Monday, April 25, 2011

Medical Mondays: Foreign Accent Syndrome

I had a friend in med school who would study her neuroanatomy in an English accent, just to help it stick out better for memorization. (She passed with flying colors, so I guess it worked!)

That was different.

Foreign Accent Syndrome is an extremely rare problem (0nly sixty cases ever reported) caused by head trauma or stroke, affecting the speech areas of the brain.

Sufferers do not suddenly pick up a new language, only what appears to be the accent of another culture using their own native words. Idioms are not picked up (so my cartoon is a bit off, sorry). In fact, the pronunciation of certain letters and vowels are off enough to make the listener think they are hearing a particular type of accent.

A brief search told me this hasn't been seen prominently in any novels. This one is truly up for grabs.

In any case, this is yet another example of how remarkable the brain is and what unusual things occur when the wiring goes awry.

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.

61 comments:

Sarah said...

Well, I've never heard of this one. I love these posts, Lydia. Always fascinating.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Whew, thank goodness I never got that one. Thanks again for the interesting Medical Monday posts, Lydia. =o)

Jen Daiker said...

Wow absolutely fascinating!!! I never thought about this before but this is really entertaining. Very quirky for someone to have!

Anne Gallagher said...

I've heard about it, but thought it was the whole language, not just the accent.

And I read my books out loud in an English accent to make sure the dialogue is on target. It's kind of fun.

salarsenッ said...

Whoa...that's a new one. Never heard of it, before. Must be strange to speak differently all of a sudden.

Connie said...

Surprisingly, I've heard of this before. But I've always wondered, if an American had this condition and picked up a British accent, would it sound "British" to a British person? Or would it sound like an American trying to sound British?

Lisa Potts said...

I've never heard of this one either, but the next time I need to memorize something, I'm going British.

mooderino said...

I'm sure I've seen this in a movie or tv show but can't recall where. It would be much cooler if you suddenly started speaking in a new language. That Rosetta Stone program is far too difficult.

mood
Moody Writing

lbdiamond said...

Hmmmm, I wonder if this is why people think I'm from Canada, eh???

;)-

Interesting post!

Chris Phillips said...

You left out the MOST important piece of info. What part of the head should I hit my friend Josh in with a 2x4 to try and get this to work? :)

"Dude, you're bleeding! And you sound like your Australian or something... Josh? You okay, buddy?"

vbtremper said...

Never heard of this either but I love it! The brain is truly fascinating.

I try to attach the appropriate accent in my head when I'm reading a book with characters of other cultures. It's just fun. Anyone else do that?

-Vicki

Kelly said...

That is a unique syndrome!
My sixth grade son frequently talks in different accents - usually British or Russian. But he's just a bit goofy. :)

Jennee said...

On occasion, a British accent slips out of me and I can't stop myself from speaking that way. It's always entertaining. Whenever I want to pull out a good accent, I never can. Love this post!

Bee said...

I think this has to be the best kind of, um, 'disease'? Heh.

Tara said...

Now that's an interesting affliction. The brain is such a wondrous thing!

LTM said...

is that what happened to Madonna??? :D

Hey! Remember our blogfest! I couldn't get Mr. Linkey to work on my page...

I say, I must need some technical support, ole chap. ;p <3

Carol Kilgore said...

That's too wild - LOL. I wonder if we'll ever learn everything the brain can do?

notesfromnadir said...

LTM's comment about Madonna made me laugh! So, did it? :)

Actually, I wonder what kind of accent is the most popular: British, French, Italian...?! :)

Bossy Betty said...

I am loving this one!!

MorningAJ said...

I think it's hilarious that you all think there's such a thing as an 'English accent'. There are very many different accents in England (plus Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland if you call it 'British')

I assume you all mean Dick Van Dyke in Mary POppins?

Shallee said...

Now there's a fascinating condition! I wonder how you'd convey that in a novel...hm. Thanks for this post!

Justine Dell said...

Totally going to find a way to squeeze this into a story. Cool!

~JD

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I've never heard of this before. It would be truly frustrating for someone to stuck in speaking in a terribly bad Swedish accent for the rest of their lives due to a head injury. People would think they were being put down. Ouch.

I had a friend who would study with me while flipping out her butterfly knife in intricate patterns. It helped her relax she said. I kept expecting to see a little finger flying through the air -- so relaxed I wasn't!!

Always a fun post, Roland

Holly Ruggiero said...

Wow, that's fascinating. Are they aware of the speech change?

Angela Felsted said...

As always, you come up with the most interesting medical conditions.

Old Kitty said...

Oh I did read months ago about this English woman who suffered such a severe case of migraine she was left with a "chinese accent"!! That was last year - and I thought then - nah, that's silly but there was a clip of her and yep,there it was! So it may sound bizarre but I guess it happens! I don't think I'd be brave enough to use it for narrative fiction purposes though! Good luck to anyone using this condition! Take care x

Heather said...

Head trauma can do some very interesting things. I had no idea that was among them though! Wow!

