Birmingham (city, England)
Birmingham (bûr´mĬngəm), city and metropolitan borough (1991 pop. 934,900), central England. The city is equidistant from Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, and London, England's main ports, and near the Black Country iron and coal deposits; it was connected to the Staffordshire mines by the Birmingham Canal in the 18th cent. Birmingham is Britain's second largest city (in both area and population) and is the center of water, road, and rail transportation in the Midlands. The chief industries are the manufacture of automobiles and bicycles and their components and accessories. Other products include electrical equipment, paint, guns, and a wide variety of metal products.
By the 15th cent., Birmingham was a market town with a large leather and wool trade; by the 16th cent. it was also known for its many metalworks. In the English Civil War the town was captured by the royalists. Birmingham's industrial development and population growth accelerated in the 17th and 18th cent. In 1762, Matthew Boulton and James Watt founded the Soho metalworks, where they designed and built steam engines. Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, lived for a time in Birmingham. In 1791 a mob, incensed at his radical religious and political views, burned his home.
The town was enfranchised by the Reform Bill of 1832 (see under Reform Acts) and was incorporated in 1838. John Bright represented it in Parliament from 1857 to 1889. During the 1870s, while Joseph Chamberlain was mayor, Birmingham underwent a large program of municipal improvements, including slum clearance and the development of gas and water works. Birmingham was among the first English localities to have a municipal bank, a comprehensive water-supply system, and development planning. The area of the city was enlarged in 1891 and again in 1911 under the Greater Birmingham scheme.
Birmingham was severely damaged in World War II. Subsequent rebuilding resulted in modernization, especially of the city center. Notable buildings include the town hall, built in 1834, modeled after the temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome; the 18th-century baroque-style Cathedral of St. Philip; and the 19th-century Cathedral of St. Chad, the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in England after the Reformation. Bull Ring, in the center of Birmingham, is the site of the city's oldest market. Also in the center of the city is the Univ. of Aston. The Univ. of Birmingham is in the suburb of Edgbaston, as is the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a Roman Catholic shrine that was formerly the parish house of John Henry Cardinal Newman. There is a museum and art gallery (noted for its pre-Raphaelite collection) and a museum of science and industry. Annual music festivals date from 1768, and Birmingham has a noted symphony orchestra and ballet company. The city library includes an excellent Shakespeare collection.
PronunciationMiddle-class speech in the city is RP or near-RP. The following points apply mainly to working-class speech: (1) It is non-rhotic and generally aitchless. (2) The vowel /a/ tends to be used in both bat and bath. The pronunciation of Edgbaston (the name of a better-off part of the city) is a class SHIBBOLETH: the a is short among the working class, who stress the first syllable (‘EDGE-biston’), and long in ‘posh’ usage, with stress on the second syllable (‘Edge-BAHston’). (3) There is a tendency towards /ʊ/ in both but and boot, although the /ʌ/ pronunciation in words such as but, cut, and shut is spreading. (4) Words such as course and force are sometimes realized with a triphthong /ʌʊə/, especially among older speakers. (5) The monophthong /ɪ/ is close, so that it often sounds like eat and did like deed. (6) The -y ending of words such as happy is often pronounced /əi/ or /ʌi/. (7) The diphthongs in gate and goat tend to vary as between /aɪ∼ʌɪ/ and /aʊ∼ʌʊ/ rather than the /eɪ/ and /əʊ/ of RP. (8) The diphthong of house and mouth is /æʊ/. (9) The diphthongs in tie and toy have merged in /Dɪ/, producing homophones and uncertainty in such sentences as Where's your tie/toy? (10) Words and syllables ending in -ng tend to close with a voiced velar plosive: for example, /sɪŋgɪgŋg/ for singing and /kɪŋglʊɪ/ for kingly. This feature has been criticized so often that many Birmingham speakers tend to overcompensate in the attempt to avoid it, using /ŋ/ where /ŋg/ is standard, as in /fɪŋə/for finger.
Grammar and vocabularyEspecially among older speakers, the following grammatical features occur: up instead of to, as in He went up the pub half an hour ago and We'll go up town tomorrow; use of her instead of she, as in What's 'er doing then?; use of as as a relative pronoun, as in It wasn't 'im as went; use of /dai/ for did not, especially with know, as in They dai know where they was. Most people use the standard vocabulary, but older speakers may continue to use such words as brewins an outhouse, closet a toilet, miskin BrE dustbin, AmE trashcan, and suff a drain.
J. A. Cannon