The Unexplained: The Mysterious Foreign Accent Syndrome



It is not speaking in a foreign language but speaking with a foreign accent. Image from DW.

It is a true medical condition in which patients suddenly develop speech patterns that sound like foreign accents.

There is an odd medical mystery that sometimes has an explainable cause, but it can very rarely come out of the blue–with no known triggers.

How strange would it be if your Aunt Bertha from Atlanta suddenly began conversing with a lilting Irish brogue?

Or what if your pen pal from London called up and her everyday speech became overpowered by Bronx colloquialisms?

Perhaps a former exchange student from South Africa could only speak in California Valley Girl – or an old college roommate from Albuquerque is now speaking in a consonant-heavy, gutteral German accent.

Sara Marie Hogg

These and similar incidents are rare, but it does happen.  It is called Foreign Accent Syndrome.  It is a true medical condition in which patients suddenly develop speech patterns that sound like foreign accents.

The qualifier is that the speech is different from their native accent, and the person did not achieve the accent in the accent’s place if origin.

The condition is so rare that it has been authentically documented only 100 times since 1907.

There are several possible causes for Foreign Accent Syndrome, and tests doctors will use to make the diagnosis.

Causes can be: traumatic brain injury, stroke/blood clot, brain aneurysm, and sometimes,  MS.

Aids to diagnosis are: MRIs, CT scans, assessment by speech-language pathologists, and assessment by a neurologist.

The condition may require a psychologist to help a person cope with the syndrome.

There are many You Tube videos about people all over the world who have gotten this syndrome.  What if you were an Australian that one day started speaking with choppy Mandarin inflections?

The symptoms are that you can speak your native speech but it sounds like a second language to your new foreign accent.  You are in good mental health, otherwise, and that your new speech errors are consistent across your entire phonetic system.

If the underlying cause can be cured or alleviated with anti-seizure or stroke medication, blood vessel surgery, diuretics, or MS therapies, the accent may go away.  Prompt medical diagnosis is important.

Intensive speech therapy may help one override the foreign accent with their normal speech.

My friend B.K. and I used to ride around on Sundays and talk exclusively with bad British accents.  We also sometimes did this when in long lines to get theater tickets or waiting to get into rock concerts.

This is not It.

This is not Foreign Accent Syndrome.

It is teenage girls behaving badly.

There are serious underlying causes for Foreign Accent Syndrome, yet sometimes this mysterious condition can come about after a migraine headache or routine oral surgery.

Very rarely it does come from out of the blue.

Please click HERE to find Sara Marie Hogg’s historical mystery, It Rises from the Pee Dee, on Amazon.

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