Neurology: what is foreign accent syndrome ?

Neurology: what is foreign accent syndrome ?

Neurology: what is foreign accent syndrome ?

Imagine waking up one morning and speaking with a completely different accent! It's – pretty much what happens to people affected by foreign accent syndrome. What is it about ?

With barely 100 cases detected worldwide, foreign accent syndrome intrigues the scientific community. "This is a disorder in which the way you speak changes suddenly" explains the Cleveland Clinic on its website. "As the name suggests, others have the impression that you speak with a foreign accent. This indicates that something is disrupting your brain function."

Very rare therefore – first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie – this syndrome can occur following brain damage, particularly after a stroke, head trauma or even vascular dementia.

An incredible story

Among the cases reported since, let us cite a story dating from 1941 and told by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): " On September 6, the city of Oslo, occupied by the Germans, was attacked by the British Royal Air Force. A 30-year-old woman named Astrid was injured in the left side of her head. After several days, she regained consciousness (…) Her speech had changed and people who heard her detected an accent close to German." Which led her to be rejected by her compatriots.

Sound changes

Speed ​​of speech, articulation, duration of sounds or inflections… The difficulty in controlling different parts of the mouth can thus considerably modify the quality of the sound and give the impression of an accent.

Thus, cases documented around the world report a transition from a Japanese accent to a Korean accent, from English to French or from a American accent to a British accent.

A source of anxiety

As the Cleveland Clinic explains, foreign accent syndrome can have major consequences on a person's mental health, opening the door to depression and to anxiety. This can be due to different elements:

Skepticism on the part of loved ones who wonder if the illness and symptoms are real; Difficulties in obtaining a diagnosis (due to the rarity of the pathology); It is difficult to get a diagnosis because this disease is very rare, which means health care providers may overlook it or misdiagnose it as another disease. The fear of not being understood when trying to communicate…

As for the treatment, which can vary from drug therapy to speech therapy sessions, it will depend on the causes of the syndrome.

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