December 8, 2009

Foreign Accent Syndrome


Yes, that’s right. There is actually an explanation for the accent Madonna puts on from time to time. Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a speech disorder that results in the changes of a person’s speech pattern, intonation, and pronunciation. The usual cause of this is severe trauma to the brain, for example a stroke. However, the condition develops within one to two years of the injury.

Since the 1940’s there have only been about 60 documented cases of FAS. Unfortunately not very many of those suffering from FAS are able to regain their original accent. A woman from England suffered a stroke at the age of 60. When she recovered she had a Jamaican accent.

There are very interesting cases even before people were properly documenting the condition. A young Norwegian woman suffered a head injury during an air-raid in 1941. When she recovered she had developed a strong German accent. As you can imagine Germany wasn’t necessarily the most popular country in 1941, and the young woman was shunned by many of the members of the community. It’s very sad, but also very interesting to learn of the kind of devastating effects a person’s accent has on their life.

Unfortunately, scientists have not discovered exactly what causes the person’s accent to change. When they do, hopefully they will discover a way to also reverse the damage and restore the original accent. One can only hope.

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