Saturday, May 1, 2010

Accent on Accents

Recently, I read about a British mother who developed Foreign Accent Syndrome. Sarah Cohill suffered several acute migraines causing her to be hospitalized. As a result of the migraines Sarah lost her natural Devonshire accent and began to speak with a Chinese accent. I imagine that the whole episode has been very upsetting for Sarah  and her family. However, I'm also a great believer in finding the positives; I bet Sarah gets priority at the local takeaway!

Foreign Accent Syndrome is extremely rare and was first described by French neurologist Pierre Marie in 1907. However, it was with the case of a Norwegian woman struck on the head by shrapnel in 1941, who subsequently began talking with a German accent, that the condition became fully recognised. (Pretty unfortunate for the Norwegian lady -Although luckily she didn't also wake up with an involuntary twitch in her right arm.) Since then approximately 60 cases have been reported including a Yorkshire woman who now speaks with a French accent, a Brummie who now speaks with a Welsh accent and a Geordie who now speaks with a Jamaican accent. 

Hmm.. I think the Brummie fella is actually lucky because conversing with sheep is a hell of a lot easier in Welsh. And what about the Geordie sufferer? ( The lovely Cheryl Cole's accent) Hmm.. well...that could result in an unfortunate marriage to a footballer. Not that there's anything wrong with footballers - but let's just say if  the majority of footballers woke up with Foreign Accent Syndrome there would probably be no discernible difference in the amount of intelligible conversation.

Research suggests that Foreign Accent Syndrome is the the result of significant head trauma, strokes or, as in the most recent case, severe migraine. The resulting damage to the areas of the brain that control speech functions affect speech patterns, pronunciation of words and pitch causing the sufferer to develop an accent to which they may never have been exposed; the syndrome has nothing to do with memory associations.

So obviously Readers, I've now given up heading footballs, listening to heavy metal and banging my head against the wall when Mr T asks me to some more cleaning because waking up with a foreign accent would be like my worst nightmare come true! I mean, imagine if Mrs T with her sexy, posh British accent, woke up speaking like a German...

You vill get into ze car now or ve vill be late for school! Nein, nein, nein, stop ze messing around or I vill crash ze car!

You know, I could see me taking on a whole new personality with a German accent; overnight I might be transformed from a mild mannered middle class mum to a raving nutter with a personality problem. Okay - it is true some say I already have a personality problem but how was I to know that crashing my bike through my neighbours' gardens when I was child would lead to a fixation with world domination?

And what would happen if I developed a French accent?

I guess I'd get a lot more sex right? Hmm, well I've no objections there! But then again ...what would happen if I felt I had to conform to stereotype and subsequently stopped shaving my armpits? Hmm, that doesn't bear thinking about.........

Still, something could be worse than either a German or French accent; I could develop a Liverpudlian accent! Then I'd be forced to sing "Ferry Across The Mersey" at every opportune moment and sing the praises of The Beatles for the rest of my life whilst secretly preferring The Rolling Stones......

Cripes. This accent business is quite a nest of vipers isn't it? Perhaps if we all woke up with a different accent there would a lot less discrimination in this world? Now there's food for thought.

Hey, that song's no so bad after all. Do you know; I think this post actually turned out to politically correct for a change.

I must be ill ! Okay, I just want to reassure you Readers that I'll still be making jokes about the Germans because frankly those boots were just plain silly.

Oh, and I still be making jokes about us Brits. Hey - it's not my fault George Bush has gone into retirement and I have to make do with second best!

Oh alright, alright I admit it; I love you Americans! After all you're really Brits but with a funny accent! (You know we deliberately lost the War of Independence - Apparently George III wanted to settle in the US so he disguised himself as Texan farmer and left a look-a-like in charge here in the UK. Apparently his great great great great great grandson made it big in Oil.)

Ps - Nobody ever, ever, ever take anything I say seriously. Pleassssssssse.


  1. I'd seen the article in the newspapers here and it sounded so incredible and when I saw that that was the subject of your latest post I had to read it to get your take on it! Now imagine if one of my migraines gave me a Chinese accent!

  2. Yes, I found it an absolutely fascinating subject too Sue. It must be very difficult to live with in the first instance though -because we all make assumptions about people because of their accent or dialect. However, I think when we get to know people on an individual basis many of those assumptions just fall away...

    I can't imagine what it would be like to wake up to a voice that wasn't my own... although I guess I'd soon settled for any accent so long as I didn't sound like Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck!

    Migraines, ugh:( My friend Mrs B suffers badly - I've got 100:1 odds on Russian, 15:1 on Italian and 2:1 on Vulcan:)))

  3. Mrs. T, I must say Vulcan sounds nice and certainly much, much better than sounding like Daffy Duck/bugs Bunny et al :-)

  4. I thought you were having us on when I first read this post, Mrs T. I even looked at the calendar to check it wasn't April Fools' Day. Then figured you must have got high on those furniture polish fumes again ... or be deliriously cold turkey from the lack of chocolate.

    And to think that I always imagined that accents were learned and influenced by environmental factors. Instead, I discover that the brain has a whole wealth of accents to choose from (a bit like the different language choices programmed into my DVD player's display console) and all that it takes is a knock on the head to switch accents. Maybe two knocks on the head would help me improve my French and Italian.

    I will be sending you a rubber mallet in the post. Please apply it liberally. It would make my day to hear you talking with the same scouse accent as Ringo Starr. You might begin narrating Thomas the Tank Engine stories for yourself then.

  5. Sue,

    Vulcan would sound good on Mrs B; I think she might object to the plastic ears I'd force her to wear though:)))

    PB - I know it is an absolutely fascinating subject! I was gripped when I read it - and of course once this incident had hit the news some of the other sufferers's stories made into the papers too. Good material for a story eh?!

    If, I ever, ever talk like Ringo Starr I give you full permission to take me out! Just make it quick - a slow death narrating Thomas the Tank Engine would be unbearable:))


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