After mom-of-three Lisa Alamia had jaw surgery to correct her underbite, she came round from the anesthesia with one very unexpected side effect: a British accent. (FYI, there are around 56 main “accent types” in the U.K., but we’ll assume “British” in this case means London.)
Initially, her family thought Alamia was joking, but then she got an official diagnosis of foreign accent syndrome, an extremely rare neurological disorder that usually results from a stroke, but can also develop from head trauma, migraines or developmental problems. In other cases, no clear cause can be identified.
When Alamia’s own accent didn’t return, she spent much of her time completely silent, scared that people would judge her, or think she was faking her accent. Thanks to supportive family and friends, she is learning to live with her new voice, although she admits it still causes problems when people she speaks to don’t understand what she’s saying.
Foreign accent syndrome is so rare that less than 100 people have been diagnosed worldwide within the past century. As well as adopting a foreign accent, sufferers may forget words and struggle with grammar. Technically, the new “accent” — which may be any accent, but in Alamia’s case happens to be that of a Londoner — is caused by combination of a change in timing, intonation and tongue placement.
Other foreign accent syndrome cases that have been documented around the world include accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, and Spanish to Hungarian.
Our accent is something we take for granted, and it’s rarely a talking point. How strange it must be to wake up with a completely different accent. Despite going through a huge number of tests, doctors have not been able to tell Alamia what caused the syndrome, and whether she might revert to her original Texan accent. Let’s hope she does — but in the meantime, she should embrace her London twang. Lots of us couldn’t even imitate one if we tried.