Introduction to translation:

A very strange syndrome, as long as people thought that it was related to demonic possession or spiritual representation, and as long as it caused severe racism against some of its sufferers, while others were glorified as if they were given a gift from heaven, but we eventually discovered that it is a nervous disorder that makes someone wake up, Overnight, he speaks with a strange accent that may be close to another language.

In this in-depth article, which is also not without its fluidity and storytelling, "Sam Keith" of "Psychology Today" takes us to the aspects of this syndrome, and reveals how our ability to speak is more complex than we might think.

Translation text:

The story began when the pain made its way to her head, and in front of this sensation, "Ellen Spencer" could not help but kneel on her knees unable to move.

It happened on a dreary, rain-soaked Monday in the American city of Indianapolis.

At the time, Elaine Spencer, a 47-year-old graphic designer, had a strange feeling all day. While she was busy working in front of her computer, her chin felt numb.

As the hours passed, another wave of numbness swept her over her lips, then her nose, her cheeks, her eyebrows, her forehead, and it was like receiving an injection of lidocaine at the dentist.

At half past eight that evening, Spencer was busy cleaning the dishes when something took hold of her and she was brought to her knees in pain, as if someone had struck her with an ax in the back of her head.

Then she mustered hard as she crawled upstairs to wake her husband, but instead decided to go to sleep to escape the pain that gripped every inch of her body, determined to call her doctor the next morning if she did not feel better.

Mrs. Ellen Spencer

The next morning, she awoke at half past seven in the morning with a horrible headache that was getting progressively worse, and she could do nothing but wait and count the minutes until the nearby clinic opened.

The most frightening thing for her was that the numbness began to creep into her right shoulder, moving to the upper arm and armpit.

On that day there were no open clinics, so I went to the emergency room of a hospital.

I had a long and frustrating day of exams.

Meanwhile, the numbness continued to penetrate until it forced itself on the right side of her body.

She went to the hospital, and between pain and fear, she thought about the possibility that this numbness would extend into her lungs as well. Her husband believed that the hospital had given her treatment, but in fact she had only received a saline solution, and the husband's belief stemmed mainly from his observation that his wife was stuttering. talk.

Doctors treated her case as a mystery, because the tests at the time did not give conclusive results (though she believed she had suffered from a mild brain haemorrhage that was too subtle to show up in brain scans).

Spencer came home in the afternoon utterly broken, her husband brought her dinner a few hours later, but she did not move, and she slept for about 16 hours, and then woke up the next morning without her pain and numbness subsiding an iota, but she was able to At least she should drag herself to the bathroom, and on the way she muttered something to her little dog, and it was so normal that she doesn't remember what she said, and yet the way she pronounced the sentence continued to etch her inscriptions on the walls of her memory permanently, because the sound that came out of her mouth seemed not to belong To her, as if accompanied by a strange accent.

The picture became blurred before her poor mind, which was unable to comprehend what was happening, so she made her way to the mirror in an attempt to speak again, and the obsessions that haunted her head became a certain fact.

After she realized the strangeness of her voice, she was confused and disturbed, but she continued to speak loudly to herself in an attempt to fix this defect.

In the meantime, she went through many experiments to pronounce some sentences in her mother tongue, but all her attempts were unsuccessful and she came out with a French accent. Stammering tried other words like "different" which means "different", but again her efforts went unheeded and came out as "dee-fah-rawnt".

Then she had a sad look in her eyes, and she began to weep sharply, things had gotten out of her control, and she began to wonder in great confusion: Wasn't she born and raised in the American state of Indiana and spoke the language of the Midwest all her life?

Where does she get this French accent now?!

10 years after that incident, Spencer hasn't been able to get rid of that accent to this day.

In a fleeting moment before some Internet search, Spencer realized she had developed a rare neurological disorder called Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS).

Stroke, along with some other damage to the brain, is the strongest cause of this condition.

