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John Chalmers wrote:

> I grew up in Nebraska and as near as I can tell, I pronounce Mary, merry,
and
> marry identically. In fact, they rhyme with Perry, perry, ferry, fairy,
airy,
> Larry, Harry, hairy, Keri, Kerrey, Kerry, carry, berry, and very.

Change Nebraska to South Dakota, and that's exactly my history too.

Speaking of "yeah"-- that was more like [ja:] (German and Scandihoovian
influence probably), and severely criticized by teachers.  We probably saw
"yeah" in comic books but thought it was just our "yah".  I know I didn't
hear the [jŠ ~ jE@] pronunciation till I went East, where it seems to
connote a little scorn-- yeah, sure....Oh yeah?.

>However, I spent some time in New England
> in the 50's and people there did distinguish Mary, merry and marry.

Likewise.  I think the distinction is best maintained in the east and the
south.  An aging Southern Belle of my acquaintance in FLA definitely has
['me_irI] 'Mary', but I'm not sure she distinguishes merry and
marry.........