Foreign Accent Syndrome: What Is It?

Foreign Accent Syndrome is an alteration of speech about which little is yet known, but which could be a symptom of neurological damage. Some cases of mental disorder have been recorded.
Foreign accent syndrome: what is it?

There are many known language dysfunctions, some of which are very common. There are others, however, rarer and more curious, such as the foreign accent syndrome. Do you want to know what it is and what are the causes? Read on to learn more.

It is a strange language disorder described for the first time in 1907. The subject has a different pronunciation from that of a native speaker, causing the interlocutor to think that he is talking to a foreign person.

Foreign accent syndrome is not limited only to the pronunciation of words, but can also involve syntax and vocabulary. In addition to this, there have been cases of anomalies regarding the length of sentences or the use of accents typical of parts of the world that the subject has never visited.

Causes of Foreign Accent Syndrome

This syndrome has long been associated with neurological causes. Specifically, brain damage, such as a stroke. Other recorded cases are psychiatric and mixed in nature.

Neurological causes

This is the main trigger although the exact mechanism by which it occurs is not known. Several neurological observation techniques have shown damage to the motor and speech areas of the brain in the dominant hemisphere. In addition to strokes, other conditions can damage these areas:

  • Head-brain trauma
  • Aneurysms
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumors
Consequences of a stroke.
The consequences of a stroke can be different, among them the foreign accent syndrome.

Psychiatric causes

In recent years, there have been reports of patients suffering from foreign accent syndrome despite the absence of brain damage. However, they suffered from  psychiatric or psychological disorders, thus demonstrating that the disorder is more complex than one might think.

In this regard, psychosis, conversation disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are among the main associated mental disorders. In the specific case of psychosis, the newly acquired accent will have a duration equal to that of the entire episode. Usually the situation normalizes as soon as the psychotic event ends.

Mixed causes

In these cases, the patient generally presents neurological damage followed by a psychiatric disorder, so it cannot be attributed to a specific cause. At first there is a loss of identity and the consequent development of a new personality.

Finally, foreign accent syndrome is sometimes associated with development and growth; it is therefore unrelated in these cases to brain damage and / or psychiatric disorders.

Symptoms of foreign accent syndrome

This curious syndrome is characterized by a variation in the pronunciation of the individual, who may not notice the anomaly. Here we may find segmental and prosodic deficits:

  • Segmental deficits: it is possible to notice a different pronunciation of the vowels, as the subject tends to increase or reduce the timing of their pronunciation. On the other hand, little noticeable changes occur in consonants and pronunciation errors.
  • Prosodic deficit: we refer to an alteration in the rhythm and intonation with which different words and phrases are pronounced. In addition, you may notice a reduction in the time interval between syllables and a reversal of the intonation of a sentence.

Diagnosis

People with this syndrome usually do not notice changes in their pronunciation, so it is usually referred to by third parties. The diagnosis must be made by a specialist, who, however, may find it difficult due to the similarity to other pathologies.

For an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will evaluate the patient’s medical history, with any family history and possible exposure of the patient to a foreign language. He will also have to proceed with a thorough exploration of the muscles of the tongue, as they are often damaged.

Very often, imaging tests will be prescribed to confirm or rule out the presence of neurological damage. Computerized axial tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are useful.

Woman with foreign accent syndrome.
Due to the patient’s difficulties in communicating with others, this disorder has social repercussions.

Treatment of foreign accent syndrome

In most cases, the problem associated with pronunciation disappears on its own within a few days or weeks, so no medical intervention is required. However, in some cases it does not resolve spontaneously and can last for several years.

We can define this disorder as a motor dysfunction with neurological damage, so the therapy will be oriented to the resolution of both problems. First of all, we will intervene on the underlying neurological or psychological pathology.

Similarly, the effectiveness of speech therapies has been demonstrated in order to recover the natural accent. In this regard, a study by the University of Malaga tested the effectiveness of donepezil during therapy.

Consequences for the life of patients

Although this syndrome does not represent a danger to the life of the sufferer, it can have repercussions of a psychological and social nature. This is because communication with the subject becomes difficult due to the difficulty encountered in understanding what he is saying.

Furthermore, it is important not to ignore it as foreign accent syndrome could indicate some unknown neurological or psychological pathology. It is therefore advisable to consult a specialist as soon as possible.

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