Foreign Accent Syndrome
While at first blush foreign accent syndrome sounds like something that occurs when you spend an extensive time traveling abroad, it is actually a medical condition. The disorder is extremely rare, which is why it is even more difficult for those suffering from the syndrome. Documented cases have reported patients suffering from a neurological trauma speaking with what appears to be a foreign accent. The first documented case of the disorder occurred in Oslo during World War II: A 28-year-old woman suffering with an injury after a bomb fragment struck her awoke to find herself speaking with a German accent.
The Causes The speech disorder occurs in patients who have suffered a stroke or trauma to the brain. Multiple sclerosis or brain hemorrhage can also cause the condition to appear. The brain injury or trauma causes speech patterns to change, which causes patients to sound as though they are speaking with a foreign accent. The condition causes the patient to elongate vowels and place stress on different syllables of words. While this may not be the most devastating result of a brain injury, it can cause complications and problems for those afflicted. Family members and those close to the patient may find it difficult to understand why their loved one is speaking with an unrecognizable voice and accent.
The Language The particular accent a foreign accent syndrome is speaking appears to be in the ears of the beholder and is more a generic change in the way the vowels, consonants and rhythms of the patient’s speech form after the injury. In fact, the speech patterns may not be typical or normal for any language. To those listening to the speech, the language can appear as though it is the speaker’s native language spoken with an accent. The listener determines what the accent sounds like to him.
Prognosis The prognosis for the condition is uncertain. Treatment for those with foreign accent syndrome may be limited. While some report success with speech therapy, Sheila Blumstein, a Brown University professor, considers therapy a long shot for those suffering with the condition. The area of the brain that controls what is said is separate from the area that controls how it is said. Patients may benefit from counseling to cope with the disorder, which can cause embarrassment and isolation for some.