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What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

The Foreign Accent Syndrome is a strange speech disorder whereby patients develop speech patterns that are perceived as having a foreign accent other than their native language, without having acquired it in the place of origin.

Speech can be altered in terms of time, intonation and placement of the tongue, so that it is perceived as if a strange sound were produced. Its expression can be highly intelligible, although it does not necessarily sound messy.

Content

  • 1 Causes of foreign accent syndrome
  • 2 Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome
  • 3 Diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome
  • 4 Treatment

Causes of foreign accent syndrome

This strange disorder usually occurs after a brain damage such as a cerebral vascular accident (AVC) or a head injury. Other causes such as the multiple sclerosis, but in some cases a clear cause has not been identified.

Aphasia (a disorder that affects the ability to understand and express words) and apraxia (A disorder that affects the ability to produce words, syllables and sounds) has also been linked to foreign accent syndrome. Having these diseases can increase a person's chances of developing this disorder.

When someone develops this disease due to a stroke, for example, damage has usually occurred in an area of ​​the brain that controls the rhythm and melody of speech, usually in the left hemisphere of the brain.

Some researchers believe that foreign accent syndrome it can also have psychogenic causes, which means that it is caused by a mental health problem. Thus, instead of suffering from neurological damage, the person has an underlying psychological disorder, such as a personality disorder or conversion disorder (in which the unconscious psychological state of the person has a physical effect on the body).

Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome

The result in any case is that the person's speech pattern changes suddenly and unexpectedly without making a deliberate attempt to do so. The subject still uses the words of his mother tongue and his choice of them is not affected, however the intonation and speech form are altered.

As we have already said, foreign accent syndrome is a rare condition, it is a disorder that was first diagnosed in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie. Since then about 100 cases have been documented, which include accent changes such as:

  • From British English to French or Chinese
  • From American English to British English
  • From Spanish to Hungarian
  • From Japanese to Korean

Speech characteristics may seem similar to those of other speech disorders, but in this case the language emission does not appear as pathological or abnormal, but simply gives the feeling of being strange.

Although each case is unique, the following changes in speech pattern are the most common:

  • Rhythm and unusual speech pattern (prosody), particularly in words with several syllables
  • Fairly predictable errors
  • Distortions, extensions or substitutions of vowels
  • Distortions, substitutions or eliminations of consonants
  • Difficulty pronouncing conglomerates of consonants
  • Insert 'uh' in the words
  • Pronunciation errors

Some people may wonder if this condition is real or feigned, but people with this disorder often they feel frustrated at not being able to speak with their normal accent and may experience social anxiety.

Diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome

To make a correct diagnosis, you should start by making an evaluation that includes a medical history, family history and a history of patient education and exposure to foreign languages.

A physical examination of the oral structures of the person, especially the muscles used to speak, is carried out. Tests to determine the language and speech skills of the patient. To make an in-depth analysis of speech patterns, conversation and oral reading samples will be taken. The person will also be evaluated to rule out any psychological problems. Brain images that include a magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography, and a single photon emission tomography (SPECT) and an electroencephalogram (EEG) may be recommended.

When making a diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome, the following criteria must be met:

  • The accent should be considered strange.
  • The altered speech pattern must be different from the person's native dialect before brain damage occurs.
  • The altered speech pattern must be clearly related to neurological damage if any.
  • There should be no evidence that the person is able to speak with a foreign language.

Treatment

Because this syndrome is so strange, research on the treatment is lacking. There have been cases that have resolved on their own in a few months or years, but other cases have evolved and the condition may be permanent.

The treatment can include the use of accent reduction techniques with the help of a speech and language therapist. The person can also be taught how to move the lips or jaw in a more appropriate manner during speech.