Woman Gets New Accent After Dentist Visit
Patient Awoke With Rare Foreign Accent Syndrome
May 6, 2011
TOLEDO, Ore. -- When most people leave the dentist's office, they're leaving with chapped, stretched lips and a bit of Novocain numbness. But one Oregon woman left her dentist's with an entirely new accent.
Karen Butler, of Toledo, Ore., said she went to the dentist for routine work and woke up speaking completely different than she had.
"I sounded more like I was from Transylvania," said Butler.
Butler said her new accent immediately started getting attention.
"You talk to young girls they think it's a very, very pretty sound. And they say, 'I want an accent like that,'" said Butler. "Oh, well just go see my dentist. He only charges $7,000."
Butler is one of a very small number of people suffering from what is known as foreign accent syndrome. There have been just 60 recorded cases since 1941.
There isn't anything Butler can do to get her old accent back -- she doesn't notice the change at all. The only way she can hear the mix of Irish brogue and Eastern European thickness is by listening to a recording.
Apart from a few surprised people at the end of a telephone call, Butler said her life is mostly the same. Her husband agrees.
"She still is her old American self. Just her voice has changed," said Glen Butler.
Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical condition involving speech production that usually occurs as a side effect of severe brain injury, such as a stroke or head trauma. Two cases have been reported of individuals with the condition as a development problem and one associated with severe migraine. Between 1941 and 2009 there have been sixty recorded cases. Its symptoms result from distorted articulatory planning and coordination processes. It must be emphasized that the speaker does not suddenly gain a foreign language (vocabulary, syntax, grammar, etc.); they merely pronounce their native language with an accent that to listeners may be mistaken as foreign or dialectical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_accent_syndrome
. . . Since I look vaguely foreign/exotic I got a LOT of inquiries as to where
I was from. "Minnesota" didn't seem to satisfy them. . .
She doesnt at all sound like shes from Transylvania. (Although, what with the dental work I could think that would be a good accent to acquire).
Notable Cases Of Foreign Accent Syndrome:
Neurologist Pierre Marie was the first person to be able to describe Foreign Accent Syndrome in 1907, followed not long after by one of the first ever cases in a Czech study, 1919.
One of the most well-known cases of this syndrome was in 1941 in Norway when Astrid L, a young woman, was injured in an air raid and suffered a head injury from the resulting shrapnel. She appeared to have recovered from the injuries she suffered but later on she developed a really strong German accent, and her natives in Norway shunned her.
In 1999, Judi Roberts or Tiffany Noel as she was otherwise known as, who was a native American born in Indiana and subsequently spent her life there, suffered a stroke. She spent a period of time in recovery and it was during this time that the people closest to her noticed that she was speaking with a British accent, even though she had never been to the UK in all of her 57 years.
The first case of dual foreign accent syndrome was reported in January 2006 when a man, who is thought to be Australian, was on holiday in Thailand, where he had a stroke. This was a result of reported diazepam abuse. When he woke up his friends were with him and noticed that he spoke with an English and Irish accent, often switching between the two in mid sentence.
Following this case the media began to get interested in this syndrome and found Linda Walker, from Newcastle and who was 60 at the time in 2006. Like many of the cases she had a stroke, and when she woke up she had multiple accents, and not one of them was Geordie, one that she had before the stroke. Her “new” accents included Jamaican, French Canadian, Slovak, and Italian. She became well-known as a result of her appearances on BBC News 24 and Richard & Judy, where she spoke about what had happened to her.
Perhaps one of the more strangest cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome was reported in 2008, when Cindy Lou Romberg, who was from Washington, suddenly developed a Russian accent after visiting her chiropractor for some neck work. She went to the hospital but they ruled out the possibility of a stroke but 17 years previously she did suffer a brain injury and it is thought that even after all those years the syndrome can still develop because of damaged parts in the brain. Again she was popular with the media and appeared on Discovery’s Mystery ER.
The first case resulting from a migraine or headache was reported in 2010 from Devon, UK. Sarah Colwill who frequently suffered with migraines had a particularly bad headache one day that would not disappear, and it got so bad that she had to call an ambulance. When she woke up in hospital later she spoke with a Chinese accent. This case was widely reported, especially in the UK press.
Not long after the previous case, another woman from the UK, who also frequently suffered from migraines, had a bad headache and went to lie down for a while. When she woke up, her accent was French.
There are a number of case reports of FAS in the literature, with many different types of accents resulting from mostly strokes but also tumors, bleeds, and multiple sclerosis lesions. In one case the lesion was located in the dominant anterior parietal lobe, in the sensory cortex. In another case there was a stroke in the “left internal capsule, basal ganglia and frontal corona radiata.” A lesion there would cause mainly weakness in the muscles of speech, rather than an impairment of language itself. Yet another case involved a lesion in Broca’s area (language cortex responsible for speech output) – in this case the resulting accent was identified by different blinded examiners as being from various different countries, or even as just being “strange”. The authors concluded:
These findings suggest that FAS is not due to the acquisition of a specific foreign accent, but to impairment of the suprasegmental linguistic abilities (tone, accent, pauses, rhythm, and vocal stress) that make it possible to distinguish native language.
The anatomy of FAS is poorly understood because there are few cases and they probably represent a diverse collection of specific lesions – those that just happen to produce the impression of one kind of accent or another. There are three basic types of localizations that are plausible: Lesions might affect primary language cortex – that part of the brain that is dedicated to understanding language and producing speech. There is also a separate region of cortex in the opposite hemisphere that provides the prosody of speech – inflection and rhythm that both produces and interprets meaning and emotion (for example, understanding that someone is asking a question or using sarcasm from inflection). Also, any part of the motor system that affects the muscles used in speech could affect the ability to pronounce words, perhaps causing certain consonants to be dropped which could resemble a dialect that also drops those consonants.
Case reports generally agree that in FAS the foreign accent is perception only, not reality. In one detailed analysis the researchers showed that the subject continue to display typical linguistic features of their native tongue, but had altered prosody of speech that created the impression of a foreign accent. In other words – the appearance of an accent was superficial, but if you look closely at the details of speech they were consistent with the original native language.
Most reported cases involve a stroke or brain damage with a documented lesion. There are some cases, however, without a known brain lesion. In these cases the question arises – is this particular example of FAS psychogenic, meaning it is psychological rather than neurological. Cases which strongly suggest a psychogenic cause are ones in which there is no lesion, but also the apparent accent seems to be more of an affectation than a deficit. For example, taking on a refined British-sounding accent without any hint of dysarthria or speech deficit is suspect. In one reported case a patient with schizophrenia spoke with a British accent during psychotic episodes, and a detailed neurological evaluation revealed no brain dysfunction or language defect. This accent resolved when the psychotic episodes resolved.