What Is Foreign Accent Syndrome? Australian Woman Starts Speaking With an Irish Accent After Tonsil Surgery
An Australian woman has gone viral on TikTok after waking up from tonsil surgery with an Irish accent—even though she's never been to the country.
Angie Yen, whose TikTok bio reads, "Documenting my journey after waking up with an Irish accent on 4/28/21," details in her first post that she woke up after her tonsillectomy and "all of the sudden, I was talking in an Irish accent."
"I thought initially that was just something I was hearing, that this can't be real and now I can't shake it," she says. "I just did a job interview in an Irish accent when I've never been to Ireland. Can you imagine?" Yen also says her situation is "totally not normal."
Yen said in a later post that she's been trying to find a neurologist who specializes in her condition, but hasn't had any luck yet. "It is quite a struggle and I know that I need medical attention and help," she says. "But it's a struggle to even find the right person to look into me and tell me what's wrong."
Commenters have pointed out that, over time, her Australian accent is coming back. "Your Aussie accent is seeping through!!" one said. Others tried to make Yen feel better, with one saying they once had a teacher this happened to. "I remember everything she taught because of it. It makes you memorable," they said.
It's not entirely clear what's going on with Yen, but there is a legitimate, documented medical condition that can cause someone to speak with a different accent. It's called foreign accent syndrome and—full disclosure—scientists don't have it entirely figured out just yet. Here's what you need to know.
OK, what is foreign accent syndrome?
Foreign accent syndrome is a speech disorder that makes someone sound like they have an accent from another country, according to the University of Texas Dallas. One report published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry calls the condition an "unusual consequence of structural neurological damage," adding that it "may sometimes represent a functional neurological disorder."
Several other reports published in various medical journals also point to the existence of foreign accent syndrome. A report published in 2008 details the story of a woman who developed panic disorder, then speech issues, and then foreign accent syndrome after the death of her father. And a meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2016 tracked down 105 cases of foreign accent syndrome between 197 and 2014.
So, while it's rare, foreign accent syndrome can happen.
What causes foreign accent syndrome?
The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry report found that people listed a range of triggers for foreign accent syndrome:
- Migraine or severe headache
- Surgery or injury to the mouth or face
Still, researchers say they don't exactly know why some people develop foreign accent syndrome.
How long does foreign accent syndrome last?
Given that this is a rare condition, it's hard to know for sure. However, the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry report found 49 people in the world who say they have the condition, with a range of people speaking with a different accent for anywhere from two months to 18 years.
What's the treatment for foreign accent syndrome?
Treatment largely involves speech language therapy that can involve working to change the way a person pronounces certain vowels and consonants, according to the University of Texas Dallas. Treating the underlying reason for the change in accent may also help.
Ultimately, though, this is a condition that still puzzles a lot of researchers.
Yen seems to have a good sense of humor about the whole thing, changing her name on her TikTok profile to "Angie McYen." But she shared in her latest post that her medical bills are piling up, despite having good health insurance—and that deniers are welcome to help chip in to pay for them. "Trying a new thing where ppl who deny my reality get to pay for my medical bills," she joked.
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