Foreign accent syndrome

Foreign accent syndrome as a result of acquired brain injury

The media reported the rare case of Linda Walker whose Geordie accent had turned Jamaican after suffering a stroke.

She was diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a rare neurological condition that is caused by damage to the brain.

Having grown up in the Westerhope area of Newcastle she had naturally acquired a Geordie accent. She had spoken with this accent for over 60 years of her life.

When she found out that it had changed to a Jamaican accent she became very down and no longer felt like she was the same person. She felt that she had lost her identity.

The result of Foreign Accent Syndrome is 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 the Second World War when a Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel damage to her brain. She developed a German accent, which led to her being ostracised by her community.

It is a rare result of an acquired brain injury. When people suffer from this rare condition it is often hard for others to understand just how serious the effects can be.

I have acted in cases involving this rare problem and remember particularly one case which arose from a car accident. I suspect foreign accent syndrome is more common than thought, as its subtle effect may be ignored in the light of apparently more serious problems from an acquired brain injury.

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