You wake up one morning and start speaking with an accent you have never heard before! You’ll probably be in for a big shock, right! Defined as “foreign accent syndrome”, this disorder is a rare language disorder worldwide. It’s usually the result of a stroke or traumatic brain injury. People with this syndrome can easily speak the language of a country they have never been to, with an accent. We’ve listed everything you need to know about this rare neurological syndrome for you.
What is foreign accent syndrome?
Foreign accent syndrome is explained as the individual speaking his/her mother tongue with a foreign accent. People with foreign accent syndrome often have brain damage or a neurological condition. People with foreign accent syndrome do not imitate the accent they speak. However, the changes in their speech appear to be quite consistent. People suffering from this disorder often do not switch between accents. They only speak certain accents. According to a report on 49 people with foreign accent syndrome, the results are quite interesting. It has been found that most people with the syndrome speak with a foreign accent between 2 months and 18 years.
So what are the symptoms of this syndrome? The first symptom of foreign accent syndrome is exemplified as speaking with an accent associated with a country where the person has never lived or a language they have never spoken. For example, a native English speaker who has never left the UK might start speaking English with a German accent. Most people who experience foreign accent syndrome also have symptoms of a psychological or neurological condition. People who experience this process may have a brain-damaging medical condition, such as schizophrenia or a mental illness, a recent brain injury, or dementia.
Foreign accent syndrome generally has two main causes: neurological conditions and mental health conditions. A person with foreign accent syndrome can seek treatment if he or someone he knows notices the change in his speech. However, in some extreme cases, foreign accent syndrome may occur secondary to another symptom. With this situation in mind, an unusual accent may appear in a person needing emergency psychiatric care. On the other hand, a person with a head injury can create a new speech pattern.
No special tests are required to diagnose foreign accent syndrome. To diagnose the syndrome, specialists use classical tests. Blood tests are done to detect infections and certain diseases, and MRI scans are done to look for lesions or damage to the brain. At the same time, the person’s medical history is listened to. Finally, procedures in depression and schizophrenia are applied.
Foreign accent syndrome is not as dangerous as it might be feared. Scans performed with this condition may warn of a tumor or lesion in the brain, dementia, or a serious medical condition. Therefore, the treatment performed by specialists will focus on clearly identifying the cause of the foreign accent syndrome. Specialists may prescribe medication for certain brain enlargements or conditions such as surgery. When there is a psychiatric cause, treatment, medication, or both may be recommended. Medications help keep symptoms under control. In most cases, experts recommend speech therapy to help the person with the syndrome regain their normal habits. Since the cause of foreign accent syndrome is not known exactly, speech therapy is considered an important treatment option in such cases.
Cases of the syndrome
We mentioned that foreign accent syndrome is very rare. According to a worldwide analysis conducted in 2018, the number of people with the disease is estimated to be below 80. For this reason, doctors usually share the results with the world after examining the cases that apply to the clinic with this symptom. Let’s take a look at some of the cases that have been published in the past. One of the first cases of this syndrome describes a Norwegian woman who was shot with shrapnel during the Second World War. The patient’s German accent, which he developed due to brain damage, caused people to exclude him.
Another case report from 2016 describes a woman whose accent changed after schizophrenia. The story of a 34-year-old African American woman is quite interesting. Although the American woman has never lived in England, she enters the emergency room with a British accent. It is learned that she faced enormous financial and emotional difficulties for months before arriving at the emergency room. This is one of the conditions that trigger the disease.
According to a 2018 case report, a 65-year-old Spanish-speaking woman with multiple sclerosis (MS) begins to speak Spanish with an English accent. MS destroys the myelin that covers nerves and impairs their ability to send signals. The syndrome manifests itself as a result of damage to the brain.
We conclude our list with another interesting case. An American English-speaking woman develops a foreign accent following dental surgery, according to a 2011 National Public Radio story. According to the story, this accent is described as an accent that looks like both Irish and English. The woman with the syndrome states that her accent improved as soon as she woke up from the surgery. Moreover, this change continues even after the swelling in his mouth has healed and he has survived the surgery. There are many stories of foreign accent syndrome around the world. However, they all have the same thing in common: When you wake up one morning, you start speaking with a completely different accent.
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