A report from last Tuesday's Guardian begins thus:
Sarah Colwill initially found it amusing when a series of migraines caused her native West Country accent to be displaced by a Chinese lilt. But after a month, the joke is wearing thin for the 35-year-old IT project co-ordinator. "I have never been to China," she says. "It is very frustrating and I just want my own voice back."
Another recent news story that fits into a similar paradigm is that of the "Croatian teenager wakes up from a coma speaking fluent GERMAN." A psychiatrist mentioned in this Daily Mail (Online) article is quoted as saying:
"In earlier times this would have been referred to as a miracle, we prefer to think that there must be a logical explanation — its just that we haven't found it yet.
"There are references to cases where people who have been seriously ill and perhaps in a coma have woken up being able to speak other languages — sometimes even the Biblical languages such as that spoken in old Babylon or Egypt – at the moment though any speculation would remain just that — speculation — so it's better to continue tests until we actually know something."
This reminds me of some pentecostal churches I attended as a little boy where members of the congregation (also referred to as "Holy Rollers") would engage in glossolalia or "speaking in tongues."
I'm as suspicious of the Foreign Accent Syndrome as I am of "speaking in tongues." In any event, I'd like to hear the "Chinese lilt" of Sarah Colwill to determine just how "Chinese" it really is. And it would be interesting to hear just how good the young Croatian girl's German is and to find out how much German she had studied before allegedly acquiring fluency in that language while in a coma.
I've known people who can mimic accents uncannily well after hearing them spoken for only a few moments. My son, Thomas Krishna, is particularly talented in this respect, and so was the late Michel Strickmann, a professor of Taoism at UC Berkeley. But mimicking is an intentional, voluntary phenomenon, and makes no pretense toward actual mastery of another language. Foreign Accent Syndrome and the other two cases discussed above are ostensibly involuntary and pretend to varying degrees of competence in another language than one's own.
[A tip of the hat to Bruce Balden.]