Has your friend suddenly picked up a foreign accent for no apparent reason? Is it intentional, or is it foreign accent syndrome? Yes! There is a rare disorder that makes people talk in a non-native accent.
A foreign accent syndrome is an uncommon medical condition that was first noted in the early 20th century. In 1941, a Norwegian woman developed a German accent shortly after recovering from a brain injury. Till now there have been a few recorded cases, however, it is prevalent mildly in some and has mostly been unidentified because it is generally misconstrued as people putting on a fake accent to up the ante. This is true because there are those who do it deliberately!
But this syndrome develops abruptly in its patients and they begin speaking their own native language in an outlandish accent. They may or may not have been exposed to this newly developed accent in the past. This syndrome is most likely developed in individuals who have suffered a brain injury on the left side of the head. They are often bewildered themselves with the new dialectical development. This rare syndrome affects less than 0.001% of aphasia victims.
However, it is only the accent that is developed, the person’s knowledge of the foreign language is not improved. Such a syndrome has affected people from all parts of the world who have developed diverse accents. However, the person does not really develop a geographical dialect. In most cases, the developed accent may be a mixture of two or more languages like British, Irish, German, Korean, French and others.
Due to damage to certain parts of the brain responsible for linguistic control, there may be distortion in the speech patterns of the person who has undergone a neurological problem and the difference in the speech thereafter is perceived as the listener to be foreign, thus, resonating it to a specific exotic accent. So, if a person has developed a foreign accent, it is not necessary that they imbibe all the features of the accent and many may be missing from the speech while a lot may be significantly prominent.
Foreign Accent Syndrome Overview
- Trauma to the skull from an accident
- Multiple sclerosis
- Blood clot or decreased blood supply to certain parts of the brain
- Aphasia, a linguistic disorder, that affects 20% victims of stroke
- Severe migraine
- Different movement and synchronization of tongue and jaw to speak
- Exaggerated stress on either consonants or vowels
- Significant difference in previous and present speech patterns
- Psychiatric evaluation
- Speech Analysis
- Conducting EEG (Electroencephalogram) test to record brain activity while speaking
You will require the aid of a radiologist, neurologist, psychologist and speech language pathologist.
- Speech therapy
- Counseling may be required if the person becomes too conscious about their accent and avoids talking
Common Examples of Foreign Accent Syndrome
Case 1: Pronunciation of the letter ‘R’
Rho-tic speakers have a strong pronunciation of the letter and lay much stress on it while speaking. On the other hand, non rho-tic speakers have a very subtle pronunciation of the same and do not emphasize on ‘R’ unless followed by a consonant. Thus, Rho-tic speakers suffering from the accent syndrome start pronouncing the alphabet in a non-rho-tic accent and vice-versa.
Case 2: Pronunciation of consonants
A sufferer may emphasize excessively on consonants or may wholly delete or substitute them while talking like substituting the alphabet ‘W’ with ‘V’. It may be replaced by prolonged emphasis on vowels instead with sounds like ‘uhh’, ‘ah’ or ‘sss’ in between words.
A person who has suffered a stroke may likely suffer from dysarthria as well, a speech disorder that makes it difficult to control facial muscles while talking. This syndrome may be blamed on cerebellum, a part of the brain, which supports the theory that development and modification of speech patterns are mechanical. The synchronization of the tongue, jaw and voice pitch is absolutely involuntary. That makes it very difficult for the person to talk in their native accent again and, thus, they are unconsciously a lot more comfortable in speaking in the new-found accent.
So if you know someone who has developed a new accent do not tease them about it and make them feel different. Rather, be supportive. Although, having an exotic and multicultural accent doesn’t sound so depressing to me!