Foreign accent syndrome is a rare and poorly studied clinical picture, but it poses one of the great puzzles of neuroscience when it comes to language. Basically, it is a condition in which a person suddenly and without apparent explanation acquires an accent different from that of the native.
In this article we explain what foreign accent syndrome is, What are its main features and what science has discovered so far.
What is foreign accent syndrome?
Foreign accent syndrome is characterized by the sudden presence of an accent different from that of the native language, while speech passes normally. It was first described in 1907 by neurologist Pierre Casa, although few cases have been studied.
It usually occurs after a stroke and apparently comes on suddenly. The person begins to speak in their native language with full intelligibility, however with a seemingly foreign accent that cannot be avoided and that the person themselves does not recognize as their own.
Accent is recognized by other people as different from the native language, although it is not necessarily identified as that of a particular language. In other words, the accent is heard and interpreted by others as foreign, as significant changes are identified. in the pronunciation of certain syllables, consonants and vowels which are considered the key to the mother tongue, but do not necessarily correspond completely to another accent.
Listeners may recognize that the speaker is using their native language (e.g. Spanish), but with an accent which may be French, English, German or any other, which varies depending on the opinions of the listeners. That is, there is usually no agreement on what the perceived accent is, which is why it is also called pseudo-foreign accent syndrome.
This syndrome has been linked to a neuromotor disorder, it is also defined as an acquired alteration of the bean, In which the central nervous system plays a very important role. It may be accompanied by manifestations related to speech and communication disorders such as aphasia and dysarthria, but not necessarily.
Representative clinical cases
González-Álvarez, J., Parcet-Ibars, MA, Ávila, C. et al. (2003) conducted a review of the scientific literature on foreign accent syndrome, and tell us that the first documented case dates back to the year 1917. a Parisian who developed an “Alsatian” accent after receiving a war wound that caused him to have right hemiparesis.
Thirty years later, another of the best-known cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome was published, in which a 30-year-old Norwegian woman suffers from a frontotemporoparietal injury after being the victim of a Nazi bombardment, and as a result, his accent begins to be recognized by listeners as German.
Due to the extremely confrontational context he found himself in, the German accent caused him different problems in doing things in everyday life, as he was identified as German.
Cases of foreign accent syndrome have also been described in the scientific literature without having already lived with a second language. They are almost always monolingual people.
Associated medical conditions and possible causes
Most of the cases studied describe the onset of the syndrome after being diagnosed with Broca’s aphasia, transcortical motor aphasia, subcortical white matter lesions in specific convolutions.
In addition to the motor areas of language, other areas of the brain that have been linked to foreign accent syndrome have been the precentral gyrus, the inferior central gyrus, the corpus callosum, and the insular cortex. The relationship with Rolando’s cleft and temporal areas was also investigated.
More generally, the medical causes related to foreign accent syndrome are mostly strokes in the left hemisphere, In relation to the fields involved in the automation of complex motor behaviors (such as speech, which requires very important neuromuscular coordination).
This syndrome is currently being studied in relation to the neuronal areas that regulate articulation, the acquisition of native speech and of a second language, however there is no agreement on the methodological options that would be. decisive in finding a definitive explanation for this syndrome.
For the same reason, there is not enough information on prognosis and treatment, although some auditory and sensory feedback techniques have been tried that also seek to alter verbal fluency. hearing masking techniques with noise which have been shown to be satisfactory in dealing with, for example, stuttering, as people tend to improve their fluency when they stop hearing their own voice.
- González-Álvarez, J., Parcet-Ibars, MA, Ávila, C. et al. (2003). A rare speech disorder of neurological origin: foreign accent syndrome. Journal of Neurology, 36 (3): 227-234.
- Srinivas, H. (2011) Transient foreign accent syndrome. List of journals, doi: 10.1136 / bcr.07.2011.4466. Accessed June 8, 2018. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3214216/.