While the doctors didn't know what was going on or why her tone had shifted, Spencer had to contend with her tragedy with many language quirks and gaffes.

These linguistic slips have been evident in some of her syllables, such as the 'th' in mother and father, which appears as mudder and fadder.

Spencer thinks her accent is a mixture of French, Dutch, and German with a slight hint of a South African accent marked by an emphasis on consonants, but the impeccable truth is that what she speaks is far from her native dialect.

Given that language emanates from within us, and gives us a sense of belonging to ourselves and to the society around us, the foreign accent syndrome may be a fatal stab for its owner, forcing him to withdraw away from friends and flee even from his life partner.

About this, Sheila Blumstein, a linguist at Brown University in America who has studied this syndrome says: “Our voices represent a strong part of our identity, so imagine with me that this part changes overnight. ".

While the way Spencer spoke attracted the most attention, she, on the other hand, played negative roles that affected her other abilities, such as difficulty planning, as well as remembering things, and she proceeded to watch her speech lest she become trapped in needless words.

And in the face of this change that took place in her depths, she fell prey to exhaustion.

She says that people of good will sometimes express their desire to have such a French accent, but from her experience with this painful experience, her advice came to think carefully about what they wish before they utter it.

incomprehensible chaos

Although foreign accent syndrome is more popular among children under the age of 7 years, one study found that the average age at which this syndrome may appear is 48 years, and is even more popular among women, according to a study conducted on 27 patients. Among them, 26 were women and one man (scientists attribute the reason why foreign accent syndrome is more common among women to women being more inclined to seek treatment).

In order to understand what is happening, we must first understand that the left side of the brain is the main controller in the right part of our body besides our ability to speak, and if this side of the brain is damaged, the patient often feels numb on the right side of his body and may stammer in speech And this is exactly what happens with a patient with foreign accent syndrome who usually finds it difficult to speak in his native accent.

Foreign accent syndrome can extend to affect many aspects of the way one speaks, and the closest example of this is the obvious changes that occur in the voice when pronouncing a word such as "sheet", which turns into "seat". Patients may also add unnecessary syllables to the word and become This is similar to the transliterated Latin, so a word like "picture" turns into "pikuhture".

Things do not stop at this point, but they extend to change the rhythm of speech and the tone of voice as well. We find the patient in situations that call for a high tone of voice, lowering his voice, and vice versa, and you may find him uttering consonants or stressing passages that do not need to be tightened.

Therefore, most patients sometimes resort to adopting the "shortened method of speech", bypassing prepositions and identifiers, and you may find them at other times stopping a lot, as if they were extracting words from their mouths.

What many people do not realize is that the patient's new dialect does not actually belong to a particular foreign language, but rather is a mixture of multiple dialects.

Despite the shifts in voice and rhythm of speech, patients with foreign accent syndrome do not speak a different language as some imagine, but can still speak understandably fluently in their mother tongue.

Patients with this syndrome do not stutter or have difficulty pronouncing syllables as anyone with severe speech difficulties that any listener can notice and easily ascertain the presence of a neurological problem. On the contrary, patients with foreign accent syndrome differ little from the previous case Their ability to adopt sounds and rhythms that may at first glance appear to belong to a real language.

About this, says "Sheila Blumstein, a linguist at Brown University: "All there is is that the language spoken by patients with this syndrome may happen to not belong to a particular language, even though their pronunciation suggests otherwise."

The dialect spoken by patients is a mixture of French sounds, or rhythms associated with Italian or Chinese, and so on.

So it can't be considered a real dialect, but the quirks and distortions it contains are somehow portrayed to our brains as a foreign dialect.

This dialect often reaches people in different forms, and this is what Dr. Sheila Blumstein found in the eighties when she met her first patient with this syndrome in Boston during a case study supervised by psychologists and neuroscientists. As soon as the patient spoke, everyone wondered Health professionals about the tone you spoke.

