Foreign accent syndrome

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical condition in which patients develop speech patterns that are perceived as a foreign accent[1] that is different from their native accent, without having acquired it in the perceived accent's place of origin.

Foreign accent syndrome
SpecialtyPsychiatry, Neurology

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 might occur due to lesions in the speech production network of the brain, or may also be considered a neuropsychiatric condition.[4] The condition was first reported in 1907,[5] and between 1941 and 2009 there were 62 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 with foreign accent syndrome acquire neither a specific foreign accent nor any additional fluency in a foreign language. There has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury.

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 American English might sound as though they spoke with a south-eastern British English accent or a native English speaker from Great Britain might speak with a New York accent. Contrary to popular belief, individuals with FAS do not exhibit their accent without any effort. Instead, these individuals feel as if they have a speech disorder.[6] 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.[7][8]

Generally, FAS is not a persisting disorder; it is a temporary stage in recovery from stroke or trauma or potentially a stage of deterioration. FAS mainly affects speech at a segmental or prosodic level. Vowels are more likely to be affected than consonants. Vowel errors include an increase in vowel tensing, monophthongization of diphthongs, and vowel fronting and raising. There is evidence of both vowel shortening and lengthening. Consonantal anomalies include cases of changes in articulation, manner, and voicing.[9] On a suprasegmental level, there are changes in intonation and pitch, such as monotonous intonation or exaggerations in pitch height and range. There are also difficulties in using stress accents to indicate pragmatics and meaning.[10] There is a tendency for FAS patients to switch to syllable-timed prosody when their native language is stress-timed. This perception could be due to changes in syllable durations, and the addition of epenthetic vowels.[9]

FAS has many similarities to apraxia of speech (AoS), which is another motor speech disorder. Some researchers think that FAS is a mild form of AoS because they are both caused by similar lesions in the brain. However, FAS differs from AoS in that FAS patients have more control over their speech deficits and their “foreign accent” is a form of compensation for their speech problems. Because there are relatively few differences in the symptoms of FAS and AoS, a listener's perception of the affected speech plays a large role in diagnosis of FAS rather than AoS. The listener has to be familiar with a foreign accent in order to attribute it to the affected speech of someone with FAS.[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."[11]

Causes and diagnosis edit

Foreign accent syndrome is more commonly pronounced in females than it is in males. In a meta-analysis of 112 patients with FAS, 97% were adults, and 67% were female. The typical age range for this disease is around 25–49 years of age.[12] Only in 12.5% of the cases did the patients have previous exposure to the accent that they later seemed to develop due to FAS.[13]

The majority of FAS patients develop FAS due to a stroke, but it can also develop as a result of developmental or psychological disorders, trauma, or tumors. Of the patients with neurological damage, the majority had a lesion in the supratentorial left hemisphere. Lesions primarily affected the: premotor cortex, motor cortex, basal ganglia or Broca's area. Lesions are also seen in the cerebellum, which projects to the previous areas. Right hemisphere damage rarely causes FAS. The majority of patients with FAS usually present other speech disorders, such as: mutism, aphasia, dysarthria, agrammatism and apraxia of speech.[13]

Neurolinguist Harry Whitaker[14] first coined the term Foreign Accent Syndrome in 1982. He originally proposed some criteria that must be present in order to diagnose someone with FAS; they must be monolingual, they must have damage to their central nervous system that affects their speech, and their speech must be perceived as subjectively sounding foreign by themselves or clinicians. One problem with Whitaker's criteria is that they are based primarily on subjectivity, and therefore acoustic phonetic measurements are rarely used to diagnose FAS.[13]

Since this syndrome is very rare, it takes a multidisciplinary team to evaluate the syndrome and diagnose it, including: speech-language pathologists, neurolinguists, neurologists, neuropsychologists and psychologists.[15] In 2010, linguist[16] Jo Verhoeven and neurolinguist[17] Peter Mariën[18][19] identified several subtypes of Foreign Accent Syndrome. They described a neurogenic, developmental, psychogenic and mixed variant. Neurogenic FAS is the term used when FAS occurs after central nervous system damage.[19] Developmental FAS is used when the accent is perceptible as of an early age, e.g. children who have always spoken with an accent.[20] Psychogenic FAS is used when FAS is psychologically induced, associated with psychiatric disorder or clear psychiatric traits.[21][22][23] The term mixed FAS is used when patients develop the disorder after neurological damage, but the accent change has such a profound impact on the self-perception and identity that they will modify or enhance the accent to make it fit with the new persona.[24]

