Stroke Victim Suddenly Speaks With Strange Accent

A woman recovering from a stroke is one of the first reported cases in Canada of a rare brain syndrome in which a person starts to speak with a different accent.

The woman, referred to as Rosemary by the scientists, lives in southern Ontario. Her family noticed the accent change two years ago while the woman was recovering from a stroke.

While most cases of so-called foreign accent syndrome (FAS) result in a speaker with a new, "foreign" accent, Rosemary's Ontario accent now sounds like Maritime Canadian English. The syndrome arises from neurological damage in certain parts of the brain.

"It is a fascinating case, because this woman has never visited the Maritimes, nor has she been exposed to anyone with an East Coast accent," said researcher Alexandre Sévigny, a cognitive scientist at McMaster University in Ontario. "Her family lineage is Irish and Danish, and neither of her parents ever lived anywhere but in southern Ontario."

For instance, Rosemary says certain sound segments differently than before the stroke, including "dat," for "that," and "tink" instead of "think." And she now pronounces "greasy" as "gracey," and "dog" now rhymes with "rogue."

The medical puzzle was solved when Rosemary's family contacted personnel at the Integrated Stroke Unit of Hamilton General Hospital. The medical team then contacted researchers in McMaster’s Cognitive Science of Language program.

The study, detailed in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, adds another data point to a seemingly rare phenomenon. However, FAS might be under-reported since doctors rely on family members to alert them to speech changes following a person's stroke.

The woman didn't notice any changes in her accent, said lead researcher Karin Humphreys, a psychologist at McMaster University.

The study was funded in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.