Foreign Accent Syndrome: What Is It? And Most Notable Cases
All of us are born into a language, whether it be English, Chinese, German or another from around the world. The one we develop occurs because of early developmental skills and our parents’ language as well as origin.
Foreign Accent Syndrome is an incredibly rare medical problem, and only around 60 cases have been reported in around 60 years. It most commonly occurs as a result of a brain injury, usually of a severe kind, such as head trauma from an accident or a stroke. In only 2 cases, it has resulted from developmental issues and two cases where women from UK, and the reason was severe migraine.
Because of the name, many people think that Foreign Accent Syndrome means that the person suddenly develops a new language in which they are fluent, which is not the case at all. What happens is the person will still speak in the language they have always spoken but with an accent that they perhaps never had before. These people often can speak other foreign languages but they will use their “new” accent – which may seem strange to someone listening to them. People who develop Foreign Accent Syndrome may impress a young child around them with their accent unintentionally, so that the child begins to speak with that accent too, as a learned response.
People who have Foreign Accent Syndrome can sound like they are speaking a totally different language. For instance an American who spoke a variation of an American accent, will still speak in English as they did before but rather than sounding American as they did, they may now speak with a northern England accent - which can make the language sound quite bizarre. On the other hand a British person from London may begin to speak with a Texan accent.
Notable Cases Of Foreign Accent Syndrome:
Neurologist Pierre Marie was the first person to be able to describe Foreign Accent Syndrome in 1907, followed not long after by one of the first ever cases in a Czech study, 1919.
One of the most well-known cases of this syndrome was in 1941 in Norway when Astrid L, a young woman, was injured in an air raid and suffered a head injury from the resulting shrapnel. She appeared to have recovered from the injuries she suffered but later on she developed a really strong German accent, and her natives in Norway shunned her.
In 1999, Judi Roberts or Tiffany Noel as she was otherwise known as, who was a native American born in Indiana and subsequently spent her life there, suffered a stroke. She spent a period of time in recovery and it was during this time that the people closest to her noticed that she was speaking with a British accent, even though she had never been to the UK in all of her 57 years.
The first case of dual foreign accent syndrome was reported in January 2006 when a man, who is thought to be Australian, was on holiday in Thailand, where he had a stroke. This was a result of reported diazepam abuse. When he woke up his friends were with him and noticed that he spoke with an English and Irish accent, often switching between the two in mid sentence.
Following this case the media began to get interested in this syndrome and found Linda Walker, from Newcastle and who was 60 at the time in 2006. Like many of the cases she had a stroke, and when she woke up she had multiple accents, and not one of them was Geordie, one that she had before the stroke. Her “new” accents included Jamaican, French Canadian, Slovak, and Italian. She became well-known as a result of her appearances on BBC News 24 and Richard & Judy, where she spoke about what had happened to her.
Perhaps one of the more strangest cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome was reported in 2008, when Cindy Lou Romberg, who was from Washington, suddenly developed a Russian accent after visiting her chiropractor for some neck work. She went to the hospital but they ruled out the possibility of a stroke but 17 years previously she did suffer a brain injury and it is thought that even after all those years the syndrome can still develop because of damaged parts in the brain. Again she was popular with the media and appeared on Discovery’s Mystery ER.
The first case resulting from a migraine or headache was reported in 2010 from Devon, UK. Sarah Colwill who frequently suffered with migraines had a particularly bad headache one day that would not disappear, and it got so bad that she had to call an ambulance. When she woke up in hospital later she spoke with a Chinese accent. This case was widely reported, especially in the UK press.
Not long after the previous case, another woman from the UK, who also frequently suffered from migraines, had a bad headache and went to lie down for a while. When she woke up, her accent was French.
As you can probably tell just by reading this, Foreign Accent Syndrome can be quite a scary thing to happen. Though the people above have suffered a stroke, trauma or migraines, I wonder whether it is possible where a person just goes to sleep and wakes up and speaks a different accent, without suffering trauma. It is quite a scary though and I imagine it is quite a distressing thing to happen to someone.