Posted on May 25, 2011 · Posted in TBI Voices
This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series Jeremiah

Dysprosody: Jeremiah Part Seven

One of the strengths of the TBI Voices approach to documenting the disability and ability of brain injury is that the reader/user is not limited to our written descriptions of the each survivor’s story, but can actually hear that survivor’s voice, at our Youtube channel, While not an expert in accents, after listening to Jeremiah in person on two occasions and listening to the videos of his speech, it would be my assessment that he speaks as if he has an Irish accent. Some might come up with a different version of a British accent, but it is clearly some dialect that is similar.  Thus, when interviewing Jeremiah the first time, I was surprised to learn that he grew up in Wisconsin.  Dysprosody is known as the foreign accent syndrome and it was obvious that Jeremiah was showing signs of this with the accent that he developed after his brain injury.

I grew up – was like born in Rapids, Wisconsin Rapids I grew to second grade in Clark County, Wisconsin.  And, then we moved to Windsor Deforest area and so I went to school in Windsor and Deforest.

Now, you have a bit of an accent (dysprosody  ).  Is that related to the injuries you suffered in the accident?

Yes. I can’t explain why except for I can probably explain obviously that I had to relearn to talk all over again, and perhaps, you know, there were, there were probably people with accents who taught but, I would imagine you piece together what you can of what you have in – left in your brain and as it’s pieced together you work on what you have which maybe accents and what you hear which are possibly accents and then also you piece on what you can use in your vocal cords and lips and such too.

But, like for instance, I guess, I was speaking French, which I hadn’t had since – I had one semester in college, one summer semester.  And, I was talking to my wife’s friend who speaks fluent French in Canada and, I guess, I don’t remember doing that but, I guess, I was speaking French pretty well.

And I’ve had many people say that I sound like I’m foreign accent as well.

After discussing this issue with a neuropsychologist friend, I learned that Jeremiah likely suffered from a rare but well known condition called Dysprosody, or “foreign accent syndrome.”  While the relation to his head trauma is nearly undeniable, the pathological explanation for why this happens is a bit of a mystery, although in Jeremiah’s case perhaps not an unsolvable one.  See

The most famous case of Dysprosody was a Norwegian woman who was hit by a shell fragment in an air raid in 1941, with the fragment penetrating her frontal bone and leaving her brain exposed.  She suffered a four day coma and had to relearn to speak, much like Jeremiah did.  Ultimately, when she regained fluent speech, her Norwegian was spoken with a German accent.  Her accent and other brain injury symptomotology was documented by a the Norwegian Neurologist, G. H. Monrad-Krohn. (G. H. Monrad-Krohn (1947). “Dysprosody or Altered “Melody of Language””. Brain: A Journal of Neurology 70 (4): 405–415. Retrieved 2009-09-29.)

As of 1978, there had been only 21 other documented cases of the disorder, although that number has likely multiplied several times with the advent of greater global communication as a result of the internet.  For example, there was a story only a few days before this blog an American woman, Karen Butler of Oregon awoke from Surgery with a British accent (much like Jeremiah.) See the Today show of May 5, 2011.

Many of the documented cases of Dysprosody deal with stroke survivors, but TBI is also a common cause.  Yet the precise location of what changes the sound of the voice has yet to be determined.

One of area of interest in my career has long been disorders of hearing and the vestibular system.  There has rarely been any controversy that those who are deaf or partially deaf have difficulty with accent when they do speak.  That is very likely a partial explanation for Jeremiah.  As discussed above Jeremiah needed ear surgery for injuries he suffered to his inner ear in the wreck.

What actually happened is the stapes bone, which is the smallest human bone, which is the bone connected to your eardrum that was broken as well.  And, so they removed that broken bone, I think many months, maybe a year later and replaced with a piece of titanium to see if I could get some hearing back in it.

Now, this side the ear rings constantly.  Very, very loudly but I can hear a little bit out of it.

It is my hope that Jeremiah’s case of Dysprosody can be evaluated by an expert in the inner ear – which could lead to a published case study in a medical journal – shedding some light on his manifestation of this disorder..

Next in Part Eight – Frustration, Fatigue and Little Steps to Recovery

By Attorney Gordon Johnson

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447