Thursday, May 5, 2011

Foreign accent syndrome

I read an interesting article today about a woman, Karen Butler, who suddenly developed an accent after undergoing surgery. What's she's got is called foreign accent syndrome, or FAS.

Funny thing is, I suspect that I've also got FAS. I've written about it before, though I didn't talk about FAS itself. Just the fact that people in my hometown think I'm from some other continent like Australia.

Butler got FAS after dental surgery, but for most people it happens after brain trauma. When I was about a year old I fell on my head and lost what little language I had, which admittedly wasn't much. After all, I was only a year old. But I did have a few words, such as gato, which is Spanish for cat. Or anyways, I was pointing at the cats and saying "ga", and since my parents were originally raising me bilingual I think it's a good assumption that I knew the cats were called gato before my head injury.

When I eventually did start speaking again I had developmental delays. For example, I couldn't figure out that leaves were "green." I could say that they're the color of grass growing, but assigning a name for that color was too abstract for me for several years. Also when I took a Spanish class in first grade I couldn't understand that there were male and female versions of words (such as "gata" for a female cat and "gato" for a male cat), something which all the other children picked up with no problem. The teacher couldn't understand why I didn't get it, and told my mom that she'd never seen a kid who just couldn't grasp the concept of feminine vs. masculine words.

Ok, so that wasn't exactly FAS. That was a language disorder. (Then again, is FAS a language disorder?? Must find out...) So, on to my speech.

My mom tells me that when I was very small I was 90% unintelligible if people knew what I was talking about. And if people didn't know what I was talking about...good luck understanding anything I said. I got into speech therapy a few years earlier than most kids because of this. Mom has also told me that I pronounced "Chessie" (the name of one of our cats) and "doggie" exactly the same.

Fast forward a bunch of years to where I am now, after years of speech therapy as a child and then even more years of singing with choirs and learning how to match vowels, and my speech disorder sounds like a foreign accent. I've had so many people think that I'm from Australia, southern USA, England, New Zealand, or some other place.

I guess that in my case it would be difficult to diagnose what I've got as FAS since the head injury happened when I was so small. But the fact is that, I think due to brain trauma, I have an accent that sounds like a foreign accent.

Oh and a funny thing -- I hardly ever hear my own accent when I speak. And when I hear a recording of myself, I'm like "Do I really pronounce my words like that? That is such a funny accent!" On the rare occasions that I do hear my accent as I speak I become self conscious. Don't ask me how I sometimes hear my speech disorder and sometimes don't. I don't understand it myself. All I know is that when I sing with a choir I can hear myself more easily and can match vowels with others. Singing is somehow different than speaking, it seems. :)

And no, I'm not writing this up trying to say "Oh poor little me." It's just a part of who I am, and I felt like writing about it after I saw the news article about Butler. Oh, and I think it's neat that Butler is an Oregonian, just like I am. :)

1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

It's funny about singing, isn't it? In Canada, we have a singer who came originally from Scotland and who has a very thick Scottish accent when he speaks. But when he sings, there's no accent! He sings primarily country music and you'd never know he wasn't from North America.