Diseases and Disorders

Foreign Accent Syndrome: A Perplexing Disorder

Mallika Pajjuri


Introduction

Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a disorder stemming from neurogenic causes, occurs when a person suddenly changes  linguistically to pronounce words in alternate fashions and in some unusual cases alters their ability to speak certain languages while retaining intelligible speech patterns. This sudden change can occur once faced with injury, such as a stroke or any form of traumatic brain injury, and its genesis is highly perplexing. In most cases, afflicted persons speak in typologically disparate manners, speaking in languages of countries that they have never been to and speaking like people that they have never met before. In this article, the origins, discovery, and physiological effects of FAS will be deconstructed.

 

Discovery of a Disorder

In 1907, French neurologist Pierre Marie was faced with a rather perplexing case: his patient, having suffered a debilitating stroke, was suddenly able to speak in a low Alemannic Germanic accent despite being French. Ultimately, Marie decided to document this linguistic phenomenon, which we now know to be the first report of FAS. Subsequently, a decade after this rattling discovery, neurologist Arnold Pick came across a similar case, this time occurring to a Czech patient, who after suffering a stroke was able to speak with tinges of a Polish accent. In years after, FAS was diagnosed a bit more often, accounting for sixty-two reported cases from 1941-2009. This has prompted neuroscience researchers to suggest explanations for this rather mysterious affliction [1].

 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Since there have only been a handful of reported cases in the past century, the origins of this disorder are still quite nebulous.  Much research is still required to determine a common cause. However, there have been many notable similarities within past patients, such as certain lesions and speech patterns.  This has led to an established methodology to diagnose impaired people, utilizing various specialists and brain scans to recognize the syndrome. Initially, psychologists are called in alongside speech pathologists and neurologists to rule out any psychological impairment and language exposure. Patients are given various tests, ranging from reading, comprehension, and writing assessments, to aid in identifying the patient’s psychiatric condition. In addition, a speech pathologist will administer a myriad of surveys, ranging from family to educations surveys, in conjunction with gestural and articulatory analyses such as speech tests and oral structure assessments, to analyze the individual’s speech patterns and ultimately deduce the individual’s standing on his or her converted language. If needed, EEGs and MRIs are also used  in order to identify lesions in the somatosensory cortex or the motor cortex that can seriously affect the brain’s ability to navigate language [1].

Although intervention techniques for this symptom have not been explored, there are various accent-reducing processes utilized by neurologists that can reduce the effects. One technique regards pronouncing the phonemes, or vowel/consonant sounds, most commonly present in a given language [2]. For example, if a patient originally spoke English, he/she would be required to read aloud words that contained the forty-four phonemes of the English language.

Phoneme

Spelling Variations

Phoneme

Spelling Variations

Phoneme

Spelling Variations

/b/

b, bb

/v/

v, f, ph, ve

/ū/

o, oo, ew, ue, u_e, oe, ough, ui, oew, ou

/d/

d, dd, ed

/w/

w, wh, u, o

/y//ü/

u, you, ew, iew, yu, ul, eue, eau, ieu, eu

/f/

f, ff, ph, gh, lf, ft

/y/

y, i, j

/oi/

oi, oy, uoy

/g/

g, gg, gh,gu,gue

/z/

z, zz, s, ss, x, ze, se

/ow/

ow, ou, ough

/h/

h, wh

/a/

a, ai, au

/ə/ (schwa)

a, er, i, ar, our, or, e, ur, re, eur

/j/

j, ge, g, dge, di, gg

/ā/

a, ai, eigh, aigh, ay, er, et, ei, au, a_e, ea, ey

/ã/

air, are, ear, ere, eir, ayer

/k/

k, c, ch, cc, lk, qu ,q(u), ck, x

/e/

e, ea, u, ie, ai, a, eo, ei, ae, ay

/ä/

a, ar, au, er, ear

/l/

l, ll

/ē/

e, ee, ea, y, ey, oe, ie, i, ei, eo, ay

/û/

ir, er, ur, ear, or, our, yr

/m/

m, mm, mb, mn, lm

/i/

i, e, o, u, ui, y, ie

/ô/

aw, a, or, oor, ore, oar, our, augh, ar, ough, au

/n/

n, nn,kn, gn, pn

/ī/

i, y, igh, ie, uy, ye, ai, is, eigh, i_e

/ēə/

ear, eer, ere, ier

/p/

p, pp

/o/

o, a, ho, au, aw, ough

/üə/

ure, our

/r/

r, rr, wr, rh

/ō/

o, oa, o_e, oe, ow, ough, eau, oo, ew

/zh/

s, si, z

/s/

s, ss, c, sc, ps, st, ce, se

/oo/

o, oo, u,ou

/ch/

ch, tch, tu, ti, te

/t/

t, tt, th, ed

/u/

u, o, oo, ou

/sh/

sh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, ti

    

/th/

th(voiced), th(unvoiced)

    

/ng/

ng, n, ngue

Chart of the 44 Phonemes of English

 

FAS in the Media

FAS has been subject to public scrutiny in the past few years with its absurd social media popularity. Most recently, the case of sixteen year-old American student Reuben Nsemoh gained extreme popularity, with news coverage extending to mainstream media outlets such as CNN. After being kicked in the head during a match, he was comatose for a short time, and, upon waking up, was able to speak fluent Spanish [3]. Even though he had been learning Spanish as a second language, neurologists were able to conclude that his level of expertise was merely subpar. However, as time passed, he slowly gained the ability to speak English once again, at the expense of his Spanish fluency. This rather mainstream case gained much attention from the general public, and, as a result, increased the interest in foreign accent syndrome research. Hopefully, these recent events will ignite a passion for neurolinguistics, and, as a result, inspire a new focus of linguistics research.


References


  1. Criss, Doug. (25/10/2016). Before his coma he spoke English; after waking up he's fluent in Spanish. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/24/health/teen-spanish-new-language-trnd/. Retrieved: November 20, 2016.

  2. Katz, William; Garst, Diane; Kaplan, Karen; Frisch, Emily. Effects of Accent-Reduction Techniques for the Treatment of an Individual with Foreign Accent Syndrome. UT Dallas. https://www.utdallas.edu/research/FAS/media/FASTherapyPosterWebsite.jpg. Retrieved: 11/19/ 2016.

  3. Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). UT Dallas. https://www.utdallas.edu/research/FAS/. Retrieved: 11/19/2016

Mallika Pajjuri

Mallika Pajjuri


hey! my name is mallika pajjuri, and i am currently a junior at dublin high school. you can find me on instagram @malliaka.paijjuri. looking forward to meeting you all!