Neurologists and linguists are very intrigued by Foreign Accent Syndom (FAS), an extremely rare disorder that is usually caused by brain trauma. Today, NPR covered the story of a Portland, Oregon woman who acquired a European-sounding accent, probably, says neurologist Ted Lowenkopf, because of a stroke she suffered during dental surgery. According to NPR, “Lowenkopf says FAS affects only a small area of speech — just the pattern and intonation. Strokes and brain trauma usually cause major damage to the brain and leave people with far bigger speech problems than just a change in accent.”
Linguists wonder what kind of training these neurologists have in accents. It’s clear from listening to Karen Butler, the woman featured in this story, that her intonation has changed. Her vowel patterns have changed, but it’s not clear what other sound patterns might also be affected. Since she’s not a native speaker of a European dialect of English (she’s never even been to Europe), one wonders what caused these specific patterns to develop.