human behavior

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Posted in Health & Medicine, The Expatriate Life by humanb on December 6, 2006

Foreign Accent Syndrome is real. Who knew?

Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is an unusual neurological speech disorder documented in not more than twenty specific studies. As a consequence of a cerebral mainly subcortical injury, the patient’s speech is foreign sounding to native listeners. A subject cannot avoid this foreign accent, and given its abrupt emergence, this disorder usually involves emotional consequences by loss of identity and of belonging to a speech community.

Of course there is another legitimate, non-medical cause of Foreign Accent Syndrome. A hybrid accent inevitably develops when, say, English speakers live for extended periods in another English-speaking country.

I’ll admit that American accents sound flat and harsh, and our enunciation, exaggerated. I always notice American accents in Australia – perhaps also because our voices also seem to sound so much LOUDER.

But I want my accent da*n it. It’s mine. It’s American. And I like it, thank you very much.

Slang, on the other hand, is easily adopted and discarded, and Australia has such wonderful, creative slang. I never purposefully adopt it, but when you are trying to think of the right expression, and you hear the word “whinger” more often than “whiner”, “whinger” inevitably rolls off the tongue.

But, I was genuinely disturbed to find, when I returned home to the US, that my family thought my accent a little foreign, after only 18 months in Australia. Even a few American strangers have said so. Something in the way my voice went “up” at the end.

Bloody hell.

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