Foreign Accent Syndrome

It is a very rare medical condition in which the patients develop a speech pattern which is different from the native accent. It is usually not acquired by the person. This condition was first reported in 1907 and till 2009 sixty two cases have been recorded so far. Foreign accent syndrome is caused by damage to the brain. It can be due to a stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis and certain conversion disorder. There have been cases where the cause could not be determined. The speech of the affected person can be altered in terms of intonation, tongue movement and timing. This change often produces a different accent which is perceived as foreign. The cases of changes in the accent have been recorded across the globe and some of the noted changes were from American English to British English, Spanish to Hungarian, Japanese to Korean and British English to French. Although the accent may be different the quality of the speech is high and does not sound disordered.

Some of the common symptoms due to foreign accent syndrome are the use of unusual prosody which includes equal and excess stress, constant distortion, deletion, and substitution, voicing errors, issues with consonant clusters, vowel distortions, inserting `uh` into words and prolongations.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

As we already know Foreign accent syndrome usually happens as a result of brain damage, usually from a stroke for certain injuries. Apart from that, it can be caused due to lesions on the brain as well which can cause this condition. The left hemisphere of the brain controls the rhythm and melody of speech. Aphasia and apraxia have also been linked to Foreign accent syndrome. Aphasia is known as a disorder that affects the ability to understand and express speech. Similarly, apraxia is a disorder that affects the ability to make syllables, words, and sounds. People who have these conditions can increase the chances of developing Foreign accent syndrome. It is also believed that Foreign accent syndrome can have psychogenic causes as well.

The doctors would make an assessment of the patient`s medical history. They can also check on the family history and the patient`s exposure to foreign language. A physical examination can also be done for the patient to understand their oral structures and to identify the muscles used for making a speech. These tests will help determine the patient`s speech and language abilities. The evaluations from an in-depth analysis of the patient`s speech pattern will help determine any psychological issues. The doctor can also suggest certain tests such as CT scan, MRI, single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan and EEG as well. These tests can help check the brain for any abnormalities. It is important that the accent should be considered as foreign by the family members and the doctor before starting any further diagnosis.

There are not many treatments available for this condition. In some cases, the condition has been resolved on it own in few months but in other cases, it became a permanent issue. The treatment can include speech therapy and techniques to reduce the accent. Such patients should consult a speech and language therapist.

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