Foreign Accent Syndrome. It’s Real.

06.02.2010 · Posted in Medical Mystery

whisperingnurse Robin Vanderlip, of Fairfax County, Virginia, fell down the stairs three years ago, knocking herself out. When she woke up, she spoke with a Russian-like accent and has done so ever since.

Scientists call this Foreign Accent Syndrome (creative!) and postulate that the change in accent is due to brain injury that causes slight changes in pitch, tone, and melody, making the speech sound like particular accents. Listeners think they hear a specific accent because of pareidolia, our brains’ tendency to recognize patterns or familiar images or sounds where there really aren’t any, like seeing faces in tree bark.

In Vanderlip’s case, the head injury also made her tire very easily, and her “accent” gets worse as she becomes more tired.

Foreign Accent Syndrome has been associated with head trauma, stroke, and, in one case, severe migraine. Apparently, no amount of speech therapy seems to correct the damage. Fewer than 60 cases of the syndrome have been reported. The recent case of the Croatian girl waking from a coma speaking fluent German does not fall under this syndrome. It is neat, though.

Boy am I relieved that I didn’t wake up speaking in anything other than my normal voice when I was knocked unconscious by a falling flagpole when I was nine.

– Julie


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