While a college freshman, I assumed one of my classmates to be from Minnesota or Wisconsin (my accent-dar was unsophisticated back then). She hailed from Scranton, Pennsylvania, however, a city a mere two hours from New York City. You might forgive my error after listening to former Scranton police chief Dan Duffy:
If the Great Lakes-ish sound of Scrantonians puzzles you, remember that The Electric City is only two hours from Syracuse. Even so, this is a remarkable testament to how rapidly accents change on the Eastern Seaboard–a town less than a hundred miles from both New York and Philadelphia is closer, speech-wise, to Chicago than those Northeastern megalopoles.
Scranton is also in the “highlands,” so to speak, where I find speech patterns to be especially diverse (there is more geography to impede the transmission of accent features). This seems especially true in the mountains of Northeastern PA.
For example, Scranton is only about 30 miles from Hazleton (as the crow flies), yet having spent time with Hazleton natives, I find the two accents quite distinguishable. For instance, whereas in Scranton the vowel in “lot” seems to be fairly central and unrounded (i.e. a), this same vowel is back and occasionally rounded in Hazleton (cardinal ɑ or ɒ). Listen to words like “common,” “stop” and “top” in this interview with Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta to get a sense of the difference*:
Bordering most major regions east of the Mississippi, PA exhibits lots of linguistic variation. But it’s still remarkable that one state encompasses an accent often mistaken for Brooklynese (South Philly), accents similar to the Great Lakes (Northern PA), accents that verge on inland Southern (Southwestern/Central PA), and at least one accent that resembles little else in the English-speaking world (Pittsburgh). It’s ironic that the state with arguably more dialect areas than any other has so few regionalisms recognizable to the rest of America.
*This is clearly inconsistent, though. Hazleton seems to be on a kind of border between the back, rounded vowel typical in Central/Western mountain towns like Altoona and the advanced, unrounded vowel more common East of the Alleghenies.