Diagnosis, up until today,[when?] is generally purely perceptually based. However, in order to find out what subtype the patient has, complementary investigations are necessary. This differentiation is necessary for the clinician to allow for correct therapeutic guidance. 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 in order to identify comorbid disorders.[15] 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 of the speech pattern is done in order to analyze it. Often, images of the brain are taken with MRI, CT, SPECT[20] or PET scans.[15] This is done to see if there is structural and or functional damage in the areas of the brain that control speech and/or rhythm and melody of speech. Electroencephalography is sometimes performed to investigate whether there are disturbances at the electrophysiological level.[15]

Treatment involves intense speech therapy. Methods such as oromotor exercises, using mirrors, targeting phonetic awareness, reading lists and texts, and using electropalatography are all methods that have been used in the past. Treatment should be developed on a patient by patient basis. About a quarter of FAS patients go through remission after treatment.[13]

History edit

The condition was first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie,[5] and another early case was reported in a Czechoslovak study in 1919, conducted by German internist Alois Pick [de] (1859–1945).[25] Other well-known cases of the syndrome include 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.[26][27]

Society and culture edit

Cases of foreign accent syndrome often receive significant media coverage, and cases have been reported in the popular media as resulting from various causes including stroke,[28][29][30][31][32][33] allergic reaction,[34] physical injury,[33][32][35][36] and migraine.[37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44] A woman with foreign accent syndrome was featured on both Inside Edition and Discovery Health Channel's Mystery ER[45] 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.[46][47][48] In 2016, a Texas woman, Lisa Alamia, was diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome when, following a jaw surgery, she developed what sounded like a British accent.[49][50] Ellen Spencer, a woman from Indiana who has foreign accent syndrome, was interviewed on the American public radio show Snap Judgment.[51] The British singer George Michael reported briefly speaking in a West Country accent following his recovery from a three-week long coma in 2012.[52]

Potential treatments edit

FAS is a very rare disorder. Likewise, there are not very many proposed treatments. Two that may provide relief to patients with FAS in the future include mastery of musical skills and “tongue reading”.[4]

In terms of mastery of music skills, research by Christiner and Reiterer[non sequitur] suggests that musicians, both instrumental and vocal, are better at imitating foreign accents than non-musicians. Vocalists are further better than instrumentalists at this task. In this way, individuals with FAS might be able to reimitate their original, lost native accents more easily if they master a musical - especially vocal – skill.[4]

Pursuing this further, another set of researchers, Banks et al. investigated the role of hearing a foreign accent versus hearing and seeing someone use a foreign accent and which of these may be better for helping an individual replicate a foreign accent. Contrary to the researcher's predictions, “no differences were found in perceptual gains between the two modalities.” By contrast, a method that did seem to improve learning of non-native speech sounds was “real-time visual feedback of tongue movements with an interactive 3D visualization system based on electromagnetic articulography.”[4]

Cases edit

Table #1: Cases from developmental FAS (DFAS), Psychogenic FAS (PFAS) and a New Variant of Neurologic FAS[4]

