Foreign Accent Syndrome

Imagine being in a terrible accident and ending up in a coma. Once awoken from this coma, you realize that you no longer speak in the accent that you grew up speaking. You spoke with an American accent before but now you sound British. Other people may think you are faking because to them there is no conceivable way your pattern of speech could change so dramatically. The doctor diagnoses you with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) but what exactly is it?

Foreign Accent Syndrome or FAS is a speech disorder which can be the result of brain injury, stroke, or sometimes unknown etiology. Speech timing, intonation, and tongue placement are all significantly altered so as to make the speaker sound like they have a foreign accent. Some speech changes that are caused by FAS include:

  • unusual intonation
  • consonant substitution, deletion, or distortion
  • voicing errors
  • trouble with consonant clusters
  • vowel distortions or prolongations

To listen to the differences between speech in a FAS patient before and after their injury, click here.

After reading all of this information, I was curious as to whether or not a native speaker would be able to recognize someone with this syndrome versus someone with the authentic accent. I researched and came upon a study that aimed to find the answer to that question. Dutch was the accent that was used in the study and it seemed that the native speakers of Dutch were unequivocally recognized by other native speakers and people with other foreign accents were correctly identified on the whole as being non-native speakers of Dutch.

However, to clarify, the “…speakers with Foreign Accent Syndrome, however, were in some sense perceived as foreign and in some sense as native by listeners, but not as foreign as speakers with a real foreign accent nor as native as real native speakers. These results are accounted for in terms of a misinterpretation of markers of speech pathology as markers regional affiliation.”

I found this to be a fascinating topic to research because it is definitely a cognitive deficit however with all that we do know about the brain, no one can conclusively say how it occurs in some people and yet not in others. Hopefully more research into this phenomenon will give doctors a better understanding of this frustrating syndrome.

2 thoughts on “Foreign Accent Syndrome

  1. cheyc

    FAS is something that interests me greatly, mainly for one big reason. I’ve always wondered if the accents acquired after an injury or if they have something to do with the person past life. Such as they saw a dutch movie before their accident and after the accident that was just the first thing their brain latched onto. I’d be interested to see how FAS would affect bilingual people since they have probably spent a lot of time hearing a different accent.

  2. bflood7174

    So I had NO IDEA that this was a thing! It seems so bizarre to me! I definitely would’ve been one of the people to call BS on people with this disorder the first few times I heard them speak. I’m still confused as to how the brain turns it into a different accent though. At first I was thinking it just made them sound like they had an accent in terms of them not at all sounding the way they did before. But now I realize that the person could suddenly have a LEGIT accent that people from another country would have. How is that? What if the person had never heard someone with a British accent before? Would they still have come out of the coma with the British accent, or with an accent they’ve heard before? The brain is (for lack of a better word) insane…awesome, but insane!

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