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Foreign accent syndrome (Irregular repetitive speech syndrome) is a very rare medical condition in which patients develop what appears to be a foreign accent. Foreign accent syndrome almost always results from brain damage.[citation needed] However, two cases have been reported of individuals with the condition as a development problem[1] and one associated with severe migraine.[2] Between 1941 and 2012 there were sixty-two recorded cases.[1]

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.). Despite a recent unconfirmed news report that a Croatian speaker has gained the ability to speak fluent German after emergence from a coma,[3] there has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury. There have been a few reported cases of children and siblings picking up the new accent from someone with foreign accent syndrome.


To the untrained ear, those with the syndrome sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent; for example, an American native speaker of English might sound as though he spoke with a south-eastern English accent, or a native British speaker might speak with a New York American accent. However, researchers at Oxford University have found that certain, specific parts of the brain were injured in some foreign accent syndrome cases, indicating that certain parts of the brain control various linguistic functions, and damage could result in altered pitch or mispronounced syllables, causing speech patterns to be distorted in a non-specific manner. More recently, there is mounting evidence that the cerebellum, which controls motor function, may be crucially involved in some cases of foreign accent syndrome, reinforcing the notion that speech pattern alteration is mechanical, and thus non-specific.[4][5] Thus, the perception of a foreign accent is likely a case of pareidolia on the part of the listener.

For example, damage to the brain might result in difficulty pronouncing the letter 'r' at the end of words, forcing a rhotic speaker to use a non-rhotic accent, even if they have never spoken with one. In the U.S., non-rhoticity is a particularly notable feature of a Boston accent, thus the person might seem to speak with a Boston accent to the casual listener. However, many of the other features of a Boston accent may be wholly missing.

It has been suggested that in order to maintain a sense of normality and flow, someone with the syndrome then augments the accent effect by imitating the rest of the accent. Depending on how important a certain phoneme is to a person's original accent, he might find speaking in a different accent to be much easier and his usual accent very difficult to consistently pronounce after some motor skills have been lost.


Early cases[]

The condition was first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie,[6] and another early case was reported in a Czech study in 1919.[7] Other well-known cases of the syndrome have included one that occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman, Astrid L., suffered a head injury from shrapnel during an air-raid. After apparently recovering from the injury, she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was shunned by her fellow Norwegians.[8]

Judi Roberts[]

Another well-known case is that of Judi Roberts, also known as Tiffany Noel, who was born and raised in Indiana, USA. In 1999, at the age of 57, Roberts suffered a stroke and, after recovering, her voice spoke with what resembled an English accent, though she never had been to Britain.[9][10]

Jerry Conner[]

In March 2001, Jerry Conner, a man who was living in Asheville, North Carolina, suffered a stroke while at work and after transfer to the hospital passed out and upon awaking began speaking with a very proper British accent. This was before much was known about foreign language syndrome and merely inscribed in doctors records and hospital records.[citation needed]

Dallas woman, 2004[]

In February of 2004, a woman in Dallas, Texas was given an iodine contrast injection for a chest CT scan, although she was allergic to iodine. The resulting allergic reaction resulted in a 24-hour paralysis during which time she was unable to speak. As the paralysis wore off, she was speaking with a Russian sounding accent. Along with the change in her speech, she also began having seizures. Over time the accent became more normal but gets stronger when she has had a seizure. The Foreign Accent Syndrom website at the University of Dallas [1] has sound clips of her speech from before the incident, and after her speech was affected.

Linda Walker[]

A further case of foreign accent syndrome occurred to Linda Walker, a 60-year-old woman from the Newcastle area of UK. Again following a stroke, her normal Geordie accent was transformed and has been variously described as resembling a Jamaican, as well as a French Canadian, Italian, and a Slovak accent.[11] Researchers at Newcastle University were reprted to be studying the condition in the hope of finding a cure. Speech therapist Frauke Buerk said: "Foreign accent syndrome is extremely rare. When I discovered Linda had the syndrome it was an opportunity to make some progress in the treatment of the condition because so little has been made. "Although Linda has improved it looks likely that she will be left with an accent. We worked on intonation and the stress she places on different words. Some people have said the accent is Jamaican and others Eastern European. As is often the case though, a lot of accents come together."[12] She was interviewed by BBC News 24[13] and appeared on the Richard & Judy show in the UK in July 2006 to speak of her ordeal.

Rajesh, India, 2007[]

On 14 July 2007, a boy named Rajesh in a remote town in India suddenly started speaking in English, even though he never been out of his hometown. He was reported as supposedly being the reincarnation of an American scientist. This case was poorly understood and was never associated with Foreign Accent Syndrome. The reported symptoms, however, were quite clear indication. (A video of the boy, speaking in accented English, may be found at the link in the reference). [14] [15]

Ontario woman, 2008[]

In the July 2008 issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, researchers from McMaster University reported a study where a woman from Windsor, Ontario, after suffering a stroke, began speaking with what some people described as a Newfoundland accent.[16][17]

Cindy Lou Romberg[]

In 2008, Cindy Lou Romberg of Port Angeles, Washington, who had suffered a brain injury 17 years earlier, developed foreign accent syndrome after a neck adjustment from her chiropractor. A visit to the hospital ruled out a stroke. Afterwards she spoke with a Russian accent and even appeared to make the grammatical mistakes of a Russian speaking English, as if English was not her native language. She was featured on the Discovery Health Channel's Mystery ER show on October 26, 2008,[18] and she was also featured on the October 31 edition of Inside Edition.

