• We have updated the guidelines regarding posting political content: please see the stickied thread on Website Issues.

Sudden Language / Accent Acquisition (Xenoglossy; Foreign Accent Syndrome)



Alright, got into a semi-debate with a friend of mine recently. I said that there had been cases of individuals spontaneously speaking a foreign language, perfectly, with accent, that they were not familiar with, possibly in connection with being hit on the head. She, however, did not believe one word of it. I know I've read about this in FT and elsewhere, but I cannot find any information offhand - can any one point me to some sources so I can prove her wrong :) ? -- Matt
You're quite right. There are certainly cases documented, but I would have to go away to find them amongst my own sources.
I have recollection of a British woman who had picked up a Scandinavian language - which she patently could hardly have heard let alone repeat accurately.
A common 'explanation' is that many of these apparently supernormal abilities are absorbed unconsciously and are 'replayed' at a later date - an artifact of the fantastic potential of the human brain rather than reincarnation or other such suggestions that have been mooted.
But, of course, we're dealing with a range of abilities, not just language skills. There are cases of musical prodigies who play perfectly the first time they touch an instrument, or persons who are able to compose literary, artistic, or musical works far beyond their conscious ability (duplicating the style of old masters etc), as well as 'psychic surgeons'. The list goes on.
Motor-based skills are harder to account for by such simple 'recall' theories, which leads us toward Jung's ideas of the collective unconscious - a vast and timeless repository of knowledge and skills that we can all draw on if we know how. It sounds outlandish, sure, but it was CG Jung who proposed it - and that alone should give one pause to think.
there was a bit in 'the man who mistook his wife for a hat' (good old oliver) about a woman who woke up one morning after brain surgery to find she spoke with a thick french accent. she couldn't speak or understand a word of the language, mind, she just spoke english with the accent, and was incapapble of relearning her native anglo pronunciation. weird - the 'recognise french accent' bit of the brain must have been scrambled and rewired into the 'how to speak mother tongue' bit.
US stroke victim came to with British accent
A Florida woman who suffered a stroke found she had a British accent when she recovered the power of speech.

Experts have diagnosed Judi Roberts as suffering from "foreign accent syndrome".

Roberts' case is one of fewer than 20 reported worldwide since 1919, says the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

The 57-year-old suffered the stroke while doing a crossword puzzle. She lost the strength to write with her right hand. Her right side was temporarily paralysed and she was left unable to talk.

After months of therapy, she recovered physically and could make guttural sounds. But when her speaking voice finally returned, it wasn't her normal accent.

Instead she spoke with what sounded like a higher-pitched, British accent. She had no idea where the voice came from.

"I thought I was losing my mind," Ms Roberts said.

Experts say the condition, which usually results from a stroke or head injury, causes patients to change their pronunciation to sound like non-native speakers.
EDIT: A fuller account is at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/11/031119075644.htm
"I thought I was losing my mind," Ms Roberts said.
So speaking English like the English is mad?

Seriously though it must be very disturbing for the lady, imagine if you tried to speak in your everyday voice but could only speak like Clousseau!

It does raise some interesting questions about the structural implications of pronounciation.

Also could a believer in reincarnation use this as evidence of past lives?
Originally posted by intaglio

Also could a believer in reincarnation use this as evidence of past lives?

Not really as they only seem to have the accent but not the language.
Stroke gives woman British accent


"Tiffany Roberts suffered a stroke four years ago
An American woman has been left with a British accent after having a stroke.

This is despite the fact that Tiffany Roberts, 61, has never been to Britain. Her accent is a mixture of English cockney and West Country.

Doctors say Mrs Roberts, who was born and bred in Indiana, has a condition called foreign accent syndrome.

This rare condition occurs when part of the brain becomes damaged. This can follow a stroke or head injury. There have only been a few documented cases.

Mrs Roberts discovered she had a British accent after recovering her voice following a stroke in 1999.

"When people first started asking me where in England I was from and a family member asked why am I talking that way, that is when I became very conscious that a part of me had died during the stroke," she said.

Four years on, she still struggles to convince people that she is a born and bred American.

"People in America accuse me of lying when I say I was born in Indiana.

"They would say 'What are you saying that for? Where in England are you from?'

"I would insist that I am not."

A tape recording of her voice before the stroke shows Mrs Roberts used to speak with a broad and relatively deep accent. She now speaks in a much higher pitch.

Doctors are still trying to find out exactly why foreign accent syndrome occurs.

But Dr Jack Ryalls of the University of Central Florida, said it is a real medical condition, which can occur after a patient has a brain injury.

"They recover to various degrees. When they don't recover or when they only have very, very residual effects left its heard as an accent. Its a real phenomenon. It just hasn't been documented very often."

Scientists at Oxford University are among those trying to get to the bottom of the syndrome.

Last year, they confirmed that patients can develop a foreign accent without ever having been exposed to the accent.

