Foreign accents conjure images of an exotic Ingrid Bergman, the mysterious lilt of socialite-turned- newshound Arianna Huffington, British heiresses like Jemima Khan and beautiful people from anywhere but here.
Glamorous, no? No, according to Robin Vanderlip.
The Fairfax County, Va., woman suffered a true slip of the tongue when she fell and hit her head in a stairwell at a 4-H youth conference. Two days later, after being released from the hospital, she suddenly began speaking English with a foreign accent. Now she’s suing for $1 million in damages from the National 4-H Council, the Washington Post reported this week.
While it seems the stuff of “Gilligan’s Island,” a very real condition can cause people who hit their heads, like Vanderlip, to suddenly develop Foreign Accent Syndrome. The rare malady occurs when a part of the brain affects speech is damaged, causing many patients to sound like they’re from Sweden due to the way they pronounce vowels.
The first widely known case was in World War II when a Norwegian woman was hit by shrapnel and developed an unfortunately strong German accent, which caused her to become an outcast in her country.
More recently, 35-year-old Sarah Cowell of England, who has never so much as been to China, suffered a migraine this spring and began speaking with a Chinese accent, according to The Guardian.
After Linda Walker, a U.K. woman, suffered a stroke she developed a Jamaican accent. “I’ve lost my identity because I never talked like this before,” she told the BBC in 2006. “I’m a very different person and it’s strange and I don’t like it.”
Still, for some, it can be even worse.
In April, a 13-year-old Croatian girl reportedly woke up speaking only German, a language she’d been studying in school but wasn’t fluent in. She completely lost the ability to speak in her native tongue. She likely had a condition known as bilingual aphasia, where people lose one of their two languages because different parts of the brain are involved, according to a Discovery News article.
That may also explain what happened to Sun Kwon on ABC’s “Lost” this season. The character, who spoke both Korean and English, lost her ability to speak English after hitting her head, although she could still read and write it.
Or maybe it was just the island’s mysterious mojo.
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