BBC: The mind-bending effects of foreign accent syndrome
A little-known condition causes people to adopt a new accent – and lose a part of their identity in the process, finds David Robson.
Julie Matthias’s family have a game they sometimes like to play after she comes home, disappointed, from another doctor’s appointment. During dinner, they pick a foreign accent, and challenge each other to speak in the strange voice.
The playful jokes help to distract from the distress of a condition that her doctors have struggled to treat. Despite having lived in the UK her whole life, Matthias suddenly found that she no longer speaks with an English accent – sounding French or Chinese instead. “Four years ago this Easter – that was the last time I heard my own voice,” she tells me on the phone.
Matthias is one of a handful of people in the UK with foreign accent syndrome. Although their speech is completely fluent, their voices have somehow taken on odd characteristics that make them sound as if they grew up in another country.