Foreign accent syndrome

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Foreign accent syndrome
Classification and external resources

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical condition in which patients develop what appears to be a foreign accent.[1]

Foreign accent syndrome usually results from a stroke,[1] but can also develop from head trauma,[1] migraines[2] or developmental problems.[3] The condition was first reported in 1907,[4] and between 1941 and 2009 there were sixty-two recorded cases.[3]

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 foreign accent syndrome 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 has gained the ability to speak fluent German after emergence from a coma,[5] there has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury. There have been a few reported cases of children and siblings picking up the new accent from someone with foreign accent syndrome.[6]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

To the untrained ear, those with the syndrome sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent; for example, an American native speaker of English might sound as though he spoke with a south-eastern English accent, or a native English speaker might speak with a New York American accent. However, researchers at Oxford University have found that certain, specific parts of the brain were injured in some 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 speech patterns to be distorted in a non-specific manner.[citation needed] 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.[7] More recently, there is mounting evidence that the cerebellum, which controls motor function, may be crucially involved in some cases of foreign accent syndrome, reinforcing the notion that speech pattern alteration is mechanical, and thus non-specific.[8][9]

The perception of a foreign accent is likely to be a case of pareidolia on the part of the listener. Nick Miller, Professor of Motor Speech Disorders at Newcastle University has explained: "The notion that sufferers speak in a foreign language is something that 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."[10]


Since this syndrome is very rare, it takes several specialists to evaluate the syndrome and diagnose it, such as speech-language pathologists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, and psychologists.[11] Psychological evaluations may be performed in order to rule out any psychiatric condition that may be causing the change in speech, as well as tests to assess reading, writing, and language comprehension.[11] One of the symptoms of this syndrome is that the patient moves their tongue or jaw differently while speaking which creates a different sound, so a recording is done of the speech pattern in order to analyze it. In addition to these psychological tests, images of the brain are taken with either MRI, CT, SPECT or PET scans.[11] This is in order to see if any damage has been done to the areas of the brain that control rhythm and melody of speech. Brain activity is also measured with an EEG in order to evaluate the activity of these parts of the brain during speech.[11]


The condition was first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie,[4] and another early case was reported in a Czech study in 1919.[12] Other well-known cases of the syndrome have included one that occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman, Astrid L., 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.[13][14]

Society and culture[edit]

