marry merry Mary

A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends referred to this song, Maria by the Doug Anthony Allstars. To avoid spoilers, watch and listen before continuing.The lyrics are:

I love, a girl called Maria,
Her name is Maria
They call her Mari, Mari
Mari, Mari, Maria.
She loves a guy who’s a maori
A New Zealand maori
Yes, he’s a maori, maori
Maori, maori, maori
They sailed
A kayak down the Murray
A kayak down the Murray
Down the Murray
Murray, Murray, Murray.
They docked
at the marina
at the marina
mari, mari, mari,
mari, mari, marina
They love pasta marinara
Pasta marinara
They love their mari
Mari, mari, marinara.
They skipped
Through a field of marigolds
A field of marigolds
A field of mari,
Mari, mari, marigolds
They said
One day they would marry
One day they would marry
Yes they’d marry,
Marry, marry, marry, marry.
Sadly they DIED this afternoon
CHA-CHA-CHA!

The linguistically interesting thing here is the list of words Maria, Maori, Murray, marina, marinara, marigolds and marry. We can add Mary, merry and Marie. For me, in usual speech, Maria, marina and Marie have /a/ when I’m speaking carefully and /ə/ when I’m not; marinara, marigolds and marry have /æ/; Maori has /aʊ/; Murray has /ʌ/; Mary has /ɛə/ and merry has /ɛ/. The Allstars, being Australian, have a similar pronunciation; my ear is not attuned enough to discern the details. They also complicate the situation by extracting the m_r_ syllables and repeating them, which is likely to change anyone’s pronunciation of them.

Some parts of the English-speaking world have a ‘marry-merry-Mary merger’, so that those words are pronounced the same (to rhyme with ‘fairy’). Other parts have a ‘merry-Mary merger’, so that those two words are pronounced the same (to rhyme with ‘fairy’), but marry is pronounced with /æ/. Context may help, but “I’m going to marry Carrie” and “I’m going to marry Kerry” are two completely different outcomes, and a lifetime of happiness or misery may depend on which you mean.

When I first moved to Korea, my next-door neighbour introduced herself as (what sounded like) Murray. I quickly realised that she meant Marie.

PS ‘the Murray’ is the Murray River (also known as the River Murray), Australia’s longest river. One does not (or two do not) ‘sail’ a kayak, but the Allstars needed one syllable here.

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5 thoughts on “marry merry Mary

  1. Two comments, which don’t make much difference to anything:
    I pronounce Maori as /’moʊrɪ/ rather than /’maʊɹi:/ (“moe-dy” rather than “mau-ree”), after being corrected a few too many times by a Maori-speaker at uni!
    Also, did you know that it’s only the River Murray in SA, where we decided at some point to follow the English convention rather than the American one, like the rest of the country did?

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    • Sometimes I cut long(er) posts short(er). Yes, I was aware of both of those things, and even checked with Wikipedia. It is true that ‘*For me*, Maori has /aʊ/’ and I decided on Murray River first because it arises in Vic and flows longer in (officially) NSW than it does in SA. I also lived longer in Vic.

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  2. I’ve been humming that song since you posted it at Strong Language: it has a very catchy melody as well as being cleverly put together.
    The first time I heard about the mary-marry-merry merger I was surprised – but I suspect the surprise is bigger in the other direction.

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  3. Pingback: ‘What is socka?’ | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  4. Pingback: homophones: flair/flare and role/roll | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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