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Foreign Accent Syndrome: The Curious Case of Karen Butler

By Belinda McCallum
Epoch Times Staff
Created: June 5, 2011 Last Updated: June 6, 2011
Related articles: Science » Beyond Science
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Karen Butler’s Funny Story

 

An Oregonian woman who had oral surgery ended up losing not only her teeth, but her American accent as well.

Karen Butler, 56, sounds like she comes from somewhere in Scandinavia or possibly South Africa with a bit of Irish thrown in here and there. However, prior to her surgery in 2009, she had a full-blown American accent.

Butler’s teeth were replaced with dentures, but her accent never came back.

Now, when people meet Butler for the first time, they typically ask the same question, she told the Today show.

"’Where are you from. Where did you get that accent?’" Butler said. "’You tell them ‘I got it from here.’"

"’From here? Oregon?’ They think I say Ireland, but I’m saying Oregon.”

Butler realized she had a very rare condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), which usually results from stroke or brain trauma.

"It’s so rare—less than a hundred cases ever reported—that the average neurologist, even a stroke neurologist, would not see a case in their lifetime," Dr. Ted Lowenkopf at the Providence Stroke Center told NBC News.

According to the University of Dallas, FAS is a motor speech disorder that causes changes in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived by listeners as a foreign accent.

Lowenkopf told The Oregonian that the syndrome has been linked to injuries in different areas of the brain—the left frontal lobe, the right side, and the cerebellum at the base of the brain. Generally the damage is minor, which is why the syndrome is so rare, whereas strokes usually cause more damage, leading to bigger effects on speech.

"What happens with foreign accent syndrome to the best of our understanding is that a very, very small part of the speech area is affected so that the normal intonation of speech gets altered," Lowenkopf said.




   

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