Cases of foreign accent syndrome often receive significant media coverage, and cases have been reported in the popular media as the resulting from various causes including stroke,[15][16][17][18][19] allergic reaction,[20] physical injury,[19][21][22] and migraine.[23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] A woman with foreign accent syndrome was featured on both Inside Edition and Discovery Health Channel's Mystery ER[31] in October 2008, and in September 2013 the BBC published an hour-long documentary about Sarah Colwill, a woman from Devon, whose Chinese foreign accent syndrome resulted from a severe migraine.[32][33][34] In season 2 episode 12 of Hart of Dixie, one storyline revolved around AnnaBeth and whom she fancied, a man with foreign accent syndrome, named Oliver.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kurowski KM, Blumstein SE, Alexander M. (1996). "The foreign accent syndrome: a reconsideration," Brain Lang., 54(1), 1–25.
  2. ^ "Severe migraines give Devon woman a bizarre Chinese accent at". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Mariën, P.; Verhoeven, J.; Wackenier, P.; Engelborghs, S.; De Deyn, P. P. (2009). "Foreign accent syndrome as a developmental motor speech disorder". Cortex 45 (7): 870–878. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2008.10.010. PMID 19121521. 
  4. ^ a b Marie P. (1907). Presentation de malades atteints d’anarthrie par lesion de l’hemisphere gauche du cerveau. Bulletins et Memoires Societe Medicale des Hopitaux de Paris, 1: 158–160.
  5. ^ "Croatian teenager wakes from coma speaking fluent German". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). 12 April 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 
  6. ^ "Foreign Accent Syndrome: What Is It? And Most Notable Cases". Healthmango. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Miller, Nick; Jill Taylor; Chloe Howe; Jennifer Read (September 2011). "Living with foreign accent syndrome: Insider perspectives". Aphasiology 25 (9): 1053–1068. doi:10.1080/02687038.2011.573857. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Mariën P., Verhoeven J., Engelborghs, S., Rooker, S., Pickut, B. A., De Deyn, P.P. (2006). A role for the cerebellum in motor speech planning: evidence from foreign accent syndrome. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 108, 518-522.
  9. ^ Mariën P., Verhoeven J. (2007). Cerebellar involvement in motor speech planning: some further evidence from foreign accent syndrome. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 59:4, 210-217.
  10. ^ "Unusual illnesses: Curiouser and curiouser". The Independent. 21 September 2010. Retrieved 2 June 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d Lukas, Rimas (March 2014). "Foreign Accent Syndrome". EBSCO Publishing. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Pick, A. 1919. Über Änderungen des Sprachcharakters als Begleiterscheinung aphasicher Störungen. Zeitschrift für gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 45, 230–241.
  13. ^ Monrad-Krohn, G. H. "Dysprosody or Altered 'Melody of Language'." Brain 70 (1947): 405-15.
  14. ^ "Foreign Accent Syndrome Support". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Naidoo, Raveeni (1 July 2008). "A Case of Foreign Accent Syndrome Resulting in Regional Dialect". the Canadian Journal of Neurological Science. Retrieved 3 July 2008. 
  16. ^ "Ontario woman gains East Coast accent following stroke". CBC News. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2008. 
  17. ^ Bunyan, Nigel (4 July 2006). "Geordie wakes after stroke with new accent". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group Limited). Retrieved 20 December 2007. 
  18. ^ Lewis, Angie; Guin, Karen. "Communicative Disorders Clinic Diagnoses Rare Foreign Accent Syndrome in Sarasota Woman". University of Central Florida-College of Health and Public Affairs. Retrieved 29 December 2007. 
  19. ^ a b "Experience: I woke up with a Russian accent". The Guardian (London). 
  20. ^ "Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) Support". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  21. ^ Schocker, Laura (5 June 2011). "Woman Gets Oral Surgery, Wakes Up With Irish Accent". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  22. ^ "Woman Gets New Accent After Dentist Visit". 6 May 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  23. ^ "Health Sentinel: Connecting symptoms finally leads to disorder diagnosis". The News-Sentinel. 6 December 2010. 
  24. ^ "Migraine left woman with Chinese accent". The Sunday Times. 20 April 2010. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  25. ^ "Severe Migraine Leaves English Woman with Chinese Accent". Fox News. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  26. ^ "Plymouth woman 'woke up sounding Chinese'". BBC News. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  27. ^ Morris, Steven (14 September 2010). "Woman's migraine gave her French accent". The Guardian (London). 
  28. ^ "Migraine gives woman French accent". The Independent (London). 14 September 2010. 
  29. ^ "Grandmother goes to bed with migraine... and wakes up speaking with a French accent". The Daily Mail (London). 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  30. ^ "Coping with Foreign Accent Syndrome". BBC News. 13 September 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  31. ^ "Woman's Accent Foreign Even to Her". The Seattle Times. 27 October 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  32. ^ "BBC One – The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese". 3 September 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  33. ^ "Sarah Colwill, British Woman, 'Woke Up Chinese' After Suffering Severe Migraine In Hospital [VIDEO]". 7 March 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  34. ^ Thomas, Emily (4 September 2013). "Sarah Colwill Speaks Out About Foreign Accent Syndrome In BBC Documentary 'The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dankovičová J, Gurd JM, Marshall JC, MacMahon MKC, Stuart-Smith J, Coleman JS, Slater A. Aspects of non-native pronunciation in a case of altered accent following stroke (foreign accent syndrome). Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 2001;15:195-218.
  • Gurd, J. M.; Bessell, N. J.; Bladon, R. A.; Bamford, J. M. (1988). "A case of foreign accent syndrome, with follow-up clinical, neuropsychological and phonetic descriptions". Neuropsychologia 26 (2): 237–251. doi:10.1016/0028-3932(88)90077-2. PMID 3399041. 
  • Gurd, J. M.; Coleman, J. S.; Costello, A.; Marshall, J. C. (2001). "Organic or functional? A new case of foreign accent syndrome". Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior 37 (5): 715–718. doi:10.1016/s0010-9452(08)70622-1. PMID 11804223. 
  • Ryalls, Jack; Miller, Nick (2015). Foreign accent syndromes. London: Psychology Press. ISBN 978-1-84872-153-1. 

External links[edit]