LINGUIST List 8.1510

Mon Oct 20 1997

Disc: Foreign Accent Syndrome

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Bernard Comrie, foreign accent syndrome

Message 1: foreign accent syndrome

Date: Sun, 19 Oct 1997 20:46:20 -0700
From: Bernard Comrie <>
Subject: foreign accent syndrome

I received over 40 responses to my query about Foreign Accent Syndrome
(FAS); many thanks to all of them. It turns out that a similar query
was posted on the Linguist List by Paul Chapin in 1994; his summary of
the responses he received is available in issue 5.69. Since there has
been more recent work, including the investigation of new cases, it
may nonetheless be useful to update that summary. And judging by some
of the responses I received, this is an area where some consciousness
raising may not be amiss; certainly the responses have raised my

FAS is a genuine phenomenon. It is a phonological disruption of speech
resulting from brain trauma. The speech of someone with FAS may be
unaffected in grammar and lexicon; thus, it is intelligible. FAS
affects the pronunciation of segments, but the more significant effect
seems to be on prosody, and it is hypothesized that the segmental
effects may be results of the prosodic disruption. The person with FAS
appears to speak with an "accent" different from that with which they
spoke before. This is typically perceived as a "foreign accent",
though listeners are often unable to agree on exactly what foreign
accent it is. The person with FAS retains many features of their
original accent unchanged, e.g. a recent case investigated by Nick
Miller and Helen O'Sullivan is of someone who originally spoke with a
Tyneside accent, still retains many distinctive features of a Tyneside
accent, but has acquired certain other features, such as an added
vowel after word-final consonants, that give listeners the impression
of an Italian accent. The number of documented cases is, incidentally,
considerably in excess of a dozen.

Most of the studies have been concerned with the neurology and
phonetics of FAS. Topics on the social psychology side also seem to be
interesting, though less well investigated. For instance, what does it
mean to "speak with a foreign accent", taking the indefinite article
first in its nonspecific sense, then its specific sense? On the
former, maybe if members of a speech community agree that X speaks
with a foreign accent, then X does. The latter is more difficult--in
part, it's presumably a question of who you're trying to "fool". One
factor that does recur in several cases of FAS is that those with the
syndrome are often very distressed at their change in accent, and
often feel (or indeed: are) rejected by what they have hitherto
considered their social network. (The first case discussed in detail
was of a Norwegian who acquired a German accent--during the Second
World War.)

(Note that there is a distinct phenomenon whereby a brain trauma might
lead someone to revert to an accent they had spoken with earlier in

Herewith some further references. I have to admit I haven't had a
chance to follow all of them up yet.

I haven't been able to track down the original Daily Telegraph
article, but it is in turn reported on by Reuters, accessible on the
web under: Doing
a search on "foreign accent syndrome" on the web does, incidentally,
produce a fair amount of useful information. One respondent suggested
also consulting Medline. The following were provided by Mark Davies:
Same sampling to news reports re. the Scottish woman / South African
accent story
Web page for Prof. Maureen Stone, who works with FAS
Vita for William Katz, who has studied FAS (his homepage at
Homepage for Sophie Scott, who studies FAS
Program for a conference where FAS is discussed
Another conference program with FAS listed
Class syllabus with FAS as one of its topics
Publication list mentioning FAS
Notice of Baltimore man acquiring a Norwegian accent

The following non-cyber references include those given by Paul
Chapin. Many of them were provided by Jane Edwards, from PsycINFO
Database (which also includes abstracts), and Matti Lehtihalmes:

Moonis, M.; Swearer, J. M.; Blumstein, S. E.; Kurowski, K.; and
others. Foreign accent syndrome following a closed head injury:
Perfusion on single photon emission tomography with normal magnetic
resonance imaging. Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, & Behavioral
Neurology, 1996 Oct, v9 (n4):272-279.

Moen, Inger.

Monrad-Krohn's foreign accent syndrome case. IN: Classic cases in
neuropsychology. Brain damage, behaviour and cognition series.; Chris
Code, Claus-W. Wallesch, Yves Joanette, Andre Roch Lecours, Eds.
Psychology/Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd, Hove, England. 1996. p.

Kurowski, Kathleen M.; Blumstein, Sheila E.; Alexander, Michael. The
foreign accent syndrome: A reconsideration. Brain & Language, 1996
Jul, v54 (n1):1-25.

Berthier, Marcelo L.
Foreign accent syndrome.
Neurology, 1994 May, v44 (n5):990-991.

Takayama, Yoshihiro; Sugishita, Morihiro; Kido, T.; Ogawa, M.; and
others. A case of foreign accent syndrome without aphasia caused by a
lesion of the left precentral gyrus. Neurology, 1993 Jul, v43

Ingram, John C.; McCormack, Paul F.; Kennedy, Meredith.
Phonetic analysis of a case of foreign accent syndrome.
Journal of Phonetics, 1992 Oct, v20 (n4):457-474.

Gurd, J. M.; Bessell, N. J.; Bladon, R. A.; Bamford, J. M.
A case of foreign accent syndrome, with follow-up clinical,
neuropsychological and phonetic descriptions.
Neuropsychologia, 1988, v26 (n2):237-251.

Blumstein, Sheila E.; Alexander, Michael P.; Ryalls, John H.; Katz,
William; and others. On the nature of the foreign accent syndrome: A
case study. Brain & Language, 1987 Jul, v31 (n2):215-244.

Ardila et al. Foreign accent: an aphasic epiphenomenon? Aphasiology

Berthier et al. Foreign accent syndrome: behavioural and anatomica
findings in recovered and non-recovered patients. Aphasiology

Graff-Radford et al. An unlearned foreign accent in a patient with
aphasia. Brain and Language 1986;28:86-94.

Moen I. A case of the foreign accent syndrome. Clinical Linguistics &
Phonetics 1990;4:295-302.

Ryalls J, Reignvang I. Some further notes on Monrad-Krohn's case study
of foreign accent syndrome. Folia Phoniatr 1985;37:160-162.

Blumstein, Sheila, "Phonological Deficits in Aphasia: Theoretical
 Perspectives", Chapter 2 of Caramazza (ed.), 1990

People currently working on FAS include:
Arnold Aronson (Mayo Clinic)
John Coleman (U of Oxford)
Jana Dankovicova (U of Oxford)
Nick Miller (University of Newcastle on Tyne)
Helen O'Sullivan (University of Newcastle on Tyne)
S. Bates (University College of St. Mark & St. John, Plymouth, UK)

(Miller and O'Sullivan and (separately) Bates reported on two cases at
a recent international clinical linguistics and phonetics conference
in Nijmegen.)

Bernard Comrie
Dept of Linguistics GFS-301 tel +1 213 740 3674
University of Southern California fax +1 213 740 9306
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1693, USA e-mail
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