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Foreign Accent Syndrome

Updated on May 25, 2012

Canadian woman Sharon Campbell-Rayment has been diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome after falling off her horse and hitting her head in an accident in July 2008.

Sharon, from Kent Bridge Ontario suffered damage to both lobes of the brain and concussion and was left with an inability to talk for several days.

As her speech returned, she stuttered for several more days before developing a thick Scottish brogue and started using typically Scottish words such as "wee", "grand" and "brilliant", as well as starting to pronunciate in the gutteral accent of the Scots - rolling her 'r's', softer 'g's', longer 'a's and softer 's's'.

She is quoted as having said "I just started to talk with a wee accent".

Sharon, who has never been to Scotland in her life is just as confused as everyone else by these changes.

Her baffled doctors have now officially diagnosed her as being one of only 60 people in the world with 'Foreign Accent Syndrome'.

Cindy-Lou

What is foreign accent syndrome?

Foreign accent syndrome is the name given to people who people who have suffered damage to a tiny part of the brain that is reckoned to control language, pitch and speech pattern.

It can follow a stroke or an accident, and can for last minutes or hours. In some cases it is permanent.

According to researchers, It is not actually a foreign accent, it just sounds like one.

Professor Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London believes that it is not actually a foreign accent, but a simple change in the way people speak, with different accents laid on syllables and consonants, that sounds to the listener like a foreign accent.

However, there have been cases where not just the accent was changed but the language.

Sufferers of Foreign Accent Syndrome

One of the earliest recorded case of foreign accent syndrome happened in 1941 when a young Norwegian woman developed a German accent and was ultimately shunned by friends and neighbours, believing her to be a German spy.

She'd been hit by bomb shrapnel in a World War II raid, and suffered brain damage.

There was the English man who after life saving brain surgery and three days in a coma, woke up speaking with an Irish accent, even though he had never been to Ireland and had no relatives there.

Other cases throughout the world include the English woman who developed a Jamaican accent, the Ontarian woman who developed a Newfoundland accent, the Australian who dveveloped an accent that was half-English and half-American and the American woman who started speaking like a Londoner. as you can hear in the video above.

A Cure for Foreign Accent Syndrome

Doctors are baffled by this condition, far less be abe to work towards a cure.

While this is bad news for sufferers, being given the diagnosis of Foreign Accent Syndrome has been a great relief for the majority of sufferers who up until then were being told they suffered from a psychiatric illness and treated with antidepressants and other medication that was of no use to them.

There is a growing awareness of this extremely rare condition amongst doctors, some of whom are ready to put forward theories such as the damage caused to those tiny parts of the brain could result in the brains of the sufferers remembering accents they had heard through the media like televison and using them instead of their own damaged accent.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Suffering Foreign Accent Syndrome can be a life-changing experience for those suffering from it.

They do not recognise their own voice and friends and family refuse to believe that they are not putting it on.

They genuinely do lose the ability to speak in their own voice and accent that they have had all their lives, and this makes it a very distressing condition.

There have been many reports from sufferers being unable to do everyday tasks like shopping wihthout strangers assuming them to be visitors from other parts of the world which as you can imagine would get tiresome after a while.

Debie Royston, Foreign Accent Syndrome sufferer
Debie Royston, Foreign Accent Syndrome sufferer | Source

Housewife Debie Royston from Birmingham, England, was ill with a bad bout of 'flu during which she suffered several seizures. After one such seizure, she came round to discover she couldn't speak.

It was a month before her voice came back, and when it did, she had lost her local Brummie accent. Instead she sounded French!

French people when they speak English sound quite distinctive, because they tend to pronounce English letters in the same way the French pronounce them.

Debie has now been diagnosed with rare Foreign Accent Syndrome.

What makes her case slightly different that despite suffering those seizures while she was ill, doctors have not confirmed she suffered from any kind of brain injury because of them.

She had several brain scans and saw a neurologist at the time, and nothing untoward showed up.

Today Debie is perfectly normal in every way, until she opens her mouth and tried to speak, and has to listen to her own voice sounding odd.

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    • IzzyM profile image
      Author

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      It must be awful to wake up and be unable to speak the same way as you did all your life. All the same, this 'foreign accent syndrome' is weird!

    • raisingme profile image

      raisingme 7 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      Brain damage can manifest in many weird and wonderful ways none of which are "cookie cutter". It is an unseen thing and too often those who have suffered from it are judged, sometimes harshly. Thank you for upping the empathy level Izzy!

    • IzzyM profile image
      Author

      IzzyM 8 years ago from UK

      I agree with you - cindy-lou seemed to be putting it on at bit - but then maybe she had a bubbly personality anyway! The others seemed genuine.

    • johnshade profile image

      johnshade 8 years ago from Pandora

      nice hub, it may sound silly at hines sight but living with it forever must be difficult and should be taking seriously, although im a bit skeptical of cindy lou : )

    • IzzyM profile image
      Author

      IzzyM 8 years ago from UK

      You're welcome Nikki :)

      I'm deeply interested in strange things like this, and I do sympathise with the sufferers - it must be awful!

    • nikki1 profile image

      nikki1 8 years ago

      thank you for sharing.

    • IzzyM profile image
      Author

      IzzyM 8 years ago from UK

      Thanks DeGreek, did you watch the videos? They are amazing!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 8 years ago from UK

      Where do you FIND these stuff??? :-))) Brilliant! Marked up and owesome :-)))

    • IzzyM profile image
      Author

      IzzyM 8 years ago from UK

      LOL you mean when they are drunk? I had that problem when driving taxis ith drunks - couldn't make out a slurred word they said sometimes!

      But hey isn't this a strange disorder? The one in the article above I mean.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 8 years ago from Florida

      A VERY intersting hub, Izzy. I could identify with it, not because I know anyone with the disorder, but because I have met many whom I have had difficulty understanding, especially when they have called me in the wee hours of the morning.

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