A Baltimore man suddenly began speaking with a Scandinavian accent after suffering a stroke, displaying a rare disorder that may shed light on how the brain produces language, according to research presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.
The man, who had no experience with foreign languages, sounded both Nordic and unfamiliar with English, said Dean Tippett, a neurophysiology fellow at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
The 32-year-old man enjoyed his new accent at first, saying he hoped it would help attract women, Tippett said. His speech was normal by about 3 1/2 months after the stroke.
The man had what is known as foreign accent syndrome, a rare condition in which a brain malfunction produces speech alterations that sound like a foreign accent. The syndrome is triggered by bleeding in the brain, head injury or a stroke. Other reported cases in Americans have involved German, Spanish, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian accents.
Immediately after the stroke, the man's speech was slurred for a day or two. His accent appeared as he recovered, Tippett said. The patient typically added extra vowel sounds saying such things as, "How are you today-ah?" Tippett said. His voice also rose in pitch at the end of sentences, as if asking a question.
Arnold Aronson, a Mayo Clinic speech pathologist who has evaluated people with the syndrome, said he knew of only about a dozen additional cases in the scientific literature. Other cases have produced a French accent in a British subject, he said. About 40 percent of cases produced German, Swedish or Norwegian accents, said Aronson, who added that a person's native tongue has no bearing on which accent appears.
Aronson said many people with the disorder are misdiagnosed as having a psychiatric disturbance, but most of the 20 he has evaluated were well-adjusted.