What caught Dr. Blumstein's attention the most was that some people in the room thought the patient spoke German, while others thought she spoke Russian or French.

However, as a linguist with a great deal of knowledge of sentence structures, she immediately realized that what the patient had uttered had nothing to do with any of these indigenous languages: “It caught me in the first place, and made me wonder: What are we hearing now? The recipient's cultural background plays an important role in what he perceives as the accent spoken by patients, and this explains why the patient's accent may reach people in different forms."

The scientists discovered that this discrepancy, along with the rarity of cases, made it difficult for them to study "foreign accent syndrome" systematically.

In the same context, Bloomstein says: "The problem is that if you meet a patient one day, you will not be able to meet the second patient before at least 6 years, and the third case may meet her after 10 years, for example."

Given the different researchers in their ways of adopting the issue and asking questions, it became impossible to analyze the causes of this syndrome on a large scale.

Jack Reales, a linguist at the University of Central Florida and one of the most prominent pioneers in the study of this disease, believes that the term “foreign accent syndrome” may be wrong or inaccurate, and this is what he mentioned in his book, which he co-edited recently, in which he emphasized the great diversity in cases previously encountered.

dance with words

Scientists differ about the causes of foreign accent syndromes, and it is normal for the causes to differ in different species, but it seems that they have been guided to the fact that the mouth and throat are the two main elements from which the origin of the problem stems.

In order to understand what this means, we must first realize that speaking out loud occurs through two steps: the first step is the planning stage that takes place in the brain, and then the second step is the execution stage, which requires moving the teeth, tongue, lips, lungs and throat in a very harmonious way.

Neurological problems that stand in the way of the normal speaking process can appear at any of these two stages, but it seems that the implementation stage - in particular - is the cause of the occurrence of foreign accent syndrome, and the evidence for this is what Dr. Blumstein indicated about the errors of a special nature. In patients with executive function problems, a word like "happy days" turns into "dappy hays," but ironically, patients with foreign accent syndrome do not make such verbal errors.

Scientists attribute the main cause of problems encountered by patients in the implementation phase to moving joints, where speaking loudly requires twisting or moving the mouth and throat to change the flow of air.

And because the brain is the main controller of these minute movements, any damage that may be inflicted on it is capable of affecting the rhythm of these movements.

This explains why people with brain damage put so much effort into trying to produce certain sounds, which may sometimes appear distorted as a result of all these changes that affected the sounds coming from the air passages.

Strokes are still the most common cause of foreign accent syndrome, but scientists believe that there are other causes, for example, multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks itself), as well as infections, and withdrawal symptoms from drugs Parkinson's disease, electrocution, schizophrenia, brain tumors, and spider bites that cause neurotoxicity.

Sometimes the causes may not be related to brain damage at all, but rather to functional neurological disorders, says Dr. Laura McWireter, a psychiatrist and neurologist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom.

To keep things simple, Dr. McWireter likens our brains to computers that can malfunction due to problems with hardware itself, software, or a combination of both. Similarly, neurological disorders can result from damage to the brain itself, or from processing faulty signals within the brain. , or a mixture of both.

McWireter notes that many patients with foreign accent syndrome (caused by functional neurological disorders) have had jaw injuries or recently had dental or oral surgery, and as a result, these distorted involuntary responses from the mouth appear.

And about this, she says: “The person undergoing oral surgery is a very painful process, as well as the difficulty of moving the mouth like before, and to compensate for this, the brain software (or the signals inside it) highlight the mouth and give it more attention, which is - by the way - A very natural reaction, but sometimes this attention backfires with some people; they pronounce words in a distorted way."

In the same context, MacWireter commented: “This situation raises a feeling of anxiety that you will slip your tongue with wrong words, so you can only focus your attention on the words before pronouncing them, after you were doing all this spontaneously without making any effort, the matter turned "To bring the topic closer, normal people can experience something similar to what a patient with foreign accent syndrome goes through if they just say the same word over and over, they will feel that the word has become distorted and its pronunciation is different, and this is exactly what patients experience."

