Foreign Accent Syndrome-the woman who woke up chinese

inspired by this story from the BBC

mindboggling stuff. how do you wake up speaking another language? do scientists have any explanation for this? would this be a positive or detrimental thing to daily life?

Note that it says that you speak your own language with a foreign accent, not that you suddenly speak a foreign language.

They don’t actually speak another language, they just end up with what sounds like a foreign accent. They don’t suddenly know any vocabulary from their “new” language.

I’ve read a few news articles about cases, and in all of those the afflicted person said it had a very detrimental effect on their life.

The wikipedia page has some info, but not a lot of scientific detail on what causes it. I don’t know how well understood it is, although it is clearly linked to brain damage.

I remember reading about the woman featured in the new BBC show a couple of years ago. I also remember this article from a few months ago:

i think it would be kind of cool if i woke up one morning with an american accent. would help me get that coveted movie role and my partner would stop snarking at my prounciation.

It’s not necessarily a particular foreign accent. Sometimes it’s just a strange accent that doesn’t correspond to any known accent. Sometimes people will try to place that accent and will claim that it’s a particular accent, even though it isn’t. It’s far from clear that this syndrome has anything to do with particular foreign accents rather than just a weird garbling of someone’s speech.

However, there was a incident of an American who seems to have woken up speaking only Swedish. It seems that his background indicates that he is an American from Florida who has lived in and/or traveled in Sweden before and has contacts there and it seems reasonable that he had learned Swedish as as second language in earlier years, and then suffered brain damage that wrecked his English speaking ability but not his Swedish ability.

It has been my understanding that second languages learned after a certain maturity cutoff in childhood are stored in a different part of the brain or stored differently - this could be an interesting case to study since we may have a person who only speaks a second language learned as an adult and has lost their native language. In addition to giving us more knowledge of how to help people with brain damage it could also help us understand language acquisition better or even help people learn languages better.

My wag: She suffered a stroke that damaged some part of the brain that is concerned with speech articulation. Nothing suggested she could speak Chinese or that her actual language centers were damaged, only that had lost some articulation ability. Also, nothing there (it was remarkably uninformative) suggested she had any particular accent.

Perhaps it is a mild form of Aphasia?

I saw the programme and whilst she certainly did sound Chinese, the impression I got was that was co-incidental and it’s more that she lost the ability to distinguish between certain sounds and also lost a portion of her vocabulary. They weren’t able to point to a cause and couldn’t find any brain damage, but it was clear that the effect was fairly profound.