Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Streep Effect

By Tim Hannan

Is Foreign Accent Syndrome the result of brain trauma or stress, or not even a foreign accent?

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Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is a rare condition in which a person’s speech is characterised by the sudden emergence of a pronunciation perceived by others to be a foreign accent. Generally, the symptoms emerge after a brain injury, but in some cases no neurological event has occurred and the accent is assumed to be a psychological response to a distressing situation or event.

However, new Australian research challenges the simple dichotomy between both organic and psychogenic explanations. Published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics, the study describes a patient who spoke with several different accents over several months following an initial neurological event.

FAS was first described in 1907, when the French neurologist Pierre Marie described a Parisian who developed an Alsatian accent after a stroke. Since then more than 100 cases have been documented, with most arising after cerebrovascular accidents, traumatic brain injuries or other damage to the brain. The accent is often a residual symptom of a more severe speech disorder, and may resolve completely over time.

Studies have suggested that the features of FAS result from disruptions to the prosody of speech – its stress, rhythm and/or intonation – or to the segmenting of phonemes, such as the timing and sequencing of vowels and consonants.

Neuroimaging of FAS patients has often...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.