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Foreign Accent Syndrome
The first time I went to Italy was in 1995. My wife, Joyce, who wasn?t my wife yet, was still living in Nashville, Tennessee and I was living in Dallas. Our traveling partners, Bob and Jan Grimes, were still new to me. They had been Joyce?s friends before we met and subsequently became my friends as well. They are the perfect traveling companions. They never bicker about meals, hotel, rental car or places we choose to visit. We are headed to Barcelona, Spain together in October. One of the core values all of us hold dear is the evening cocktail. Regardless of where we find ourselves, all four of us like to relax with a drink in hand, as the day is winding down.
Outside our Italian villa was a stone wall about ten feet high with lovely Italian flowers growing on top. I decided I needed to get a closer look and proceeded to scale the wall. At the time, I was still less than one year post-op from Acoustic Neuroma surgery and my balance was not that great. As I neared the top of the wall, I lost my balance and off the wall I came. I was only about halfway up the wall but my backwards momentum carried me across the narrow road at the bottom of the wall and over the large drop-off on the other side of the road. I fell about another ten feet before coming to a screeching halt after my head smashed against a large boulder. Joyce and Jan witnessed my fall from grace and thought I was just „showing-off? until they saw me sitting in a dazed state, bleeding profusely. Both of the girls are nurses, so after a bit of struggle to get me back to the villa, they took turns assessing my wound. After deeming I would survive and because dusk was fast approaching, we decided drinks were in order.
It was a good scare for us all but soon we were able to laugh about my misfortunes. Since our villa was a working vineyard, there was plenty of vino for us to indulge ourselves. At some point, I started speaking Mock-German. Now Mock-German is just silly-speak. Instead of asking for another glass of wine, I was say, “Eine liken moren winen, ya” then I might add “Ich bien sprächen sie göten Mocken German, ya?” This became a running joke for the remainder of the trip. I can turn my Mock-German on and off at a given notice but now I just read about a rare disorder called the Foreign Accent Syndrome.
This syndrome was first reported at the end of World War II when a Norwegian woman had a head injury and was in a coma. When she came out of the coma, she spoke with a German accent. This did not sit well with her neighbors at the time. Since then there have been nearly 60 reported cases. There are cases of a Louisiana woman, who after brain trauma began speaking like a Cajun; a woman from Newcastle, England who speaks like a Jamaican; and a Boston man who developed what sounded like a Scottish burr. There are Americans who have developed British-sounding accents, Britons who sound French, a Japanese stroke patient with a Korean accent, and a Spanish speaker who acquired a strong Hungarian accent.
These people, scientists point out, actually do not have bona fide accents nor did they spontaneously learn to speak a foreign language. Rather, in a way no one understands, the damage to the brain disrupts speech formation. One such patient developed the syndrome after a stroke only to have it disappeared after suffering another stroke. According to Brown University linguist Shelia Blumstien, Foreign Accent Syndrome patients typically produce grammatically
intonation and melody make syndrome suffers sound foreign.
Because I am a collector of foreign translations of the Canon, a fluent speaker of Mock-German, and having suffered a head injury in the past, if I ever developed Foreign Accent Syndrome, no one would ever believe me. Ich sprächen sie truthen, ya?
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