In 2013, Dinkin reported an unexpectedly sharp dialect boundary in northern New York between the communities of Ogdensburg and Canton in St. Lawrence County: Ogdensburg exhibited the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCS) and very little evidence of the low back merger, while Canton showed low back merger nearing completion and no NCS. This article investigates the nature of this dialect boundary via new sociolinguistic interview data from eight neighboring communities: four along the St. Lawrence River and four 25 miles south of it. An east-west division is observed in merger incidence: the four communities to the west, including Ogdensburg, show relatively robust lot-thought distinction, though apparent-time trends toward merger exist; east of Ogdensburg, the merger is much more advanced. A similar sharp boundary may hold for the NCS raising of trap (though the data are spottier due to the NCS’s obsolescence). The geographical sharpness of this boundary suggests that it is not due merely to socioeconomic differences between communities. It may be due to historical patterns of transportation: in the nineteenth century, Ogdensburg was the easternmost navigable point of the upper St. Lawrence River, meaning communities east of Ogdensburg were not directly accessible to the Great Lakes shipping network.

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