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What Causes Foreign Accent Syndrome?

June 12, 2018

Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a language disorder where a native speaker suddenly sounds like they are speaking with a foreign accent. This rare speech condition was initially identified over a hundred years ago, but only small pieces of evidence have been collected from the 150-plus case studies to date. Most researchers believe FAS is caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI), but other causes like multiple sclerosis and conversion disorders may play a role. For some cases, no clear-cut cause was ever determined.

Common Vocal Aspects for Learning New Accents

If you are an actor, speaking fluently using another accent or dialect can require many hours spent with a vocal trainer. Since consonant sounds are usually stable, a voice coach will focus on expressing vowels and other vocal aspects, such as:

  • phonetics
  • melody
  • vibe
  • rhythm
  • stress
  • grammar
  • semantics

Since foreign accent syndrome is rather rare, it can take a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate and diagnose the cause of FAS including neurologists, speech pathologists, psychologists, neuropsychologists and language pathologists.

Did Your Voice Suddenly Change How Your Sound

As previously mentioned, the new accent or dialect can suddenly appear out of thin air in patients who have FAS. Unlike someone who is simply faking an accent, sufferers of foreign accent syndrome will often have visible signs of neurological differences that are present on an MRI or PET scan. Although it has been suggested that FAS accents maybe more of a perception in the ear of the listener rather than off the tongue of the speaker, the change in speech is both real and obvious. Possibly the new accent is caused by a simple change in vocal rhythm and the enunciation of words. Even in lieu of physical head trauma, emotional stressors could trigger physiological changes in how someone's voice sounds.

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