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Foreign Accent Syndrome Follows Brain Changes


Imagine speaking with a Boston accent one day and waking up the next sounding as if you came from Britain or Russia or China. For a few individuals around the world, a sudden shift in how they speak is the result of brain changes that leads to foreign accent syndrome.

The best known case of foreign accent syndrome was reported by Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn, a Norwegian neurologist who described it in a Norwegian woman who was hit in the head by shrapnel during World War II. She fell into a coma and woke up speaking with a German accent. Between 1941 and 2009, a total of only 60 cases have been reported.

One involves Bronwyn Fox, a New Zealand native who has had multiple sclerosis for 25 years. Two years ago she woke up one morning to find that her eyesight had diminished and her Kiwi accent had turned decidedly British. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan revealed the formation of two lesions at the back of her brain.

The 59-year-old Mrs. Fox was reported in a recent Telegraph article to say that “My family have grown used to it now but the worst thing is friends I haven’t seen for a long time.”

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Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical condition reported as a side effect of severe brain injury. For Sarah Colville, a 35-year-old woman from Devon, England, her accent shift to Chinese occurred in early 2010 after she experienced an especially severe headache. Colville suffers from migraines.

Linda Walker, 60, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, suffered a stroke in 2006 and found that her Geordie accent had been replaced by a mixture of Jamaican, French Canadian, Italian, and Slovak. In May 2010, the Telegraph reported that an American named Robin Vanderlip said she has foreign accent syndrome as the result of an accident she suffered three years ago. Vanderlip fell and struck her head at a conference, suffered a stroke, and woke up speaking with a heavy Russian accent.

For Chris Gregory, the lapse into a heavy Irish brogue was short-lived. In 2007, the 30-year-old Gregory underwent surgery to correct a life-threatening blood vessel rupture in his brain. When he woke up, his Yorkshire accent had vanished and in its place was a perfect Irish lilt. The transition was temporary, however, and Gregory reportedly has no memory of his Irish brogue.

For those seeking more information about foreign accent syndrome, the University of Texas at Dallas maintains a website.

Foreign Accent Syndrome Support