Julie Frazier[]

In 2008, Julie Frazier, a woman from Fort Wayne, Indiana, with severe Sporadic Hemiplegic Migraine developed foreign accent syndrome. After several months of multiple, daily hemiplegic migraine attacks, her accent began sounding British to Russian, depending on fatigue levels and the perception of the listener. Frazier's case is, to date, the first confirmed association of foreign accent syndrome with a migraine condition.[19]

Sarah Colwill[]

In 2010, another case associated with severe migraine was publicly reported. Sarah Colwill, a frequent migraine sufferer from Devon in the UK, experienced a headache so extreme that she had to call an ambulance. When waking in the hospital later, her accent sounded Chinese.[20][21]

Kay Russell[]

Another incident involving migraine was recorded in September 2010, again with a British woman. After lying down for a while because of her migraine, 49-year-old Kay Russell, from Gloucestershire UK, woke up with a French accent.[22][23][24]

Karen Butler[]

On May 5, 2011, The Huffington Post reported the case of Karen Butler, a woman from Newport, Oregon, who emerged from oral surgery with an Irish accent.[25] Other sources have indicated that her new accent had an Eastern European sound.[26]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 PMID 19121521 (PMID 19121521)
    Citation will be completed automatically in a few minutes. Jump the queue or expand by hand
  2. Severe migraines give Devon woman a bizarre Chinese accent at. URL accessed on 2011-06-16.
  3. includeonly>"Croatian teenager wakes from coma speaking fluent German", Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 2010-04-12. Retrieved on 2010-04-17.
  4. Mariën P., Verhoeven J., Engelborghs, S., Rooker, S., Pickut, B. A., De Deyn, P.P. (2006). A role for the cerebellum in motor speech planning: evidence from foreign accent syndrome. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 108, 518-522.
  5. Mariën P., Verhoeven J. (2007). Cerebellar involvement in motor speech planning: some further evidence from foreign accent syndrome. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 59:4, 210-217.
  6. Marie P. (1907). Presentation de malades atteints d’anarthrie par lesion de l’hemisphere gauche du cerveau. Bulletins et Memoires Societe Medicale des Hopitaux de Paris, 1: 158–160.
  7. Pick, A. 1919. Über Änderungen des Sprachcharakters als Begleiterscheinung aphasicher Störungen. Zeitschrift für gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 45, 230–241.
  8. Monrad-Krohn, G. H. "Dysprosody or Altered 'Melody of Language'." Brain 70 (1947): 405-15.
  9. includeonly>"Stroke gives woman British accent", BBC News, BBC, 2003-11-25. Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
  10. includeonly>Lewis, Angie, Guin, Karen. "Communicative Disorders Clinic Diagnoses Rare Foreign Accent Syndrome in Sarasota Woman", University of Central Florida-College of Health and Public Affairs. Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
  11. includeonly>Bunyan, Nigel. "Geordie wakes after stroke with new accent", Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group Limited, 2006-07-04. Retrieved on 2007-12-30.
  12. "Geordie to an East European", by Sophie Doughty and Craig Hope, The Evening Chronicle, at
  13. includeonly>"Stroke gives woman foreign accent", BBC News, BBC, 2006-07-04. Retrieved on 2007-12-30.
  14. includeonly>"UP boy claims to be incarnation of a US scientist", IBN Live, CNN IBN, 2007-07-14. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  15. includeonly>"UP village boy suddenly acquires American accent", TOI, The Times of India, 2007-07-14. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  16. includeonly>Naidoo, Raveeni. "A Case of Foreign Accent Syndrome Resulting in Regional Dialect", the Canadian Journal of Neurological Science, 2008-07-01. Retrieved on 2008-07-03.
  17. includeonly>"Ontario woman gains East Coast accent following stroke", CBC News, 2008-07-03. Retrieved on 2008-07-03.
  18. includeonly>"Woman's Accent Foreign Even to Her", The Seattle Times, 2008-10-27. Retrieved on 2008-10-27.
  19. Health Sentinel: Connecting symptoms finally leads to disorder diagnosis. The News-Sentinel.
  20. Migraine left woman with Chinese accent. The Sunday Times. URL accessed on 20 April 2010.
  21. includeonly>"Severe Migraine Leaves English Woman with Chinese Accent", Fox News, 19 April 2010. Retrieved on 20 April 2010.
  22. includeonly>Morris, Steven. "Woman's migraine gave her French accent", The Guardian, 2010-09-14.
  23. includeonly>"Migraine gives woman French accent", The Independent, 2010-09-14.
  24. includeonly>"Grandmother goes to bed with migraine... and wakes up speaking with a French accent", The Daily Mail, 2010-09-15. Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
  25. Woman Gets Oral Surgery, Wakes Up With Irish Accent. URL accessed on 2011-06-16.
  26. POSTED: 8:28 am EDT May 6, 2011. Woman Gets New Accent After Dentist Visit. URL accessed on 2011-06-16.


  • Dankovičová J, Gurd JM, Marshall JC, MacMahon MKC, Stuart-Smith J, Coleman JS, Slater A. Aspects of non-native pronunciation in a case of altered accent following stroke (foreign accent syndrome). Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 2001;15:195-218.
  • Gurd JM, Bessell NJ, Bladon RA, Bamford JM. A case of foreign accent syndrome, with follow-up clinical, neuropsychological and phonetic descriptions. Neuropsychologia 1988;26:237-51. PMID 3399041
  • Gurd JM, Coleman JS, Costello A, Marshall JC. Organic or functional? A new case of foreign accent syndrome. Cortex 2001;37:715-8. PMID 11804223 PSHAW

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