Subtype Case Descriptions
DFAS An adolescent male without family history of developmental disorders or personal psychiatric issues. No cognitive issue except for some executive function issues. Through a functional neuroimaging study, researchers found significantly decreased blood flow to the “medial prefrontal and lateral temporal regions bilaterally.” They also found hypoperfusion in the cerebellum.
Two males with mild DFAS had psychiatric disorders, which suggested a potential psychogenic diagnosis. But upon further examination, they were determined to have structural issue in their brains – “venous malformation and expanded perivascular spaces”.
PFAS Patient with head trauma received the diagnosis of PFAS. The reason for the given diagnosis instead of one of the others was due to lack of structural brain damage and the existence of neuropsychiatric disorders.
New Variant Three adult males dealing with Broca's aphasia lose their regional accents. Studies on these patients imply that lesion of the “middle part of the left motor cortex and adjoining regions” may contribute to loss of regional accent.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c Kurowski, Kathleen M.; Blumstein, Sheila E.; Alexander, Michael (1996). "The foreign accent syndrome: a reconsideration" (PDF). Brain and Language. 54 (1): 1–25. doi:10.1006/brln.1996.0059. PMID 8811940. S2CID 6281914. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Severe migraines give Devon woman a bizarre Chinese accent at". Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. 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" (PDF). Cortex. 45 (7): 870–878. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2008.10.010. PMID 19121521. S2CID 25400136.
  4. ^ a b c d e Moreno-Torres, Ignacio; Mariën, Peter; Dávila, Guadalupe; Berthier, Marcelo L. (20 December 2016). "Editorial: Language beyond Words: The Neuroscience of Accent". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 10: 639. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00639. ISSN 1662-5161. PMC 5169099. PMID 28066210.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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. S2CID 145384305. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b c van der Scheer, Fennetta; Jonkers, Roel; Gilbers, Dicky (18 December 2013). "Foreign accent syndrome and force of articulation". Aphasiology. 28 (4): 471–489. doi:10.1080/02687038.2013.866210. hdl:11370/abd6e99a-586d-4f6f-acad-3392c800d119. ISSN 0268-7038. S2CID 145785711.
  10. ^ Kuschmann, Anja; Lowit, Anja (27 September 2012). "Phonological and phonetic marking of information status in Foreign Accent Syndrome" (PDF). International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders. 47 (6): 738–749. doi:10.1111/j.1460-6984.2012.00184.x. ISSN 1368-2822. PMID 23121531.
  11. ^ "Unusual illnesses: Curiouser and curiouser". The Independent. 21 September 2010. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  12. ^ Maria Cohut, P. D. (n.d.). Top 5 strangest medical conditions. Retrieved from
  13. ^ a b c d Mariën, Peter; Keulen, Stefanie; Verhoeven, Jo (January 2019). "Neurological Aspects of Foreign Accent Syndrome in Stroke Patients" (PDF). Journal of Communication Disorders. 77: 94–113. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2018.12.002. ISSN 0021-9924. PMID 30606457. S2CID 58663411.
  14. ^ Beck, Julie (27 January 2016). "The Syndrome That Makes People Start Speaking in a Foreign Accent". The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  15. ^ a b c d Lukas, Rimas (March 2014). "Foreign Accent Syndrome". EBSCO Publishing. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  16. ^ "Professor Johan Verhoeven | City, University of London". 31 January 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  17. ^ Manto, Mario; Beaton, Alan; Crols, Roeland; Paquier, Philippe; Verhoeven, Jo; Schmahmann, Jeremy (19 December 2017). "In memoriam - Peter Mariën (1962–2017)". Cerebellum & Ataxias. 4. National Center for Biotechnology Information: 18. doi:10.1186/s40673-017-0077-3. PMC 5735944.
  18. ^ Verhoeven, Jo; Mariën, Peter (2010). "Suprasegmental aspects of Foreign Accent Syndrome". In Stojanovik, V.; Setter, J. (eds.). Speech Prosody in Atypical Populations. Assessment and Remediation. Guilford: J and R Press. pp. 103–128.
  19. ^ a b Verhoeven, Jo; Mariën, Peter (2010). "Neurogenic foreign accent syndrome: Articulatory setting, segments and prosody in a Dutch speaker" (PDF). Journal of Neurolinguistics. 23 (6): 599–614. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroling.2010.05.004. S2CID 51521359.
  20. ^ a b Keulen, Stefanie; Mariën, Peter; Wackenier, Peggy; Jonkers, Roel; Bastiaanse, Roelien; Verhoeven, Jo (10 March 2016). "Developmental Foreign Accent Syndrome: Report of a New Case". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 10 (65): 65. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00065. PMC 4785140. PMID 27014011.
