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.