Foreign accent syndromes makes speakers bumble over their native languages

Foreign accent syndromes makes speakers bumble over their native languages

The other day NPR ran an odd story.  An American woman from Oregon, where accents are as flat, went into the dentist for a routine procedure.  They put her under general anesthetic and she came out of the procedure in good health.  One thing had changed, however. She now spoke and speaks with an Irish accent. 


This woman’s case was not an isolated occurrence.  In fact, sixty such cases have been recorded since 1941.  She has what is called Foreign accent syndrome, a medical condition that causes patients to speak with an accent unlike their native accent, such as a German woman suddenly speaking her native German with an Australian accent.  The disease, like in the case of the NPR woman who suffered a mild stroke, is usually caused by brain injuries, like strokes or head trauma.


Patients afflicted with Foreign accent syndrome don’t actually adopt the true speech patterns of other nationalities.  Instead, the accent sounds convincingly “foreign” to speakers of the patient’s original language, but would sound off to those who actually spoke the patient’s new language.


Patients' speech is still understood by all listeners, but common mistakes occur in all cases.These mistakes include equal and excess stresses on incorrect syllables, consonant deletion or distortion and difficulty pronouncing consonant clusters. Some patients can no longer pronouncetheir native language properly, as if they were non-native speakers themselves.  


In some cases, those afflicted with Foreign accent syndrome simply distort syllables, following no specific accent recorded anywhere in the world.  Parts of the brain hypothesized to create Foreign accent syndrome include those that control linguistic functions, as well as the cerebellum which controls mechanical functions.  Although it has not been proven, doctors think that speech patterns may be mechanical in nature, thereby affected by brain injury to the cerebellum.


Foreign accent syndrome was first discovered in 1907 by Pierre Marie, a French neurologist.  A famous example was the case of Astrid L., a Norwegian woman, who, after shrapnel caused her a head injury during an air-raid in 1941, gained a German accent and was ostracized by her countrymen.


More recent cases include that of Jerry Connor, of Asheville, North Carolina, who, in 2001, suffered a stroke and woke up with a proper British accent. In 2006, an Australian man abused diazepam and suffered a stroke.  When he came to, he had a mixture of Irish and American accents, often switching between the two in mid-sentence.

[endif]--> Some researchers think that adoption of a native language could also be part of the Foreign accent syndrome.  One possible example occurred in 2007 when Rajesh, a boy who lived in remote India, started speaking in English, although he had never been out of his hometown.  Few associated his condition with Foreign accent syndrome, but many of his symptoms were consistent with the syndrome. 


Currently, there is no cure to Foreign accent syndrome.