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Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS): What Causes This Weird But Real Medical Condition?

Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) occurs when you suddenly start speaking with a different accent. It often occurs after a head injury, stroke, or another type of brain damage. Although rare, the condition does exist. Since the first case in 1907, only 100 people have been diagnosed with this condition.

The condition was first described by the French neurologist Pierre Marie. From 1941 to 2009, 62 cases were reported. However, English speakers are not the only ones affected by FAS. Cases of FAS have been documented in all languages and across all cultures [1].

Cases of FAS have been documented around the globe, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.

What Are The Causes Of Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS)?

FAS appears to be associated with conditions that affect and damage Broca's area of the brain, which is located on the left side, typically involved in producing speech. FAS is not typically a persistent disorder; it is a temporary state during recovery after a stroke or trauma or a state of deterioration.

To the untrained ear, people with the syndrome sound as if they are speaking their native languages with a foreign accent; an American who speaks English natively might sound as though they are speaking with a south-eastern English accent, and an English speaker from Britain may sound like they are speaking with an American accent.

Conditions that can affect this area of the brain include the following [2]:

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What Are The Symptoms Of Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS)?

Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome affect the entire phonetic system (natural accent). This is how it shows up in your speech [3][4]:

  • Your pitch or tone may differ depending on the sound.
  • Errors that are fairly predictable.
  • A peculiar equal and excessive stress (especially with multisyllabic words).
  • Errors in voicing words (i.e., bike for pike).
  • Problems with consonant clusters.
  • Vowel distortions, prolongations, substitutions (e.g., "Yeah" pronounced "Yeah").
  • Inserting "uh" into words.
  • It sounds like your accent is someone who learned it as a second language later in life, even though you still speak your native language.
  • You have difficulty with sounds that require you to tap your tongue behind your top front teeth, such as "t" and "d."
  • Vowels are pronounced differently; for instance, you say "yah" instead of "yeah."
  • There are no underlying mental health conditions causing these accent changes, and your mental health is otherwise good.
  • Your phonetic system has a new accent, given the consistency of your errors.

FAS has similarities to apraxia of speech (AoS), another motor speech disorder; some experts consider FAS a minor form of AoS.

How Is Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) Diagnosed?

When you go to the doctor, he or she will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history and may also examine the muscles you use when you talk. In addition, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computerized tomography (CT) scan can provide your doctor with images of your brain to further diagnosis [5].

Due to the rarity of FAS, you will likely be seen by a team of specialists, such as the ones mentioned below:

  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Neurologist
  • Psychologist

How Is Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) Treated?

Treatment for FAS is based on the underlying cause. If there are no underlying conditions, treatment options include the following [6]:

  • Speech therapy includes exercises designed to make you pronounce the sounds in your regular accent intentionally to mimic your previous accent.
  • FAS-related counselling, therapy, or support groups can help you cope with any issues in your life.

If there is an underlying medical condition causing FAS, you may need specific treatments according to the condition.

On A Final Note...

Though rare, FAS is a serious neurological condition that may lead to complications if the underlying cause is not diagnosed and treated on time. Get medical attention if you notice any change in your speech as soon as possible. It may not be serious or require treatment; however, being aware of the cause behind the changes can help you get the right treatment and prevent further complications.

Story first published: Wednesday, May 4, 2022, 21:17 [IST]
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