Australian Woman Goes In For Tonsil Surgery, Wakes Up With "Irish" Accent

Her 'Irish' accent has annoyed a number of people who are actually Irish. Image credit: chainarong06/shutterstock.com

An Australian woman who went into hospital to have her tonsils removed woke up eight days later to find she now had an "Irish" accent.

Angie Mcyen was in the shower singing when she first noticed the change. She has since been documenting her experience of the strange condition she believes she has: Foreign Accent Syndrome.

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"I woke up this morning. I didn't do anything different, I had breakfast. I didn't really talk to my housemates because [they'd already left.] I took a shower and I usually sing when I'm showering listening to songs, and all of a sudden I was talking in an Irish accent," she said in her first video, sounding much more alarmed than she does Irish (for a good reason). "I can't shake it. I just did a job interview in an Irish accent when I've never been to Ireland."

Her accent changed over the course of the next few weeks, getting less pronounced and "thick". 

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On day two of her ordeal, she did briefly find her voice had gone back to normal.

"I woke up this morning and I was speaking with my Aussie accent, and I called one of my friends and confirmed that my Aussie accent is back – but during the phone call, in about maybe the space of about five to ten minutes, she could see the deterioration of my accent from Aussie to Irish again," she said on day two of her accent change.

"I don't know what to do, this is something that's very different. I'm not even trying, I'm completely freaked out. [...] I thought it was going to go away when I woke up this morning."

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Mcyen contrasting her new accent with a fellow Australian colleague.

Mcyen addressed one commenter who said she was "definitely putting that leprechaun accent on, it's terrible, and your aussie accent is still coming through," telling them that she was glad that the voice she had had for decades was still part of her voice.

"I definitely agree that my accent is still terrible. It's called Foreign Accent Syndrome – It's not Irish, Scottish, American, Jamaican, Canadian, New Zealand, South African Syndrome," she responded. "I'm using this platform to raise awareness for foreign accent syndrome, and its serious neurological implications and pathology that can alter someone's life."

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Foreign Accent Syndrome is extremely rare, with only around 100 people in the world having been diagnosed with the strange condition. Most cases have occurred following traumatic injury to the head or a stroke, resulting in damage to the areas of the brain responsible for speech. Often the condition is not permanent and will go away, for example as the sufferer recovers from a stroke.

Though called Foreign Accent Syndrome, the condition is not really giving somebody a new inexplicable accent. The change in sounds produced by people with the condition is likely caused by altered movements of their jaw and tongue. The foreign accent is likely only really in the mind of the people who hear it, a form of pareidolia. As in Mcyen's case, she didn't believe it to be an Irish accent, that's just what others have told her it sounds most similar to.

There are those who believe that patients unconsciously compensate by speaking in an accent not usual to them, when they are unable to replicate their usual sounds.

"The notion that sufferers speak in a foreign language is something that is in the ear of the listener, rather than the mouth of the speaker," language scientist Professor Nick Miller told the Independent. "It is simply that the rhythm and pronunciation of speech has changed."

Mcyen is seeking an appointment with a neurologist to look into the cause of her voice change, while also considering speech therapy in the interim.

 


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