Black Country and Birmingham dialect research project launches at Aston University

Birmingham City Centre
Birmingham City Centre

26th January, 2010

Two new research projects that will look at the ways in which people engage with and use regional dialects have launched at Aston University in Birmingham, UK.  Both are the first of their kind to look at Birmingham and Black Country dialects in this way.

The projects, one funded by the Leverhulme Trust and one by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will document and investigate the way that people speak within Birmingham and the Black Country through the analysis of imaginative performance texts such as poetry, comedy and live music.

The Black Country is not a specific geographical area in the West Midlands, rather it is a popular name given to the areas in and around Dudley, Cradley and surrounding industrial areas.

The Aston researchers will look at the way in which performance contributes to people’s sense of the kinds of uses for which dialect use is appropriate and those for which it is not and also investigate how stylised performance can help to create and maintain a sense of place, identity and imagined community among audiences.

The projects will be managed by Dr Urszula Clark, who is a Reader in English and Deputy Director for the Aston Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Language and Diversity (InterLanD), Dr Esther Asprey, who completed a PhD in Black Country English and Black Country Identity, and Brian Dakin, himself a performance poet and musician from Oldbury, who is currently working on a PhD entitled ‘The Social History of the Black Country Dialect 1870-1939’. All three are based within the School of Languages & Social Sciences at Aston University.

Esther Asprey explained:  ‘We will be recording live performance events ranging from comedy gigs, live music events and poetry readings, and interviewing the performers and four members of the audience at each event. We are also collecting archive data relating to written performance and literary texts produced since 1900. We would like our research to contribute to a current debate in regional dialect research which is looking at how factors such as social class, gender, race and ethnicity may be resources that speakers actively draw upon to create unique voices, rather than determinants of how they speak and write.’

The projects will also act as pilot studies to assess the feasibility of a larger scale investigation looking at dialect use within Birmingham, Staffordshire and areas of Worcestershire and to create a website called West Midlands English: Speech and Society. The results of the research will be made available through public lectures, the Black Country Society and through the website.  It is envisaged that the results will also appear on a blog and that data will also appear on online resources such as YouTube.

Esther continued:  ‘We want to raise the status of regional dialects through academic and lay publications and to impact upon public attitudes towards dialect use in the Black Country and beyond by continuing with this initial research and extending it to other areas within the English West Midlands.’

For further information on the West Midlands Languages project click here.


For further press information or to arrange interviews please contact Sally Finn on 0121 204 4552 or email s.l.finn1@aston.ac.uk

 Notes to editors:

The overall funding for the project is £40,158 (Leverhulme) and £79,302.08 (ESRC)

For further information about languages and social sciences at Aston University visit http://www1.aston.ac.uk/lss/

Filming/interview/photography opportunity: Thursday, January 28th 2010 at The Hollybush Freehouse, Newtown Lane, Cradley Heath, B64 5EA from 8pm. Contact 07949 594484 for further information. This variety performance night includes live music, comedy and performance poetry, and will be compered by Birmingham comedian Craig Deeley. The line up features Phil McCullough, who is also a Birmingham comedian. The research team have been working closely with both comedians. For further information visit www.ilovethebush.com.






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