It sounds unbelievable, and even doctors said they thought it was a joke. But there is a unique phenomenon where those who sustain a traumatic brain injury wind up speaking with a foreign accent.
The Washington Post recently did a story on Foreign Accent Syndrome, which the paper described as a “a rare and little-understood medical condition that can follow a serious brain injury.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/28/AR2010052801724_pf.html
Less than 60 cases of the Foreign Accent Syndrome have been reported globally. And one doctor who has studied some of their brain images said that when he first heard about the syndrome, he thought it was someone’s joke, not real.
The Post story profiled one of them. Robin Vanderlip woke up speaking with a Russian accent after falling down stairs and hitting her head in May 2007. Vanderlip is an East Coast native, but people now constantly ask her where she is from.
The National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland are both studying Vanderlip’s case. What happened to the 42-year-old woman has happened, and been reported on, before.
The first case was reported toward the end of World War II by a neurologist who was treating a Norwegian woman. She sustained a head injury from shrapnel and went into a coma. She woke up speaking with a German accent, which prompted her own countrymen to ostracize her.
There Post cites from other examples people demonstrating Foreign Accent Syndrome after suffering a brain injury. They include: a Louisiana woman who began speaking with a Cajun dialect; a woman from England who now has a Jamaican accent; and a Boston resident with a Scottish burr.
Vanderlip has been extremeley despondent about her condition. She has a suit pending against the National 4-H Council, seeking $1 million in damages. She fell on the stairs in the council’s building in Chevy Chase, Md., falling backward and hitting her head. Her suit charges that the stairs were unsafe.