Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical condition involving speech production that usually occurs as a side effect of severe brain injury, such as a stroke or head trauma. Those suffering from the condition pronounce their native language with an accent that to listeners may be mistaken as foreign or dialectical. Two cases have been reported of individuals with the condition as a development problem and one associated with severe migraine. Between 1941 and 2009 there have been sixty recorded cases.
Its symptoms result from distorted articulatory planning and coordination processes. It must be emphasized that the speaker does not suddenly gain a foreign language (vocabulary, syntax, grammar, etc.). Despite a recent unconfirmed news report that a Croatian speaker has gained the ability to speak fluent German after emergence from a coma, there has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury. There have been a few reported cases of children and siblings picking up the new accent from someone with foreign accent syndrome.
To the untrained ear, those with the syndrome sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent; for example, an American native speaker of English might sound as though he spoke with a south-eastern English accent, or a native British speaker might speak with a New York American accent.
But what is the relationship between foreign accent syndrome and dental surgery?
Imagine going in for dental surgery with an Oregon accent, and coming out with a mixture of Northern British, Scottish, Irish and a hint of Eastern European. This is what happened to Karen Butler, 56. She woke up from anesthesia sounding like somebody from the British Isles.
After undergoing several tests, experts say she has "foreign accent syndrome", an extremely uncommon neurological disorder - only 60 cases have been identified since 1941.
Butler, of Toledo, Oregon, underwent the dental procedure 18 months ago. When she started speaking after the procedure she said "I sounded more like I was from Transylvania."
Experts believe Butler's condition will gradually fade, and her original accent will come back.