University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


There is a conflict between "Herzog's principle" (Labov 1994) that phonological mergers tend to expand at the expense of distinctions and the description of the Inland North as a region that, as a result of the Northern Cities Shift (NCS), exhibits "stable resistance" to the low back /o/-/oh/ merger (Labov et al. 2006). This paper examines that question in a data set containing 146 speakers from in and near Upstate New York, including communities both with and without the NCS. It is found that in both NCS and non-NCS communities of Upstate New York, /o/ is backing in apparent time: speakers born after about 1960 have F2 of /o/ about 100 Hz backer than speakers born before 1960. This backing is not found in the portion of the Inland North outside Upstate New York. On the basis of this finding, it is argued that the Inland North's apparent resistance to the low back merger is an illusion, and the phonological relationship between /o/ and /oh/ in the Inland North is no different than in communities which are thought to be more open to the merger.