If you have not heard of foreign accent syndrome (FAS) before, it is mainly because of the rarity of this medical condition. Since it was first reported in 1907, there were only over 100 recorded cases. It is a condition in which patients tend to develop a foreign accent as a result of accidents or health problems. Usually, it is triggered by head trauma, stroke, migraines or brain injury.
What happens to a patient with FAS?
The most common case of FAS is when patients can still speak using their native language, but they obtain a foreign accent. Say for instance, a native English speaker can still speak English, but has an accent like that of a New York American. It could also be a totally foreign accent such as a Chinese native speaker speaking Chinese with a Spanish accent. In other cases, it is not just the accent that changes, but the entire language as well.
These records cases only prove that certain area in the brain control different linguistic functions. This is the reason why some patients retain their ability to use the words in a given language, but could not follow the correct accent. It could also results to mispronounced syllables or distorted speech patterns for some cases.
A Few Recorded Cases
This rare condition was described in 1907 by Pierre Marie, a neurologist. An early recorded case was reported in 1919 in a Czech study. Another case involved a woman in Norway in 1941 who suffered from shrapnel injury during a World War II air-raid. When she recovered from the injury, she began sounding like a German and was condemned by the Norwegian society. A recent case happened to a Czech speedway racer named Matej Kus. He got into an accident during a race in the UK. The guy is a native Czech speaker and speaks only very little English. Upon waking up after recovery, he was said to have spoken perfect English. Leanne Rowe from Tasmania, Australia also suffered from the same problem after recovery from a car crash. She broke her left jaw and back during the crash. In 8 years after the accident, she began sounding like a native French speaker.
Why Does this Problem Exist?
Some studies reveal that this syndrome is caused by brain injury. When a part of the brain is shaken or damaged and it happens to control linguistic activities, this problem might happen. However, it does not necessarily explain how someone who has little to no exposure to a foreign language can actually speak it just like how a native speaker does. According to a researcher at the University of Sydney, Karen Croot, this syndrome might just be brought about by coincidence. She said, “It’s just an accident of chance that happens to a person that what happens to their speech overlaps with the features of a known accent.”
FAS Sufferers Need Support
Being able to speak a different language or sounding like a native speaker of a foreign language without learning it might sound very cool. However, the truth is it isn’t. In fact, it is very difficult. For the FAS patients, speaking with a foreign accent is the same with having difficulty in speaking. The case of that Norwegian woman for instance is also a proof that one can be shunned by the community even if she did not mean to sound like a foreigner. These patients need to be understood. The scientific community has no clear explanation yet to the existence of this problem. There is also no known solution except for curing the injuries brought about by what happened to the patient.