foreign accent syndrome


When Karen Butler went in for dental surgery, she left with more than numb gums: She also picked up a pronounced foreign accent. It wasn't a fluke, or a joke — she'd developed a rare condition called foreign accent syndrome that's usually caused by an injury to the part of the brain that controls speech.

Butler was born in Bloomington, Ill., and moved to Oregon when she was a baby. She's never traveled to Europe or lived in a foreign country — she's an American, she says, "born and bred." But she doesn't sound like one anymore. Her accent is now a hodgepodge of English, Irish and perhaps a bit of other European accents.

Neurologist Ted Lowenkopf, director of the Providence Stroke Center in Portland, diagnosed her with foreign accent syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. "It's usually the result of a brain injury," Lowenkopf says, "which can come from stroke, head trauma or other diseases that can damage brain tissue, like multiple sclerosis."

There have been only about 100 known cases of the syndrome since it was first reported in the 1940s. The most famous case was a Norwegian woman who was hit by shrapnel in World War II; she developed a German accent and was ostracized as a result. Other cases include a British woman from Devon who developed a Chinese accent following a migraine, and another British woman who had a stroke and now sounds French.

via VPR News.