Canadian woman acquires new accent after brain stroke

July 4th, 2008 - 8:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, July 4 (IANS) In a first case of its kind in Canada, a woman has acquired a new accent after suffering a brain stroke. Fifty-year-old Rosemary Dore of Windsor, 370 km from Toronto, suffered a stroke in the left half of her brain about two years ago, damaging the areas related to production of speech.

After the stroke, according to the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, she started speaking with an east coast Canadian accent despite having never lived there.

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton near Toronto, who analysed her speech, called this puzzling medical phenomenon foreign-accent syndrome (FAS). They said it arose from neurological damage suffered by the brain during the stroke.

As part of their analyses of Dore’s speech, they said, they conducted three interviews with her at a week’s interval and also taped how she read and talked with her husband.

In a statement, they said FAS results in vocal distortions that typically sound like the speaker has a new accent.

“The woman was recovering from a stroke two years ago, when her family noticed a change in her speech. They asked medical personnel at the Integrated Stroke Unit of Hamilton General Hospital why their mother was suddenly speaking with what sounded like a Newfoundland accent,” the researchers said.

“It was at that point that the medical team joined forces with researchers in McMaster’s Cognitive Science of Language programme to study her case.”

Alexandre Sevigny, one of the authors of the study and associate professor of cognitive science in the department of communication studies and multimedia, said: “It is a fascinating case because this woman has never visited the Maritimes (east coast of Canada comprising the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and New Foundland & Labrador), nor has she been exposed to anyone with an east coast accent.

“Her family lineage is Irish and Danish, and neither of her parents ever lived anywhere but in Windsor, Ontario.”

After the stroke, according to him, the woman’s speech “became slow, and included changes in phonological segments (using `dat’ for `that’ and `tink’ for `think’) as well as the opening of some vowels and diphthongs (`greasy’ was pronounced `gracey’, and `dog’ was pronounced to rhyme with `rogue’.)”

Karin Humphreys, the principal investigator in the study and assistant professor in the university’s department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour, said: “While the new accent was apparent to the woman’s family, the woman could not detect the changes herself. Despite intensive speech therapy, the new accent persists, even two years later.”

She added: “Her speech is perfectly clear, unlike most stroke victims who have damage to speech-motor areas of the brain. You wouldn’t guess that the speech changes are the result of a stroke.

“Most people meeting her for the first time assume she is from out East. What we are seeing in this case is a change in some of the very precise mechanisms of speech-motor planning in the brain’s circuitry.”

Since there are fewer than 20 such cases reported so far around the world, Humphreys wondered whether FAS might be underreported.

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