Singing an escape from Foreign Accent Syndrome

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Last weekend's Snap Judgment profiled an interesting case of "Foreign Accent Syndrome", in which Ellen Spencer's speech disorder, caused by a stroke, disappears when she sings — and even to some extent when she thinks about singing:

A couple of previous LLOG posts on FAS:

"Notes from the ESL Trauma Unit", 9/16/2007
"Foreign Accent Syndrome", 4/27/2010

And in "The therapeutic power of rhyme" (10/26/2006), I discussed how Scott Adams' spasmodic dysphonia was improved by repeating nursery rhymes, and also took up the topic of "Melodic Intonation Therapy", which helps some people with certain forms of aphasia by using a technique very much like what Ellen Spencer discovered on her own.

Some of the literature on FAS:

Sheila Blumstein et al., "On the nature of foreign accent syndrome: a case study", Brain and Language, 1987.
John Ingram et al., "Phonetic analysis of a case of foreign accent syndrome", Journal of Phonetics, 1992.
Kathleen M. Kurowski et al., "The foreign accent syndrome: a reconsideration", Brain and Language, 1996.
Inger Moen, "Foreign accent syndrome: A review of contemporary explanations", Aphasiology, 2000.
Lila Guterman, "When Speech Goes Strange", Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/15/2002
Jo Verhoevan and Peter Marien, "Prosody and Foreign Accent Syndrome: a Comparison of Pre- and Post-stroke Speech", Speech Prosody, 2004
Diane Garst et al., "Foreign Accent Syndrome", The ASHA Leader 2006.
Karen Stollznow, "Foreign Accent Syndrome", Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic 2014

And on Melodic Intonation Therapy:

Martin Albert et al., "Melodic Intonation Therapy for Aphasia", JAMA Neurology, 1973.
P. Berlin et al., "Recovery from nonfluent aphasia after melodic intonation therapy: a PET study", Neurology, 1996.
Andrea Norton et al., "Melodic Intonation Therapy: Shared Insights on How it is Done and Why it Might Help", Ann N Y Acad Sci. , 2009.



  1. GeorgeW said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

    I don't know enough about aphasia to make an intelligent contribution, but what struck me about part of the recording I listened to was the grammar. In one example (at about 7:30 on the recording), she refers to the phenomenon (stiffness or whatever) as "she." The speaker seems to be transferring a sex-based gender system (masculine/feminine) to her English speech. A native speaker would have used a neuter 'it' to refer to the new condition that was occurring.
    Can a non-English grammar system be a feature of aphasia? This would be a very unusual English grammatical error for a native speaker.

    [(myl) There are two or three examples of that sort of thing in the recording, and I also found them interesting, not to say just a little suspicious. It's certainly true that aphasia can cause syntactic errors, but not as far as I know examples of that sort. So I wondered whether there might be a bit of lily-gilding going on.]

  2. Steven Marzuola said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 10:06 pm

    I picked up these, in the first 4 minutes:

    "By the time she gets to my lips"

    "… transition to an accent within 48 hour" (not "hours", she omitted the "s". Same as a French speaker.)

    "Peoples would say." (In French it would be, "Les gents", plural).

  3. George Amis said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 10:38 pm

    myl: lilly gilding, not guilding.

  4. George Amis said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 10:38 pm

    Of course I managed to misspell lily.

    [(myl) My fingers do most of my spelling.]

  5. Sili said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 3:49 am

    And the lily was not to be painted, not not g(u)ilded, anyway.

  6. Jenz said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 6:52 am

    Out of curiosity, does anybody know if there are reported cases of patients with 'foreign accent syndrome' that improve when their auditory feedback (i.e. hearing) is blocked, as is reported with a significant number of stutterers?

  7. Nigel Hey said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 10:53 am

    My own experiences as an Englishman in America.

  8. ohwilleke said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

    I have a relative who is also a choir director who has a severe stutter in his spoken speech but has no trace of it when he sings, no doubt for similar reasons.

  9. Marta said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 5:59 pm

    The link to Diane Garst et al.'s "Foreign Accent Syndrome" is broken. For that article, go here:

  10. David Fried said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

    Is this a French, or a French Canadian, accent? Was Ms. Spencer exposed at any time in her life, particularly as a child, to this very accent?

  11. Jimbino said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

    mtl: it's "rose gilding" and "lily decorating."

  12. January First-of-May said,

    June 23, 2016 @ 8:58 am

    Who else thought this post involved a song about Foreign Accent Syndrome (whatever it is)?

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