If the main cause of foreign accent syndrome is pronunciation problems, then it stands to reason that not all dialects appear to the same extent, but they are nonetheless spread across the world with an astonishing diversity of dialects, from Japanese to Korean, Spanish to Hungarian, Dutch to Turkish, and so on.

But according to a preliminary survey of some cases in the Netherlands, most patients speak their mother tongue but in different dialects of Romance languages ​​(derived from colloquial Latin), Eastern European languages, or tonal languages ​​(eg Chinese).

Dutch scholars argue that these latter languages ​​require more "muscular effort and breathing force";

This means that the throat and lungs must make a greater effort for this.

If a person suffers an injury that affects his pronunciation, he may resort to compensating for that - whether consciously or unconsciously - by loading his vocal cords with what they have no power to do and forcing them to work more, so he ends up acquiring one of these dialects.

On the other hand, some linguists, such as Jack Reales and Sheila Blumstein, express their objection to this theory because they are not convinced that there is a language that is distinguished from another by greater muscular effort or higher breathing force.

But if this theory is proven correct, it is a fortiori that the patient who speaks English acquires a French or Chinese accent rather than the other way around.

What is the fate of the owners of this syndrome?

Despite the early detection of this syndrome, which dates back to 1907, the disease has not received much attention until recently.

One of the research papers also found that 93% of all known cases have been adopted by neurological studies since the year 2000. Like everything in life has its drawbacks and advantages, this increased awareness had its advantages and disadvantages that stand the patient on the lookout, and the closest example of this is what was stated by “Eileen Spencer At least 10 neurologists crowded around her during examination appointments, driven by an overwhelming desire to peek at a real-life patient with this syndrome.

When we look at the bright side of the story, we will find that it has become easy for patients today to receive adequate diagnosis and support, which gives them great comfort. However, this relief does not last long because of the media that does not treat them nicely, let alone leave them alone without Forcing them to do trivial and humiliating things, not to mention the popular newspapers, which did not hesitate for a moment to portray them as freaks or eccentric creatures living with us.

Linguist Jack Reyles says the media devote more attention to the dramatic stories of people who wake up in the morning with strange accents.

One of the most famous of these stories is what happened with the famous British pop singer "George Michael" who fell into a coma after suffering from pneumonia, and when he woke up, he started speaking in a different accent from the British one.

But it remains more common, says Rials, that patients lose their ability to speak during the days or weeks after their injury, and this accent does not appear until later as they try to gradually restore speech.

This raised the attention of some specialists about the possibility that the patient's acquired accent could be a positive indicator of brain healing, which was also supported by "Reales" by saying: "I began to believe that the foreign accent syndrome is originally a stage of recovery."

It is true that having an accent, albeit a different one, is still better than losing the ability to speak completely, but the chances of a full recovery are often almost non-existent.

“People are sometimes so embarrassed by their strange accent that they desperately try to change it, even listening to old recordings of them trying to imitate their own voice. Many of them also turn to a speech therapist,” says Reals.

Unfortunately, only half of the patients recover the original dialect. In addition, the speech therapy method has proven ineffective, according to the testimony of some patients, as it is necessary to have conscious control over the dialect in order to take control of things and be able to change it.

Faced with such poor prospects for recovery, many patients cannot help but try hard to cope with this situation.

Because every dark story has a beam of light at the end of the tunnel, a shy woman once told how her new accent became a certain good for her overcoming her shyness crisis, getting along with people and dissolving barriers between them as a good opportunity to create conversation.

It is also funny that some friends may sometimes not believe that this is a pathological condition that their friends suffer from, so they think that all that is there is that they are playing roles in a play and trying to assume the character.

Some patients, such as Spencer, may see this syndrome as giving them an aura of distinction, saying: “I used to look like my three brothers and nothing really differentiated us from each other, but everything changed now when my mother recognized me instantly as soon as I called her.”