  21. ^ Keulen, Stefanie; Verhoeven, Jo; De Witte, Elke; De Page, Louis; Bastiaanse, Roelien; Mariën, Peter (27 April 2016). "Foreign Accent Syndrome As a Psychogenic Disorder: A Review". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 10 (168): 168. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00168. PMC 4846654. PMID 27199699.
  22. ^ Keulen, Stefanie; Verhoeven, Jo; Bastiaanse, Roelien; Mariën, Peter; Mavroudakis, Nicolas; Paquier, Philippe (2 March 2016). "Perceptual Accent Rating and Attribution in Psychogenic FAS: Some Further Evidence Challenging Whitaker's Operational Definition". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 10 (62): 62. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00062. PMC 4773440. PMID 26973488.
  23. ^ Keulen, Stefanie; Verhoeven, Jo; De Page, Louis; Jonkers, Roel; Bastiaanse, Roelien; Mariën, Peter (19 April 2016). "Psychogenic Foreign Accent Syndrome: A New Case". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 10 (143): 143. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00143. PMC 4835482. PMID 27148003.
  24. ^ Ryalls, Jack; Whiteside, Janet (2006). "An atypical case of foreign accent syndrome". Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics. 20 (2–3): 157–162. doi:10.1080/02699200400026900. PMID 16428232. S2CID 5992247.
  25. ^ Pick, A. 1919. Über Änderungen des Sprachcharakters als Begleiterscheinung aphasicher Störungen. Zeitschrift für gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 45, 230–241.
  26. ^ Monrad-Krohn G. H. (1947). "Dysprosody or Altered 'Melody of Language'". Brain. 70 (4): 405–15. doi:10.1093/brain/70.4.405. PMID 18903253.
  27. ^ "Foreign Accent Syndrome Support". Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  28. ^ 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.[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "Ontario woman gains East Coast accent following stroke". CBC News. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2008.
  30. ^ Bunyan, Nigel (4 July 2006). "Geordie wakes after stroke with new accent". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  31. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 11 November 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  32. ^ a b "Experience: I woke up with a Russian accent". The Guardian. London.
  33. ^ a b Miebach, Elisa (29 August 2019). "Stroke: When you lose your mother tongue". DW.COM. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  34. ^ "Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) Support". Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  35. ^ Schocker, Laura (5 June 2011). "Woman Gets Oral Surgery, Wakes Up With Irish Accent". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  36. ^ "Woman Gets New Accent After Dentist Visit". 6 May 2011. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  37. ^ Spencer, Ellen (5 June 2015). "What Accent?". Snap Judgment. NPR. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  38. ^ "Health Sentinel: Connecting symptoms finally leads to disorder diagnosis". The News-Sentinel. 6 December 2010. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  39. ^ "Migraine left woman with Chinese accent". The Sunday Times. 20 April 2010. Archived from the original on 25 April 2010. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  40. ^ "Severe Migraine Leaves English Woman with Chinese Accent". Fox News. 19 April 2010. Archived from the original on 2 November 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  41. ^ "Plymouth woman 'woke up sounding Chinese'". BBC News. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  42. ^ Morris, Steven (14 September 2010). "Woman's migraine gave her French accent". The Guardian. London.
  43. ^ "Migraine gives woman French accent". The Independent. London. 14 September 2010.
  44. ^ "Coping with Foreign Accent Syndrome". BBC News. 13 September 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  45. ^ "Woman's Accent Foreign Even to Her". The Seattle Times. 27 October 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2008.
  46. ^ "BBC One – The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese". 3 September 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  47. ^ "Sarah Colwill, British Woman, 'Woke Up Chinese' After Suffering Severe Migraine In Hospital [VIDEO]". 7 March 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  48. ^ 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.
  49. ^ "Texas mom has jaw surgery, ends up with British accent". 23 June 2016. Archived from the original on 28 June 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  50. ^ Doug Criss (23 June 2016). "Texas woman sports British accent after surgery". CNN. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  51. ^ "Godsend - Snap #614 | Snap Judgment". Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  52. ^ "George Michael: I woke up from coma with a West Country accent". The Daily Telegraph. London. 18 July 2012. Archived from the original on 15 August 2012. Retrieved 17 December 2012.

Further reading edit

External links edit