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What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

14th July, 2016 I by Erin Lipp

How would you feel if you woke up one day with a new, foreign accent? Surprisingly this happens, and it’s as a result of something called Foreign Accent Syndrome. This rare condition is caused by neurological damage like a stroke or multiple sclerosis, and it has very interesting effects.

There are only 100 reported cases of this condition, with the first being in 1907. A Norwegian woman experienced brain trauma after being hit by shrapnel amid an air raid in 1941, during the Nazi occupation. She awoke with a German accent and was shunned by her community because they thought she was a spy. Another woman was diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome in 2008 after having a severe migraine; the brain trauma left this English woman with a Chinese accent.

Here’s the science behind Foreign Accent Syndrome: the person’s ability to control the muscles used to produce speech becomes impaired. Because of this, their articulation is distorted and the way they speak sounds totally different. The accent a person ends up with post-injury will have some similarities to the way they used to sound but it isn’t a true accent, as it did not come from the country of origin. Many people have different perceptions of the accent and this may be linked to the listener’s experience with that accent’s elements of speech; one might think it sounds French because that’s an accent they’ve been exposed to, while another could think it sounds Italian for the same reason. It’s important to note that a person with FAS is not able to speak the language of the accent they’ve acquired.

The human brain is a fascinating and complex thing. It is said that it requires four or more specialists to diagnose Foreign Accent Syndrome, but most neurologists will endure their entire career without having exposure to the condition.

Can you imagine how Foreign Accent Syndrome might affect your life? If this happened to you, would you have a different reaction depending on the accent that you acquired? Comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!


You may also be interested in the following:

Ebook: Top Ten Tips for Interpreters and Translators

Article: How Language is Processed in the Brain

Article: How to become a UN interpreter


4 responses to “What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?”

  1. Terry lynne says:

    This is truly fascinating. It certainly makes one think.
    Our brains are amazing with endless capabilities
    Well written. I will certainly
    This subject

    • R. Lipp says:

      I agree! I recommend checking out the 60 Minutes segment on Foreign Accent Syndrome; it features people who have been diagnosed with the syndrome and it’s really interesting! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Sjoe! says:

    1. To begin with, the cause underlying this condition (since it is certainly a morbid condition) would incapacitate and disqualify me as an interpreter and possibly as a translator; it would certainly affect not only articulatory muscle control but the brain and mental abilities too.
    2. Folks would treat me with pity as they sometimes do having to deal with halfwits and foreigners. I could possibly get away with gaffes they would expect of foreigners and halfwits.

  3. Graciela says:

    This is fascinating! Great read.

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