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In Britain (or perhaps just Scotland) the names "Sara" and "Sarah" are pronounced different.

  • Sara: Sah-rah ("a" as in "bat")
  • Sarah: Se-rah ("a" as in "air")

In the US and Canada, Sarah and Sara are both pronounced like "Sarah".

In addition, there are other examples which are pronounced the same in North America (NA).

  • Marry is pronounced like Mary and Merry ("a" as in "air")
  • Harry like Hairy
  • Barry like Berry
  • Carry like Jim Carrey

Question: Is there truly no distinction between the two pronunciations of Sarah/Sara in NA?

How did English lose its open "a" sound when tied with an "r"?

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Interestingly, New Englanders seem to pronounce both versions as Sah-rah. –  mmyers Sep 8 '10 at 19:46
    
@mmyers. Interesting. I noticed in North America that there seems to be a simplification of English pronunciation in cases. I'm going to go look up "Aluminium" now. –  Armstrongest Sep 14 '10 at 16:18
    
"bat" to me has the same a as "air". From what I can tell, "dahli llama" is the a sound you're talking about? (do I get points for putting an 'h' after the 'a' in my example? :D) –  tenfour Feb 24 '11 at 13:34
    
Funny, I don't follow any of your pronunciations. "Sara" and "Sarah" are pronounced the same; yet "marry", "Mary", and "merry" are all completely distinct; as are "Harry" and "hairy", and "Barry" and "berry". Strange... –  Itai Ferber Feb 24 '11 at 15:03
    
In North America, yes they're pronounced the same. However, in UK... or perhaps Scotland, Sara is pronounced with both "A" sounds being identical... with Sarah having different sounds for the first and last a. –  Armstrongest Feb 25 '11 at 21:41
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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think this question is a little bit confused. First of all, there is a phenomenon in some varieties of American English called the Mary-marry–merry merger, where all or some of the words Mary, marry, and merry are pronounced the same; that is, the vowels /e/, /æ/, and /ɛ/ are all merged before the sound /r/. In some varieties of American English, there is no merger, and all of the words merry, marry, and Mary are pronounced differently. In some other varieties, two of them are pronounced the same (which two depends on which variety). In other varieties, all three are merged and pronounced the same. There is a discussion of the merger and an associated map in The atlas of North American English, page 56.

As for the names spelled Sarah and Sara, as far as I know, in all dialects of American English, they are pronounced the same, regardless of whether Mary, marry, and merry are pronounced differently.

For reference, in my own speech, I pronounce them all the same (in the way that those who pronounce them differently say Mary), but I can produce the three-way distinction if necessary—usually only to demonstrate this phenomenon.

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Don't forget about the merry-Murray merger in some places: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  JoFrhwld Sep 8 '10 at 18:57
    
Good, well detailed answer. –  Armstrongest Sep 14 '10 at 16:19
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funny how i have a tendency to go "of course Mary and marry are the same, and merry is different. you'se all crazy!" but is just my accent –  Claudiu Oct 18 '10 at 19:24
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My two cents: As an Australian English speaker, I pronounce 'Sara' as I pronounce 'Tara' -- 'S-ah-ra'/'T-ah-ra' and 'Sarah' as 'S-air-a'.

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Cool! Good to know! –  Armstrongest Sep 14 '10 at 16:16
    
Me ditto. And I'm Irish/English. –  TRiG Jan 19 '11 at 14:37
    
I do too, by default (Southern England - so it's not just in Scotland :). But there are some "Saras" who prefer their name to be pronounced in the "Sarah" way, and possibly vice versa, so it's a good idea to ask if in doubt! –  psmears Mar 12 '11 at 7:49
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As a native speaker of American English, I have no distinction between the pronunciations of Sara/Sarah (unless a particular Sara/Sarah requests a different pronunciation for her own name, of course).

The open "a" as in "bat" would be signaled by two "r"s—Sarra or Sarrah I would assume to be pronounced Sah-rah. I've never seen that, though.

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Vowels in English are very blurred - particularly between different accents. To me (Scottish) Mary, marry and merry are three totally different vowels whereas I keep coming across things about how to pronounce things that make distinction between vowels I consider identical. Most of English would be totally comprehensible if all vowels were replaced with a generic vowel sound. I spent a while in Guernsey where most vowels became "awe".

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