the pronunciation of 'great' sounds remotely Australian. It doesn't.

    The Birmingham accent, like traditional Cockney and Australian, is characterized by the Diphthong Shift, which shifts the starting point of the FACE vowel (as in "great") from a front mid-close vowel to a back mid-or-fully-open vowel.

  76. Kai said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 10:11 am

    For what it's worth, to this American it sounded like "It's brilliant coming back, it's um great to see Colin Melloy."

  77. Dan T. said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    Context is very important to understanding; when you know she's talking about the re-opening of an automotive factory, "car on the line" comes naturally, but without context you have no idea what she's saying.

  78. Ellen K. said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    I'm surprised some people had trouble with the beginning. Other than the "it's" being hard to hear, it was very clear to me, "…brilliant coming back". I was thinking, what's so hard about that? Then I kept listening and heard the rest and couldn't make any sense of it at all.

  79. un malpaso said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 10:43 am

    I had to jump in without reading any of the above comments so I can be said to have given an honest uninformed guess.

    What I hear is "It's brilliant coming back, it's great to see a…(unintelligible) The last word has me completely stumped. I would guess from a limited snippet that the speaker is either Scottish, South African, or Australian. The central vowels really sound Australian to me, but the "u" in coming" suggests north England. Now I will post this, and read the comments to see how I did :) (ps. I am American, 40/male/white, urban Southern.)

  80. un malpaso said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 10:48 am

    OK, so I was within the right country and leaning in the right direction with one of my guesses. This is really fun to do, though. English speakers everywhere could learn about other accents of their own language that they never get to hear in the media. (As an American suburbanite, my primary source of Brummie dialect during my lifetime has been hearing Ozzy Osbourne mumble. Not the best example to use as a prototype.)

  81. Mark Hanbury said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 11:37 am

    All the people who hear Australian here obviously don't really know what the Australian accents sounds like. As an Aussie myself, and a fan of the band Black Sabbath, this sounded pretty obviously Brummie to me, or at least from the Midlands. I have to admit, though, that it took me a few listens before it was all clear.

  82. dw said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

    @Mark Hanbury

    All the people who hear Australian here obviously don't really know what the Australian accents sounds like.

    That's pretty much a tautoloogy. Similarly, all the people who thought the speaker was Irish "don't really know what Irish accents sound like".

    Nevertheless, the speaker does display one linguistic trait (the Dipthong Shift) which Brummie and Australian accents have in common, but most other accents do not. So it's not a completely unreasonable suggestion).

  83. m.m. said,

    April 15, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    ok, finally get to hear it, uber late i know… and i understood it completely. I wouldn't have placed it as northern or southern, so i guess midlands would be left to fit, though my mapping of any BrE dialect boundaries is fairly poor so it would have been a guess xD

  84. Aniko said,

    April 16, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    I understood it all on the second listen (with some hesitation on "car", which seemed out of place – then I thought it might be about a railway route reopening, and wondered if "car" would work there).

    I also figured the speaker was from Northern England from the vowel in "coming", though nothing more specific than that.

    I'm a non-native speaker of English (Hungarian) living in California. (I've also lived in Jamaica, but never in the UK.)

  85. Adrian Morgan said,

    April 16, 2011 @ 12:20 am

    @dw said:

    The Birmingham accent, like traditional Cockney and Australian, is characterized by the Diphthong Shift, which shifts the starting point of the FACE vowel (as in "great") from a front mid-close vowel to a back mid-or-fully-open vowel.

    True, if your ear is attuned only to the starting point of the diphthong and disregards its tail end. In the Birmingham accent, assuming the clip is representative, it's something like [gra:t] – hardly a diphthong at all. I'm surprised that anyone mistakes this for the highly diphthongated Australian vowel.

  86. Jer said,

    April 16, 2011 @ 3:44 am

    @Mark Hanbury, dw

    The Australian accent has often been refreshed by people from the depressed areas of the UK (i.e. anywhere not London) who took advantage of favoured immigrant status. So you'll "hear the Aussie accent" in many English accents.

    And for the record: I heard "another call on the line" and guessed Yorkshire. Shame on me, by grandfather was from Coventry(I'm a 2nd gen Aussie), so I should have been able to pick it.

    Where can I take one of these classes on accents that have been mentioned in this thread?

  87. Thena said,

    April 16, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    My initial guess was 'not quite Australian' and therefore I would have suggested 'New Zealand' had I not read through the whole thing first.

  88. dw said,

    April 16, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

    @Adrian Morgan:

    It may not have been completely clear in the recording, but the speaker (and the Brummie accent in general) does have a wide, rather slow, diphthong (ending in the [i] area) for words of the FACE set.

  89. Alexander said,

    April 17, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    Rob Halford of Judas Priest has a clearer accent that Ozzy does.

  90. David Marjanović said,

    April 17, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

    Native speaker of German here. I tried at least 5 times to hear the alleged [x]; it's not there. It's a [k:], not affricated in the least; I'd interpret the words as "ba kits" instead of "back, it's" if I didn't know better.

    The [n] at the end must be cut off. I can't find it. Even the vowel isn't nasal; all I hear is [lo:i]. I suppose the very long [o:] explains why so many people interpreted the two syllables "lorry" into it.

  91. Guy said,

    April 18, 2011 @ 4:26 am

    Wow I suck. I'm Australian and on first listen, it was completely unintelligible. On second listen I heard "its brillant coming back, its great to see a caller on the line".
    I could tell straight away the speaker was English but not which part of England she was from.

  92. John B Callagher said,

    April 23, 2011 @ 2:39 am

    Stumbled onto the site.. prowling about seeking background on the term " Moon-pall '.. Language Log. what a pure delight!
    'Eh up. wacker… I 'm an olde Coventry kid.pre WWII. The Coventry dialect wus beaten out of uz.. trearn't respectable.The dialect spoken on the clip. is more Coventry ( flat accent ) the Brummie chat was a great deal more diverse, when I was a lad.Birmingham had at least 10 distinct dialects. All of them , as we used to say " sing songy" the end of and sentence rising and hanging there. Very similar to the Welsh " Taffy" sounds.My Nan was from the Black Country, Stafford.When here sister visited. I could not understand a single word they said.
    Just passing olde stuff along.. this is a GEM os a site.

  93. Gary Adamson said,

    April 24, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

    As a British man exposed to the birmingham accent every day, I still found it hhard to understand that she was saying "car" and not "call"

  94. dw said,

    April 24, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

    @Gary Adamson:

    As a British man exposed to the birmingham accent every day, I still found it hhard to understand that she was saying "car" and not "call"

    Listen to the way she says "walked" at 0:52 or "all" at 0:59 in the complete video. The vowel is totally different from the way she says "car".

  95. Col said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    I agree with what other have said. If Americans want a reference point for her accent, then Ossie Osbourne is the closest they are gonna get. Its a shame that the 'Brummie' accent, and strong local working class accents such as this really get very little respect in the UK. Strong accents really add to the colour and diversity that we have within a language. I love it when I can identify someone just from their accent.

    One of my favourite American accents is the white american accent of the Carolinas! Think Penelope Pitstop and you'll know the one I mean. Interesting that the black american accent from the same region is totally different!

RSS feed for comments on this post