The Null Device
Foreign Accent Syndrome
An American woman recently suffered a stroke, and emerged with a British accent
. Tiffany Roberts, 61, who had never been to Britain, now speaks with a mixture of Cockney and West Country accents.
"People in America accuse me of lying when I say I was born in Indiana. They would say 'What are you saying that for? Where in England are you from?'
Last year, they confirmed that patients can develop a foreign accent without ever having been exposed to the accent. This is because they haven't really picked up the accent. Their speech patterns have changed. Injury to their brain causes them to lengthen syllables, alter their pitch or mispronounce sounds. These changes make it sound like they have picked up an accent. They may lengthen syllables.
The first case of foreign accent syndrome was reported in 1941 in Norway, after a young Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel injury to the brain during an air raid. Initially, she had severe language problems from which she eventually recovered. However, she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was ostracized by her community.
(I remember reading about something similar some years back about a British stroke patient who developed a South African accent. I wonder if the explanation means that an midwestern American accent, when damaged, becomes "British", whereas a British accent becomes "South African", whilst a Norwegian accent becomes "German".)
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