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ᴍᴀʀʏ–ᴍᴀʀʀʏ–ᴍᴇʀʀʏ merger

From Teflpedia
(Redirected from Mary-marry-merry merger)

The ᴍᴀʀʏ–ᴍᴀʀʀʏ–ᴍᴇʀʀʏ merger is a phonological merger found in some English accents.

In most of the United States and Canada /eə/ is merged with /æ/ and with /e/. For 57% of American and Canadian speakers, Mary, merry and marry are homophones. In others marry is distinct (9%) and in others merry is distinct (16%).[1][2][3] Outside of North America (and also for 17% of Canadian and Americans) all three phonemes are distinct.[4]

Since there is no distinction between /e/ and /eə/ it can be said that in American English there is no phoneme /eə/, only /e/. However the diphtong [ɛə] is heard when a syllable ends with /r/, as in square [skwɛər]. Phoneticians say that /e/ followed by /r/ at the end of the syllable is realized as [ɛə]. In other words, broad notation is /er/ and narrow notation is [ɛər].

Most American dictionaries write marry as /ˈmæri/ because it’s easy to go from /ˈmæri/ to [mɛri], but it would be impossible to know if [ˈmɛri] stands for /ˈmæri/ or /ˈmeri/ in those places that make the difference (26% of North Americans). Merriam-Webster notation uses three symbols (narrow notation). \ɛ\ for dress, \e\ for scary, carry and cherry, and \eɚ\ for square.

marry Mary mare merry % Alternative name
/æ/ [æ] /eə/ [ɛə] /eə/ [ɛə] /e/ [ɛ] 17 Three-way contrast
/æ/ [æ] /e/ [ɛ] /e/ [ɛə] /e/ [ɛ]  9 ᴍᴀʀʏ–ᴍᴇʀʀʏ merger only
/eə/ [ɛə] /eə/ [ɛə] /eə/ [ɛə] /e/ [ɛ] 16 ᴍᴀʀʏ–ᴍᴀʀʀʏ merger only
/e/ [ɛ] /eə/ [ɛə] /eə/ [ɛə] /e/ [ɛ]  1 ᴍᴇʀʀʏ–ᴍᴀʀʀʏ merger only
/e/ [ɛ] /e/ [ɛ] /e/ [ɛə] /e/ [ɛ] 57 Three-way merger

Homophones or minimal pairs[edit | edit source]

The following words are homophones in some accents and minimal pairs in others

  • /eə, æ, e/: Mary - marry - merry;
  • /eə, æ/: hairy - Harry;
  • /eə, e/: airer - error; fairy - ferry; vary - very;
  • /æ, e/: Aaron - Erin; barrel - beryl; Barry - berry, bury; parish - perish;

References[edit | edit source]

  1. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Harvard Dialect Survey (2003), Dialect Survey Results. 15. How do you pronounce Mary/merry/marry?
  2. Wikipedia, Mary-marry-merry merger.
  3., 123: A Merry, Marry, Mary Christmas, December 23, 2010.
  4. John Wells, merry Mary and hairy Harry, 28 December 2010.