Foreign accent syndrome

From Academic Kids

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical condition that usually follows a severe brain injury, such as a stroke.

The syndrome causes people to speak their native language as if they had a foreign accent; for example, an American native speaker might speak with a French-sounding accent. However, researchers at Oxford University have found that certain, specific parts of the brain were injured in most (or all) foreign accent syndrome cases, indicating that certain parts of the brain control various linguistic functions, and damage could result in altered pitch or mispronounced syllables, causing the speech to sound accented.

The first documented case of foreign accent syndrome occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman suffered a head injury during an air-raid. After apparently recovering from the injury she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was shunned by her fellow Norwegians.

Usually, it is very traumatic for stroke patients to find that their accent has unexpectedly changed, usually adding insult to the previous, severe brain injury. Furthermore, many physicians have dismissed foreign accent syndrome, calling it psychological. Dr. Jennifer Gurd and Dr. John Coleman, the latter a phonetician, have studied patients of this condition, and have found that the great majority are severely traumatized. However, Coleman believes that in time, patients may improve, regaining their former speaking abilities.

References

  • Gurd JM, Bessell NJ, Bladon RA, Bamford JM. A case of foreign accent syndrome, with follow-up clinical, neuropsychological and phonetic descriptions. Neuropsychologia 1988;26:237-51. PMID 3399041
  • Gurd JM, Coleman JS, Costello A, Marshall JC. Organic or functional? A new case of foreign accent syndrome. Cortex 2001;37:715-8. PMID 11804223

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