Friday, 4 October 2013

Hairy Potter

So, one of the comments to come out of the English/American differences is this.

Americans call him Hairy Potter.

Linguists are aware of this phenomenon, it's called the Mary/merry/marry merger.

Remember there are many different accents that the English language is spoken in. None of them are right or wrong, they are just yours. It's not actually wrong to have this merger in your accent.

The interesting thing is that many who do, can't HEAR the difference when those who don't merge them, say these words.

First, you need to decide whether in your own accent these words:


Sound alike or different.

To most people in England, these three words all sound different. In other parts of the world they all sound the same, EXACTLY the same. To some people two of them sound the same, but the other one is different. And to others, they are different but very similar. Which are you?

Let's concentrate then on Mary and marry. It should follow (but this is language so there are no guarantees) that if Mary and marry sound the same to you, then hairy and Harry will sound the same. Consider that one for a moment.

Mary is a girl's name, marry is something you do at a wedding.

Harry is a boy's name, hairy refers to his hirsuteness.

The meanings are different. But there are many words with different meaning and the same sound. These are called homophones. So what we are asking is, is Harry a homophone to hairy, for you?

If so it's not wrong, it's just a feature of your accent. To those who pronounce the words differently, it's also FUNNY. We're not making fun of your accent, we're making fun of the situation.

That aside, when we have discussed this before (and we have, several times) I've been asked by those for whom it is a homophone "Well, how else can you say it?".

It's not easy to explain.

I've even posted clips of people saying it, but they can't hear the distinction. In any case, everyone has seen the movies and heard it said HUNDREDS of time, one more audio clip from me isn't going to make any difference.

So, I'm going to try a different approach, where you FEEL how you say it. Don't do this until you are alone or they may have you certified.

Right. Sit comfortably.

Shape your mouth as if you are about to say O, and keep it that way.

Without changing that, say "HAT".

Bit awkward, but you managed, right?

Now say "Harry".

It is physically impossible to make it sound like "hairy" with the mouth in that round position.

I learned this from a deaf friend who reads lips. They can tell an English speaker from an American speaker instantly from the shape of the lips. Americans almost smile when they say "Harry", so it comes out differently.

I'm not saying for one moment that you are expected to pull faces when saying the name Harry. This was just to show you that, yes, there IS another way to do it.

All clear now?

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