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Foreign Accent Syndrome: What Is Foreign Language Syndrome?

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Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

Growing up, I admired people with British and French accents because of how exotic they spoke. It appears that some people even pay to enroll for classes that teach how to pronounce words in different accents. It just might interest you to discover that you could wake up one morning with a Spanish accent and it’ll have people around you amazed.

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Imagine how much fun you will be having if it was possible for you to visit different countries of the world and speak with their accents without having to try too hard.” If wishes were horses” you may be tempted to say, but for some people, waking up with a new accent is no surprising thing.

There have been discoveries that some people develop a strange accent as a result of a medical condition known as the foreign accent syndrome.

What Is a Foreign Accent Syndrome?

foreign language syndromeDon’t be fooled by the cuteness of the name of this condition; it is nothing close to cute. Foreign accent syndrome also called pseudo accent syndrome, or unlearned foreign accent syndrome occurs as a result of something as dangerous as a stroke or brain injury.

The victims experience difficulty in putting words together, pronounce words differently, and also have a change in pitch and tone when they speak. Thus, the so-called foreign accents are not real accents of other nationalities but a speech distortion.  Because of the uncommonness of this condition, doctors might find it hard to diagnose or treat it because they do not know of it.

However, damage in the Broca’s area of the brain which affects the muscles responsible for producing speech is said to be connected to this condition. Victims usually have problems pronouncing vowels the way they used to. Vowels are different across languages, and that explains the difference in accents.

Stress patterns of words, intonation and rhythm are also affected. This Causes sufferers to pronounce words slowly or stress individual syllables equally. An estimated 100 people are believed to have suffered from this rare medical condition so far.

History of Foreign Accent Syndrome

It was on the news sometime in 2016 that a 45-year-old lady from Arizona woke up with an accent different from her native one, and in the space of two years, she had developed two additional accents. The case of this lady isn’t the first in history.

The first reported case of foreign accent syndrome was in 1907 when a French neurologist Pierre Marie discovered a patient who spoke French with an Alsatian accent after a stroke. Exactly twelve years after the first reported case. Another neurologist known as Arnold Pick stated the case of a patient who spoke his native Czech language with a polish accent after suffering a stroke.

One of the unusual situations that were also reported was from the World War 2. A 30year old Norwegian lady who was known as Astrid L. was a victim of an explosive shell injury that left her with an exposed brain and a splintered skull.

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However, she was treated, and her recovery was successful except for the German accent she developed as a result of the trauma even though Astrid had no German descent and had also never been to Germany. People around Astrid could not believe their ears, and even though she tried to explain that she had no link with the Germans, nobody gave her audience.

Eventually, she was ostracised, and she found it difficult to even make purchases from stores around her because they wouldn’t sell to her when they heard her accent. Another person who has attracted media attention as a result of the FAS is a Tasmanian lady known as Leanne Rowe. Leanne has lived about thirteen years with a French accent after she had a car crash and suffered brain damage.

Asides, brain damages and stoke, people who experience seizures can also suffer from the foreign accent syndrome. Apart from the difference in their accents, patients could show signs of other speech disorders.

Popular Causes of Foreign Accent Syndrome

Headaches are usually assumed to be minor illnesses, and often we might decide that a nap or rest is all it would take to cure it. Well, sleeping to get well from a headache is all it took to give 45years old Arizona lady an exotic British accent.

Also, surgery could cause a person to speak in a different accent. Lisa Alamia from Texas had jaw surgery in 2016 and woke up talking with a British accent. Her doctors pointed to the operation itself to be the cause of the foreign accent syndrome she was having.

Hitting your head hard on something or having an accident that affects the head can also cause a person to suffer from foreign accent syndrome.

Is It Possible for a Victim to Have Many Accents at the Same Time?

Research has shown that victims can be heard to speak in varying accents by different people. For instance, different people have varying opinions on the accent of an English woman who was initially believed to have developed only a French accent.

This could mean that listeners often feel there is a connection between their local accent and that of a victim of foreign accent syndrome once they are aware of the condition.

How Dangerous if Foreign Accent Syndrome?

Waking up with a foreign accent is not threatening in itself; it could, however, mean that there is an undiagnosed health condition that may be dangerous. Thus, once you notice a loved one speaking in a foreign accent all of a sudden, it is advised that you see a medical practitioner immediately.

Diagnosis

Because FAS is a rare condition, medical doctors require the assistance of other health professionals like a clinical psychologist, radiologists, speech-language pathologist, neurologists to accurately diagnose this condition.

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The first step to diagnosing the FAS is a series of thorough investigation into the victim’s medical and family history. A language assessment will also be carried out through various test methods. Also, psychoanalysis is essential to help eliminate to option of a mental condition hence the importance of a psychologist.

Treatment

The event responsible for triggering the foreign accent syndrome is what can be treated, that is if it isn’t as a result of surgery that went well. Speech therapy is the current way people attempt to cure the condition.

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