Wells states that the foot-strut split is one of the biggest characteristics setting northern and southern dialects apart, with speakers from the North more likely to rhyme these words compared with speakers from the South who have picked up a split and now pronounce words like strut and cut with a different vowel: /ʌ/ instead of /ʊ/ (1982: 351). Wells puts the boundary between foot-strut rhymers and non-rhymers at an imaginary line running from “the Severn estuary in the West to the Wash in the East” (pg. 351), which puts towns such as Leicester, Worcester, and Birmingham in the non-rhyming half of the country.
As previous research has attested, there is a distinct split between the North and the South, with foot and cut rhyming for 82% of northern speakers, 48% of speakers in the Midlands, and just 6% of southern speakers. Speakers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales also tend not to rhyme the two words.
Contrary to Wells’ reports, however, we find a considerable number of speakers north of the imaginary line from the Severn to the Wash who report that the words foot and cut do not rhyme. Of our 44 respondents with a WR (Worcester) postcode, for instance, only 17% report a rhyme. Birmingham is particularly heterogeneous, with a 36%-64% rhyme-don’t rhyme split. This finding, that the foot-strut split may have moved further north, has received considerable media attention.