Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS)

Center for the Study of Language and Society

Her dow half spake posh, dow her. The Black Country dialect: what does it sound like, why is it so unpopular, and how does its use of the pronouns she and her express solidarity, respect and disrespect?

Dienstag, 10.03.2020, 16:15 Uhr

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Veranstaltende: Forum Language and Society
Redner, Rednerin: Lyndon Higgs, Strasbourg University
Datum: 10.03.2020
Uhrzeit: 16:15 - 17:45 Uhr
Ort: F-123
Lerchenweg 36
3012 Bern
Merkmale: Öffentlich

The Black Country dialect is a regional variety of English spoken in the urban area of central England to the west of Birmingham, including the towns of Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall, and Stourbridge. Although outsiders often confuse it with the nearby Birmingham variety - as do most of the actors in the popular TV series “Peaky Blinders”- its speakers are proud of its specificity, and there is a network of local performance artists who promote the Black Country dialect as well as the region’s history and culture. On a national level, however, this dialect, along with its neighbouring Birmingham variety, systematically comes bottom in popularity polls, whether they be academic or popular press studies. (Workman and Smith, (2008), Yougov survey (2014)).

Based on a corpus of recorded informal conversations with Black Country dialect speakers, this paper first aims to examine some of its most salient grammatical features, including the morphology of lexical verbs, modals and auxiliaries, and pronouns ; the title of this abstract illustrates some of these features : “Her dow half spake posh, dow her” (for “She doesn’t half speak posh, doesn’t she”).

The paper will then go on to look at stylistic variation and the effect of the interlocutor on the choice of dialect forms, focussing particularly on accommodation and the importance of topic. 

Finally, a phenomenon referred to by Wakelin (1981:114) as pronoun exchange will be examined: in the Black Country dialect, both the Standard English subject pronoun she and its dialect equivalent, her, regularly occur, often within the same speaker’s speech. This pronoun exchange is not random, but depends on several factors, including the situational context, the topic, and, most importantly, the speaker’s relation to the referent of she or her. These social and relational concepts bear similarity to those found in the French tu/vous second person binary politeness distinction, since factors such as solidarity, respect and disrespect affect the choice of pronoun. 



Wakelin, Martyn F. (1981). English dialects: An introduction. London: Athlone Press.

Workman, L.  and H.-J. Smith  (2008) “Yorkshire named top twang as Brummie brogue comes bottom”, The Guardian Online

Yougov survey results (2014)

Lyndon Higgs lectures at Strasbourg University, France. He teaches English linguistics and translation studies to students who are preparing the French public teaching qualifications (CAPES and agrégation), as well as teaching courses in Sociolinguistics, which is his main area of research.  A member of the Strasbourg research group Lilpa (Langues Linguistique Parole EA1339), his particular field of study is the grammar of English dialects.