This is because they haven't really picked up the accent. Their speech patterns have changed. Injury to their brain causes them to lengthen syllables, alter their pitch or mispronounce sounds. These changes make it sound like they have picked up an accent. They may lengthen syllables.

The first case of foreign accent syndrome was reported in 1941 in Norway, after a young Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel injury to the brain during an air raid.

Initially, she had severe language problems from which she eventually recovered. However, she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was ostracized by her community. "
I saw a woman on TV once who developed a Scottish accent after some sort of bang on the head (she was English)
She could speak French and they got her to talk to a French guy and asked him what nationality he thought she was. He thought Scottish! So she even spoke French with a Scottish accent!
I wonder if she's using proper colloquialisms or slang. If she is, is it from today or a particular time period.

Could be interesting for reincarnation research, or even possession (sp?) research.
given the usual results when people try to "do" another accent I wonder who has identified this as "English Cockney and West Country" ... a brit? a linguist? a voice coach? a USA reporter?

aren't they the ones which tend to be used stereotypically and so the ones she would have heard most?
There was an interview with this woman on tonights 'PM' progtamme on radio 4, presumably it will be available on-line tonight from the listen again service on http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4.

The accents very odd, as first it sounds startingly British but then you can hear the womans original intonation underneath...very strange, she could certainly pass for south-eastern English though.
stonedoggy said:
given the usual results when people try to "do" another accent I wonder who has identified this as "English Cockney and West Country" ... a brit? a linguist? a voice coach? a USA reporter?aren't they the ones which tend to be used stereotypically and so the ones she would have heard most?
English Cockney and West Country I think.
Florida Woman Has Stroke, Gets British Accent

A Sarasota County woman says she felt like she was "losing her mind" when she suffered a stroke and wound up with a British accent.

Judi Roberts was doing a crossword puzzle four years ago when her right hand went numb. She suffered a stroke, which left her paralyzed on her right side and unable to talk. But when her speech finally returned, her deep northern accent was gone.

Roberts now speaks with a higher-pitched British accent. A University of Central Florida expert says Roberts has an extremely rare disorder called "foreign-accent syndrome." Few than 20 cases have been reported worldwide since 1919.

UCF professor Jack Ryalls is an expert on speech and language disorders. He has conducted a series of tests on Roberts and says the syndrome is the only explanation.

Roberts say she has been accused of faking the accent. She became a recluse and even contemplated moving to England until she read about the disorder last spring and contacted experts.

WFTV9 Story here.
I've got a Canadian friend of German/Japanese parentage (now there's a combination!) who's lived in London for 12 years.
She has the weirdest hybrid accent - Canadian/Australian/South African - but not a hint of English - you'd have expected a bit of Mockney, at least. Mind you, is there anybody left in London who has an English accent nowadays? ;)
Filthy le Dog said:
Mind you, is there anybody left in London who has an English accent nowadays? ;)
They all work on 'Eastenders.'
oui oui oui all the way home from hospital

Foreign Accent syndrome baffles medical experts
After suffering a stroke, Cindy Langdon began speaking with a French accent.
Foreign Accent syndrome baffles medical experts


The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Cindy Langdon spent the weekend in bed. She felt nauseous, and the words tumbling out of her mouth had nothing to do with what she was trying to say. It was frightening. And before this Memorial Day weekend was over, her son took her to the hospital.

Langdon, a healthy, active woman of 51, had had a stroke. And like many people who suffer strokes, her life since that weekend in May 2002 hasn't been quite the same.

She doesn't run for exercise anymore; her weakened right arm keeps her off the tennis court.

And - most puzzling to her and others - when she speaks, her voice sounds like she comes from France.

The accent is rather odd for a woman who grew up in Missouri. And it's still much a mystery even to scientists who have studied cases similar to Langdon's.

Langdon is among only a couple of dozen known cases of people who developed what's been labeled Foreign Accent syndrome. In most cases, since the condition was first identified more than 80 years ago, their natural voices have been altered by some kind of brain trauma or head injury.

One researcher estimates fewer than 30 cases have been documented in scientific literature.

People who know Cindy Langdon, including colleagues and marketing clients, have by now taken her change of voice in stride.

When she meets new people, they often ask where she's from.

"It's annoying," she says, and sometimes she'll try to get away with replying that she's from somewhere in Italy or Brazil or France. Beats having to explain.

Before her stroke, most people knew Langdon as an effusive, creative woman. A divorced mother of three, she still operates a marketing, consulting and creative production firm out of her home.

MORE HERE >>>> http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/ne ... 368286.htm
My first reaction was 'Wow, if that's not proof of reincarnation....' but then if it's only an accent and not the language itself, I think the human brain has a tendency to relate an odd way of talking to some foreign accent or other. You can easily imagine a speech impediment sounding like one of the thousands of languages around the world.
I used to work with a young man who had suffered a brain injury as a result of an accident as a kid.

He spoke with a French accent and everyone assumed that he was a French man living & working in the UK. He was often congratulated for his remarkable grasp of the English language, much to his amusement.

