After Kay Russell had a severe migraine attack in January, friends noticed a difference in her right away. The Gloucestershire native began to speak with what sounded like a French accent instead of her native southwestern English lilt. She’s not alone.
Foreign accent syndrome (FAS), a rare but very real condition, can occur following a stroke or brain injury. Of course the perceived accent isn’t spot on: what Russell’s neighbors picked up as French has also been confused as Eastern European. This is because brain injury can reconfigure the way that people move their mouths, affecting vowel pronunciation in particular. FAS is actually classified as a speech disorder, a more extreme example on a spectrum of disorders that includes stuttering.
The FAS support and advocacy group, led by two speech-language pathologist says that FAS sufferers are easy to understand:
Speech may be altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived as sounding foreign. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered.
FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.
In other cases, a Newcastle, U.K. woman woke up with an alternately Jamaican and Slovakian accent following a stroke. A Michigan woman developed a Cockney English accent, though she was unaware of any medical event that could have cost it. And yet a third woman from England began to speak with a Chinese accent after a major migraine attack.
MSNBC reports that often sufferers of FAS have very little exposure to the foreign language that corresponds to their new accent.
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