Days pass by, sometimes flying by them, making them feel distinguished, and at other times over their heads with frustration creeping into their souls.

Spencer remembers once that one of her friends hung up on her face after changing her tone, thinking that she had called the wrong number. Enough for others to understand.

If Spencer was fortunate enough to receive the support of her mother-in-law, unfortunately not everyone has this advantage, as one patient in a neurological study once expressed his dissatisfaction with the behavior of people around him by whispering that he drank something that went his mind, and other patients did not deliver People stigmatizing them with mental disorder or accusing them that their representation of this disease is no more than a ridiculous joke.

Whoever went through such a painful experience, will surely be overwhelmed by sadness and longing for his old voice, and this is exactly what was confirmed by a patient when he expressed his tragedy by losing himself on the day he lost his speech

Another woman noted how proud she was of an old recording of her voice praising herself for "the death of her twin sister."

Even pets sometimes give their owners a look of doubt, and their features indicate confusion.

Things do not stop there, some patients may fall prey to racial discrimination, and one of the most famous cases of discrimination is of a 28-year-old Norwegian woman when her skull was hit by fragments of a German bomb after Nazi Germany invaded her homeland in 1941, when she lost consciousness for half a week, After that, she suffered a slight damage to the left side of the brain, and when she regained the ability to speak, she was surprised that - in one way or another - she had acquired the German accent, and her life had since turned into pure hell. Who would accept in this city to sell something to a woman who speaks the language of the enemy ?

Among the strange stories is that a British woman once traveled to Poland because she believed that people there spoke the same dialect;

What will send her a feeling that she is in her true home.

An American woman repeated the same experience by traveling to England for similar reasons, only to be surprised that everyone there assumed she was from South Africa, not to mention the problem she had with immigration officials who were suspicious of her because of the discrepancy between her accent and her passport.

One of the coping ways that people with foreign accent syndrome try to rise above their losses to catch up with a normal life is to observe and scrutinize speech before uttering it or replacing it with another form that indicates its meaning. Certain words, although sometimes it is difficult to find alternatives to some words.

The pile of frustrations that swallows up a patient with foreign accent syndrome may increase his reservations about his choice of words, so he never ceases to question his decisions, as if his mother tongue has turned into a second language, forcing him to think carefully and cautiously about where to put verbs, nouns and other parts of speech, even simple conversations have become a heavy burden. his shoulders.

Spencer finds solace in helping others cope through the small groups she runs on social media with around 250 members.

You look at the depressed patients, you always show them the bright side, but there are still moments when your true self and its pain are revealed.

This assures us that it is not just about outward appearance, because appearances are often deceiving.

Through the members' stories, Spencer notes that they also suffer from impaired executive function;

What affected their ability to set priorities and draw plans, for example, making very simple decisions such as choosing groceries is never an easy matter, as well as suddenly losing their destination and being lost on a road that is supposed to be familiar to them, and the extraneous and annoying noise that they are unable to isolate from them Never tolerate their exhaustion and drain their energy.

We often forget how powerful our voices are. On the basis of our identity, it is the bond that binds us to our communities and through which we declare our belonging.

But "Spencer" and others who suffer from the foreign accent syndrome are the best who know the extent to which their bonds have been weakened even with the closest people to them. The husband may not be able to understand a simple phrase said by his wife, and the mother may be unable to read a bedtime story to her child.

Finally, Spencer says, "Our problem is that we take our ability to speak for granted and nothing threatens its existence. Going through such an experience is not like a bad haircut that will improve once the hair grows back, but rather it is a profound change that takes place in one's soul and requires From him he made a great effort, so he continues to struggle with his life between hope and despair, sometimes his affairs improve, and his luck fails him at other times.”


This article is translated from Psychology Today and does not necessarily reflect the Medan website.

Translation: Somaya Zaher.