Dinkin (2013) 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 Shift and very little evidence of the low back merger, while Canton showed low back merger nearing completion and no NCS. This paper investigates the nature of this dialect boundary via new sociolinguistic interview data from neighboring communities. A total of eight communities are examined: 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 NCS raising of TRAP (though the data is spottier due to the NCS’s obsolescence). The geographical sharpness of this boundary suggests it is not due merely to socioeconomic differences between communities. It may be due to historical patterns of transportation: in the 19th 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.

You do not currently have access to this content.