There is an odd medical syndrome that can sometimes be triggered by neurological damage from strokes, concussions and multiple sclerosis. It’s called “Foreign Accent Syndrome” and there have only been 100 documented cases in history, the first of which occurred back in 1907.
Some of the case histories are truly bizarre: in 1942, for example, a Norwegian woman was injured during Nazi occupation and fell into a coma. She woke up speaking with a strong German accent, which caused her to be shunned by her community and accused of being a spy.
In 2008, instead, an English woman who suffered a stroke picked up an unusual Jamaican inflection.
And just a few years ago, after the local anaesthetic wore off following a routine dentist appointment, a housewife in Oregon started speaking with a mixed Irish, English and Scottish accent, with notes of South African, Australian and Transylvanian.
But what actually happens to those affected by this condition? Lesions in the left lobe of the brain, and specifically in the area associated with language, cause changes in speech articulation: the mouth and tongue start moving differently, thus producing different intonations for both consonants and vowels (the English “Yeah”, for instance, may sound like the German “Ja”).
Those who listen no longer recognize the typical traits of their own mother tongue, so they perceive the speaker as having a foreign accent.
While such a syndrome may simply seem strange or even funny, it can cause serious identity problems as well as issues in interactions with others, since people are often unable to accept such radical changes.
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