Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I do a mean British accent. One time, a few girlfriends and I went on a trip to Georgia, and I convinced the woman behind the counter of an ice cream shop that I’d flown in from England. Of course, the second I left the shop, my accent was all Jersey twang once again. It can be fun to try on different dialects, but what if you could fall asleep at night speaking one way, and wake up sounding totally different? Apparently, foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a rare, but completely legitimate speech disorder that changes speech from your native tongue to something completely “foreign.” How unbelievably fascinating is that?
Like I said, foreign accent syndrome isn’t a particularly common disease, which is probably why people who wake up speaking with an entirely different vernacular often make headlines or the evening news. In fact, according to ABC News, there are only about “100 documented cases” of FAS on record since 1907. Consider Arizona native Michelle Myers number 101 then, I guess.
The 45-year-old Buckeye resident told ABC15 Arizona that at various points in her life, she’d gone to bed with extremely painful headaches, and woke up in the morning speaking with a different accent. So far, she’s briefly experienced both an Irish and an Australian accent, but for the past two years, has spoken with a British accent that she described as closely resembling that of Disney's favorite magical nanny, Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, this disorder is hardly a spoonful of sugar.
FAS is caused by brain damage as a result of stroke, injury, or as a side effect to other medical issues.
From an outsider’s perspective, waking up with a different accent honestly sounds sort of cool, until you learn how FAS works, and realize it’s actually quite concerning.
For Myers, it all started back in 2011 when she had gone to bed with a “pounding” headache, and woke up feeling completely numb on the left side of her body. Fox News reports the single mother of seven was then rushed to West Valley Hospital in Goodyear, Arizona for treatment, where doctors diagnosed her with FAS as a side effect of hemiplegic migraines.
Assuming you, like me, are not a doctor and are therefore unfamiliar with the term, hemiplegic migraines are headaches with symptoms that overlap with those of a stroke, including numbness or tingling on one side of the body, distorted vision, and dizziness, to name a few. What makes Myers' case of FAS even more frightening is that doctors have yet to pinpoint how or why hemiplegic migraines occur in the first place, so it's difficult to find a definitive cure. "It's actually quite dangerous," Myers told Fox News. "It looks just like a stroke, but it's not a stroke. They don't know how or what triggers it."
It's also no joking matter. Myers told The Sun,
It was a joke in my family that I'm terrible at accents, so I think when they heard how good it was, they knew I wasn't kidding!
I found it really difficult to begin with and people would think it was a joke, saying things like "You sound like a Spice Girl," or, "Are you Mary Poppins?"
According to the Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas, FAS has been noted to change accents “from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.”
Furthermore, unlike many patients who experience strokes or brain-related injuries, FAS does not cause disordered speech. In fact, according to The Washington Post, FAS patients “typically produce grammatically correct language.” It all sounds so peculiar, right?
Although Myers has been speaking in a British accent for the past two years, there is a chance it could fade out.
When Myers first experienced a new Irish accent as a result of her migraines, the inflection completely vanished after eight days. Three years later, a similar instance occurred that caused her to talk in an Australian accent, though that apparently only lingered for a day or two.
According to FAS researcher from the University of Sydney, Karen Croot, this disorder is so complicated to understand because a) it's so rare and b) it happens simply by coincidence. She told Mother Nature Network, a leading online source for environmental news,
It's just an accident of chance that happens to that person. What happens to their speech happens to overlap with the features of a known accent.
ABC News reports that FAS can be treated with strategies like behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and even anti-anxiety medication. From what I understand, you can follow those types of treatments and hope your natural speech recovers, or just ride it out with the help of your doctor and see what happens.
For Myers, it boiled down to acceptance: "I have come to terms with the fact I might sound like this forever," she told The Sun. "I realize it’s part of me now."