Is it Marionberry or Marion Barry? Does your accent change the meaning?

On our recent trip to Portland, Oregon for the TESOL (Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages ) convention, we passed a local bakery. In the display case, Lynda noticed a label in front of a pastry for a marionberry scone. Unfamiliar with this berry, she asked Marjorie, "What is marionberry?" In jest, Marjorie said, "Perhaps it is named after the former disgraced mayor of Washington, D.C."Ten minutes later, Lynda went to purchase coffee, and saw yet another marionberry scone displayed at a coffee shop. As Lynda chatted to an ESOL teacher from Idaho, she asked the same question. He also chuckled, "I don't know. Do you think it could be named after the Washington, D.C. major?"

Why did they both choose to respond in the same manner?


 What is the difference between marionberry and Marion Barry?  

It's all in the stress (and even pronunciation of the vowels!). This can be the key when learning to modify or reduce a foreign accent. It clearly affects our ability to understand each other. 

marion barry
marion barry

After reading the label, Lynda accurately assumed it was a compound noun and stressed the first word... MARIONberry. Since the others didn't see the word, they were able to play with the stress pattern to pronounce it as a proper noun and make an amusing comment...... Marion BARRY.

The moral to this story is.....the way we stress compound nouns vs. proper nouns can completely change the meaning and add humor or sarcasm. We also pronounce vowels differently in various parts of the United States.

To learn more about this pronunciation rule, check out these videos.

To learn more about this Oregon "blackberry," click here.

Check out our other RULES and products to master the American English Accent at