In a medical emergency that results in a brain injury, due to stroke or other trauma, there are a number of health complications that can affect the patient. One of the more well-known is aphasia–the loss of the ability to understand and express speech and language. However, most people are unaware that once aphasia wears off, patients may be left with other conditions. One of those conditions is foreign accent syndrome.
Dr. Jack Ryalls, Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at University of Central Florida, explains that, despite the name, research shows that these patients’ new way of speaking is actually not an accent at all.
Dr. Sheila Blumstein, Albert D. Mead Professor of Cognitive Linguistics and Psychological Sciences at Brown University, agrees with Dr. Ryalls. She says that, in actuality, people who suffer from foreign accent syndrome have simply developed slight variations in how they pronounce words, which indicates to those listening to them that they have an accent.
So, what’s the long term prognosis for those who suffer from foreign accent syndrome? Dr. Ryalls says that chances of recovery are very slim–only about 30% of people are able to recover their “old accent” or way of speaking. For most, therapy and other treatment is ineffective.
Unfortunately, people with foreign accent syndrome are likely to experience distress. Dr. Blumstein explains that how an individual sounds and speaks contributes a lot to their identity. That means the syndrome often affect a person’s perception of oneself. Distress can be furthered by the change in how one is perceived in their environment, such as people often assuming they are from foreign countries.
While many people do not recover, it is possible. Researchers continue to examine the rare cases in which the old way of speaking is recovered, hoping to improve the chances of recovery for others in the future.