by Nishelle Coffee and Brianna Shelby; Farnsley Middle School (Lousiville, KY)

In December 2010, a woman named Sarah Colwill suffered a migraine and made her accent turn from Plymouthian—an accent of English people that live in Plymouth—to Chinese, according to the British newspaper, The Telegraph. Another case on the National Public Radio (NPR) news streaming website by Jane Greenhalgh reported that an Oregon woman woke up with an English-Irish sounding accent.

Why would someone’s accent suddenly change? Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

These people suffer from a syndrome called Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS). According to Wikipedia, this syndrome is caused by severe migraines, head trauma, stroke, or developmental issues. Mainly, FAS is caused by injuries having to do with the brain or anything around the brain. Also according to Wikipedia, people who emerge from a coma can also develop this unusual syndrome.

Lyndsey Nickels, a professor and Research Pathologist who works in the ARC Centre of Excellence and Cognition and Disorders and the National Health and Medical Council Centre of Clinical Research Excellence in Aphasia Rehabilitation at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, did an investigation on FAS and reported it to The Conversation website, an independent news analysis website. Nickels reports that a Tasmanian woman has lived with a French accent for the past eight years after surviving a tragic car accident in 2013.

Nickels states that there have been many reports that she has investigated. Some include an American who spoke with a British accent after waking up from a coma. Another is when a British man woke up with a Russian accent.

 According to the speech production lab at the University of Dallas, TX, FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Other causes have also been reported, including sclerosis (abnormal hardening of body tissue) and conversion disorder(a mental health condition that involves a person being blind or paralyzed and the doctors don’t have any reasonable explanation for the cause).  In some cases, no clear cause has been identified. Some of the many common speech changes include unusual patterns of stress on words with many syllables; consonant changes, deletions, or using the word incorrectly; voicing errors; trouble with consonant groups; vowel damages, continuations, substitutions; and “uh” inserted into words.      

Researches at Oxford University have found that certain parts of the brain were injured in some FAS cases, signifying that certain parts of the brain control various verbal functions and damage could result in changed pitch or mispronounced syllables, causing speech patterns to be inaccurate in a non-specific manner. Since FAS is extremely rare, it takes many doctors to use high tech scanning instruments to examine the brain. As a result of all the tests the doctors took, they found that one of the main symptoms of this syndrome is that the patient moves their tongue or jaw differently while speaking which creates a different sound. A recording is done of the speech pattern in order to analyze it. According to Oxford University’s research, FAS is permanent damage to the human brain.

 Nickels states, “Some children can have FAS associated with the same kind of problems with their speech muscles as those adults who acquire the condition as a result of acquired brain injury. As it is brain damage that causes it in adults (migraine causes a temporary problem with brain function but doesn’t cause permanent FAS), it is possible that other cases of brain injury can also cause it-these include brain tumors, brain infection (encephalitis).”


Nishelle Coffee & Brianna Shelby

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