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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech patterns in which patients are perceived to speak with a “foreign” accent.
     FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Other causes have also been reported including multiple sclerosis and conversion disorder and in some cases no clear cause has been identified. 
     Speech may be altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived as sounding foreign. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered. 
     The condition was first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie and another early case was reported in a Czech study in 1919, conducted by German internist Alois Pick. Other well-known cases of the syndrome have included one that occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman suffered a head injury from shrapnel 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. 
     Its symptoms result from distorted articulatory planning and coordination processes and although popular news articles commonly attempt to identify the closest regional accent, speakers suffering from FAS acquire neither a specific foreign accent nor any additional fluency in a foreign language.  Despite an unconfirmed news report in 2010 that a Croatian speaker had gained the ability to speak fluent German after emergence from a coma, there has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury. 
     FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian. Some common speech changes associated with FAS include: 

Fairly predictable errors 
Unusual patterns of rhythm, including equal and excess stress, especially in multi-syllabic words 
Consonant substitution, deletion, or distortion 
Voicing errors (i.e. bike for pike) 
Trouble with consonant clusters 
Vowel distortions, prolongations, substitutions (i.e. “uh” inserted into words) 

     To the untrained ear, those with FAS sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent; for example, an American native might sound as though he spoke with a south-eastern English accent, or a native English speaker from Britain might speak with a New York American accent. 
     Researchers at Oxford University have found that certain specific parts of the brain were injured in some foreign accent syndrome cases, indicating that particular parts of the brain control various linguistic functions, and damage could result in altered pitch and/or mispronounced syllables, causing speech patterns to be distorted in a non-specific manner.
     Contrary to popular beliefs that individuals with FAS exhibit their accent without any effort, these individuals feel as if they are suffering from a speech disorder. There is mounting evidence that the cerebellum, which controls motor function, may be crucially involved in some cases of foreign accent syndrome.

     The perception of a foreign accent is likely to be a case of imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist on the part of the listener. Nick Miller, Professor of Motor Speech Disorders at Newcastle University explained, "...(it) is in the ear of the listener, rather than the mouth of the speaker. It is simply that the rhythm and pronunciation of speech has changed."
     British singer George Michael claimed that, after waking from a three-week long coma in 2012, he temporarily had a West Country accent.


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