HEALTHY LIVING
02/09/2012 12:21 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2012

Debie Royston, British Woman, Develops French Accent After Flu Symptoms And Seizures

When some people come down with a really bad case of the flu, the lasting effects may include an unceasing runny nose or a cough that just won't go away. But for a 40-year-old British woman, it was a French accent.

The Daily Mail reports the curious case of Debie Royston, who developed symptoms of the flu. However, as time went on, her face began drooping and she started to have seizures, up to 10 a day.

Ultimately, a seizure made her unable to speak, and she had to undergo a month of therapy to be able to speak again, the Daily Mail reported. But when she finally did, her typical accent was gone -- and replaced with a French one. Newcastle University experts diagnosed her with foreign accent syndrome, according to the Daily Mail.

[For more on Debie Royston, read the Daily Mail's story here.]

Foreign accent syndrome occurs after brain damage from a stroke or traumatic brain injury, according to the University of Texas, Dallas. It has also been linked with conversion disorder and multiple sclerosis.

However, when a person has foreign accent syndrome, it's not that the brain has actually converted speech to a different accent -- rather, tongue placement, timing and intonation are changed so that it seems like a person is speaking with a different accent, UT Dallas reported.

As Discovery News puts it:

It's also false to assume someone with FAS suddenly knows a foreign language, as the condition has nothing to do with acquiring new languages, but rather modifying existing ones.

Discovery News reported that the condition has a neurological origin, involving the brain region linked with language. Changes in the way the body physically produces speech -- like the way the tongue, lips and mouth move and interact together to form words -- could also play a part.

However, the "accents" developed in this way don't often sound authentic, and sound more like a non-native trying to reproduce the accent of another culture, Discovery News reported:

In essence, a woman with FAS who seems to speak English in a Scottish accent is unlikely to sound so to linguists.

There are only around 100 known cases of foreign accent syndrome, starting from when the condition was reported for the first time in the 1940s, NPR reported.

NPR reported of a foreign accent syndrome case last year, where Karen Butler, a 56-year-old Oregon woman, woke up from sedation after dental surgery with an accent comprised of a mix of English, Irish and other European accents. (Butler had never even been to Europe before.)

In 2010, a 35-year-old British woman by the name of Sarah Colwill had an extreme migraine, and was left with a Chinese accent.

"I spoke to my stepdaughter on the phone from hospital and she didn't recognize who I was. She said I sounded Chinese. Since then, I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I'm a hoax caller," Colwill told AFP.

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