He knew that the only part of his mental processes that had been affected was this odd accent and it transpired that the area of his brain that dealt with language and speech was the location of damage.

A fascinating example of what can happen if certain areas of the brain are incapacitated.
Stroke gives woman Jamacian accent

I reckon shes been possessed by the spirit of Desmond Dekker.


Stroke gives woman foreign accent

Linda Walker says she hates what has happened to her

Watch the interview
A Geordie woman has apparently developed foreign accents after waking up following a stroke.
Linda Walker awoke in hospital to find her distinctive Newcastle accent had been transformed into a mixture of Jamaican, Canadian and Slovakian.

The 60-year-old may have Foreign Accent Syndrome, where patients speak differently after a brain injury.

The former university administrator says she hates what has happened to her and now feels like a different person.

Mrs Walker said: "My sister-in-law said that I sounded Italian, then my brother said I sounded Slovakian and someone else said I sounded French Canadian.

"But the latest is that I sound Jamaican, I just don't know how to explain it.

"Everybody is obviously hearing me differently.

I've lost my identity, because I never talked like this before. I'm a very different person and it's strange and I don't like it

Linda Walker

"I didn't realise what I sounded like, but then my speech therapist played a tape of me talking. I was just devastated."

Researchers at Oxford University have found that patients with Foreign Accent Syndrome have suffered damage to tiny areas of the brain that affect speech.

The result is often a drawing out or clipping of the vowels that mimic the accent of a particular country, such as Spain or France, even though the sufferer has limited exposure to that accent.

The syndrome was first identified during World War II, when a Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel damage to her brain. She developed a strong German accent, which led to her being ostracised by her community.

Different sounds

Dr Nick Miller, a senior lecturer in speech language science at Newcastle University, said the condition could occur in patients who had suffered a stroke or other brain injury.

He said: "The stroke has affected the coordination between different muscle groups like the lips, tongue and vocal chords.

"The balance has been changed and certain sounds get distorted so vowels and consonants take on different sounds.

"Intonation is also affected so sometimes it will fall at the end of a sentence and sometimes it will rise."

Mrs Walker added: "I've lost my identity, because I never talked like this before. I'm a very different person and it's strange and I don't like it.

"It's very hard and I get very upset in my head, but I'm getting better."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/engl ... 144300.stm
There are a large number of white Bristolian teens round my way who also speak with a strange, sub-Jamaican accent. All that said, I've long suspected that many of them are actually brain-damaged...

Seriously though, after my great uncle had a stroke, once speech returned it sounded exactly as if slowed down, like a 78 rpm record being played at 33 rpm. When it regained it's normal rate, he had a slightly Afrikaans accent (he'd never been near Africa in his life.) It faded eventually into his original, very RP English accent.

I know this thread is titularly about spontaneous speaking of actual foreign languages, but I think radical involuntary change of accent is possibly part of the same spectrum.
When I first had my stroke and was struggling to remember words I sometimes found the equivalent word in german or italian spring to mind easily, and yet the english word wouldn't come to me. The interestng thing was that my german is about 15 years old (and rusty) and my italian is somewhat limite, and yet my brain seem to bypass my normal speechcentre and find an answer by delving into my foriegn languages.

A lot of people on the wardwwhere I was had speech problems to varying degrees, and intonation and inflection was effected in most cases, although none had foriegn or regional sounding accents (except for one guy who spoke with a strong polish accent due to having come from poland). The lady in the interview sounded geordie most of the time except for sounds which sounded irish/jamaican, but it was interesting to hear that she spent a long amount of time living in canada, as this has probably had a signifcant influence on her speech.
I once knew a woman who, following a stroke, at first entirely lost her ability to speak. As her condition improved and she began to regain her power of speech, she often found herself using the Swedish words for things instead of English. She hadn't spoken Swedish for a good fifty years, since she was a small child. She couldn't differentiate betwen the two languages--she only knew she was speaking Swedish when the people she was talking to started looking at her funny. Luckily her husband was a Swede so he could understand her. The pair of them eventually developed a kind of private patois between themselves and got along fine.

I remember seeing the woman with the allegedly British accent on TV. It sounded slightly British, enough to confuse us tin-eared Yanks, somewhere between Dick van Dyke and Magnum PIs boss. (Oh great, now I'll be trying to remember his name all day :lol: )
But definately not Floridian.
Leaferne said:

The very man!
Bless your heart, Leaferne, you have freed up another small part of my brain for more important stuff. Like the name of that movie where Michael Moriarty played a hockey player who killed another player on the ice... :lol:
If an accident to the brain such as a stroke can make one recall stuff that you had forgotten years and years ago such as words of a foreign language, can hypnotism or other ways of messing with the brain bring these things forwards? I don't mean suppressed memories or past lives, just stuff that you once incontrovertibly knew and don't remember any more - old phone numbers, learnt then forgotten languages, the names of your classmates in primary school for example.