Foreign accent syndrome is a speech-alteration condition that isn’t heavily documented, but it can be an indication of serious neurological damages. There are also recorded cases that link it to mental disorders.
There are a great number of disorders related to speech disturbances, and some of them are very common. On the other hand, there are also rarer and take on more curious forms, like foreign accent syndrome.
Are you interested to know what it is and what causes it? Keep reading to find out!
Foreign accent syndrome
This is a strange speech disorder. The first reference we have of it dates back to 1907. The patient suffering pronounces their words with an accent that is different from their native one, making it seem like you’re talking to someone from a different country.
Foreign accent syndrome doesn’t only limit the pronunciation of words, but it can also damage the syntax and vocabulary of those suffering. Furthermore, there are reports that claim that the length of the sentences is also affected. Strangely, in many cases, the newly adopted accent is from a country that the person has never even visited.
Causes of foreign accent syndrome
For a long time, professionals have associated it only with neurological issues. By which we mean that there will have usually been situations that have caused brain damage, like a stroke. However, there have also been cases of the syndrome that specialists have attributed to a psychiatric or mixed origin.
This is the main triggering factor of the syndrome, however, we still don’t know the exact mechanism that causes it. Diverse neurological observation techniques have shown the damage in different areas of the brain: the motor and language area of the dominant hemisphere.
In addition to strokes, there are other situations that are capable of damaging these areas of the brain, among which we have highlighted the following:
- Head injuries
- Multiple sclerosis
- Brian tumors
During the last few years, there have been reports of patients with foreign accent syndrome that don’t show any signs of brain damage. However, they will have suffered psychiatric or psychological afflictions, demonstrating that this disorder is more complex than we thought.
In this sense, among the main mental illnesses associated with this, specialists mention psychosis, conversion disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. In the specific case of psychosis, an adopted new accent will linger throughout the attack. However, it usually subsides as the attack does.
In these cases, in the beginning, the patient usually has neurological damage, and later they develop a psychiatric disorder, as such, we can’t attribute one specific cause. We characterize it as a loss of identity and the development of a new personality.
At this point, it’s worth highlighting that a variant of the syndrome is tied to development and growth. Here, there’s evidence of cases where patients with this disorder don’t present any brain damage or psychological disorder.
Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome
This curious syndrome is characterized by a variation in the individual’s pronunciation, and the individual themselves may not notice the alteration. In such cases, there may be segmental and prosodic deficits:
- Segmental deficits: It’s possible that you’ll notice more of an alteration in the vowels since patients tend to increase or decrease the time of pronouncing them. On the other hand, there may be very subtle changes to consonants and errors in the pronunciation.
- Prosodic deficits: Here, we’re referring to a change in the rhythm and the intonation of different words and phrases. We can also find a reduction of the time between syllables and an inversion of the phrases’ intonation.
People that suffer from this syndrome don’t usually notice the variation in their dialect themselves, as such the observation is usually done by a third party. The official diagnosis should be made by a specialist. However, it can be difficult due to the fact that a lot of disorders are similar.
In order to make a true diagnosis, the medical professional will verify the person’s medical history, family history, and the patient’s exposure to a foreign language. They should also thoroughly explore the muscles used for speech since they’re usually affected.
In many cases, in order to search for any neurological damage, the patient will require an imaging exam that observes the brain and its behavior. MRIs and computer-generated axial tomographies are useful.
Treatment for foreign accent syndrome
In the majority of cases, the changes in pronunciation disappear on their own after a few days or weeks, so medical intervention isn’t necessary. Nevertheless, there are cases of the syndrome that don’t disappear and can remain for years.
Specialists consider this particular disorder to be a motor alteration with neurological damage, for which they use therapy to solve both problems.
First, the specialist focus on the neurological or psychological issue that’s at the basis of the disorder.
On the other hand, professionals have demonstrated the efficiency of language therapies when dealing with foreign accent syndrome. These have helped patients to recover their native accents. In a similar vein. a study at the University of Malaga demonstrated the effectiveness of including donepezil in treatment.
Repercussion in the lives of those affected
Despite the fact that the syndrome doesn’t represent a danger for the lives of those who suffer from it, it can have a huge psychological and social repercussion. This is due to its resulting difficulty in communicating for the patients. After all, it becomes difficult to understand what they’re saying.
However, it’s important not to ignore its presence. This is because foreign accent syndrome can be an indication of some kind of underlying neurological or psychological disorder. As such, it’s always best to see a specialist as soon as possible.