Olga said...

As always, I am enjoying your Medical Mondays. It's true that the least known creature on this planet is the human being, and especially the workings of the human mind.

Linda Gray said...

Wow, that is fascinating. I've never heard of that syndrome. V. familiar with the other thing though--what your med school friend did to help her study. I've used it myself. Somehow it creates incisive memory. hmmm.

Matthew MacNish said...

I think I saw this once, er ... no, wait, that was just a junkie down at the shelter my ex girlfriend worked at.

Emily Rose said...

Wow, that is really fascinating. This would make an interesting story!

Jennifer Hillier said...

I see I'm not the only one whose first thought was "Madonna!"

Interesting. Out of the 60 cases reported, was there any mention of what kind of accent was most predominantly seen?

Karen Lange said...

Never heard of this. Wow, the brain really is incredible, isn't it? Thanks for your research (and illustrations too:) for us!

Krispy said...

That's so weird that it's just the accent!

Jess said...

I've got an American character who uses British slang, but it's only to impress another character (though it only makes him look like a, well, arse). Cool topic, as usual!

Lydia K said...

I don't believe than any particular accent is more prominent than others. There are probably too few cases to study.

On occasion, one individual might have several different accents.

Ones that have been noted including various British accents, German, Newfoundland, Russian, Chinese (no details on which kind), Italian, Irish, French, French Canadian, American accents including Boston and New York, Jamaican, and Slovakian.

M Pax said...

That is fascinating. I wonder if it's more common for actors who study accents. Shrug.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that's a new one to me!

Indigo said...

Strange and true tales on how the mind works. Always interesting Lydia! (Hugs)Indigo

Sailor said...

Ever since I married my American wife I am getting that sickness a bit. Is that considered a Foreign Accent Syndrome? :)

Sarah said...

I've noticed a few people slipping into accents in stressful situations. We had to present an oral dance performance in uni and one of the students was so nervous she did the whole thing in a British accent. Another woman was teaching a class as an audition for a spot as a professor and she gave the entire class in a Russian accent. It was the weirdest thing ever, because she wasn't Russian.

Joyce Lansky said...

Never heard of that one but it's an interesting idea. It's up there with Synesthesia!

Joyce
http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

Josh Hoyt said...

This is fascinating. I look forward to following your blog and thanks for the follow.

Alleged Author said...

Okay...so totes a dumb question...but what do you think of people who INADVERTENTLY copy accents when they hear them? That would be an awesome post! (I know idioms are never picked up because they are regional...but...)

Medeia Sharif said...

Thanks for the info. Some of the psychology classes I took in college covered brain studies, but I never came across this before.

February Grace said...

I wonder if that's what happened to Madonna...

:~D

Shelley Munro said...

We had a news article a few months ago about a lady (I think she was in England) who woke up suddenly able to speak a foreign language. I wish I could remember all the details now.

I hadn't thought of using it in a novel. Interesting idea. :)

Carole Anne Carr said...

Thank you so much for the follow, Lydia, kind regards, Carole.

catherinemjohnson said...

I've lived all over the place so I'd have to pick somewhere really obscure to practise this one. Hard to believe that's a true medical problem.

Cold As Heaven said...

That's a cool syndrom, and I might have it. Or maybe it's just that English is my 2nd language. Sometimes I'm not sure >:)

Cold As Heaven

Jonene Ficklin said...

I wonder what would happen if you mixed Foreign Accent Syndrome with multiple personality disorder? That would be a fun book - especially if the MC was a spy - and worked for different countries - and didn't know it. Thanks for the great info and ideas, Lydia! You always make me think.

thereadingdate said...

That's a good one! Perhaps FAS would be used in a comedic book. Like a frequent traveler who doesn't know what accent to use when they return home.
Awesome post!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Had never heard of this, Lydia...but its fascinating. Would love to use it in future.

strawberry Princess said...

never heard of this just like most of the people in here. But worth reading for more about it.

off to research on it, thanks for the idea.

Rekha said...

This is a fascinating read...the brain and body throw up some many complications, its mind boggling...

Hema P. said...

I've never heard of this one, but how fascinating! Like you mentioned, it makes for such an interesting premise. But come to think of it, the novel may end up being a bit cheesy, only because the condition's rare and seemingly dramatic :).

Bluestocking Mum said...

Yep, I had heard of this before. And how some people can wake up one morning, speaking a completely different language, and the different sections of the brain.
It's incredible to think about it.

Fascinating post,as always.

Carol Riggs said...

Freaky! Hadn't heard of this one. Thanks for educating us! ;o) Fascinating fodder for a novel, yep.

Libby said...

I love that you had him asking for Bud. These drawings are terribly adorable.

Lynda R Young said...

oh wow, how fascinating! It's intersting it's not an actual accent.

Theresa Milstein said...

I've never heard of this syndrome.

Ummm, my daughter thinks she can do a British accent, but it's awful. I guess that's not the same.

 
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