Woman Wakes Up With A British Accent
The brain is a funny thing, and it can play funny tricks on you. You might think that something is a simple migraine when in reality, it could be something much, much worse. One Arizona woman found out what can happen when your brain starts to play tricks on you. She went to sleep and something very strange happened to her. And she's not alone! What happened to her brain? Can it happen to you? Let's get started!
Michelle Myers was 45 years old and living in Buckeye, Arizona, in 2016. She had headaches before, but they were becoming severe. She really didn't think there was anything special about this particular headache.
Michelle decided to take a nap to give her head time to rest. After all, taking a rest when you have a headache seems like a perfectly logical thing to do. She'd had headaches like this before, and this one seemed pretty standard. She also suffered from a rare condition, though, so she took it seriously.
Michelle suffered from a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Ehlers-Danlos causes extreme flexibility in the joints and connective tissue. It also causes the skin to be very elastic, and it can cause extreme pain in some cases.
It can also cause migraine headaches. There are actually several different kinds of headaches than can be caused by Ehlers-Danlos. This one seemed like a simple migraine. It would prove to be much more than that, though.
Michelle went to sleep, and when she woke up, her headache was gone. However, there was something new that she noticed. Her words didn't sound quite right, and her rhythm and timing seemed a bit off. She didn't sound like herself at all.
Instead, she noticed that she was speaking with a BRITISH accent instead of an American accent. The words will still be in English, but the accent sounded completely wrong. She had never left the US in her life! This wasn't a complete surprise though...it had happened before.
For her part, Michelle seemed to be a bit annoyed with the new change. She told her local KNXV News that with her new accent, “Everybody only sees or hears Mary Poppins." Not only was it a British accent, but it was a specific accent.
This was not the first time that something like this had happened to Michelle. Previously, she had two other incidents like this: The first saw her waking up with an Australian accent, and the second found her with an Irish accent. She went to see her doctors.
A Special Headache
Michelle's doctors told her that she didn't just have a regular headache. What she had suffered was called a hemiplegic migraine. These are extremely dangerous headaches that aren't really headaches at all. They are far more serious than that.
As she explained to the Washington Post, “It’s actually quite dangerous...t looks just like a stroke, but it's not a stroke. They don't know how or what triggers it.” She waited for the accent problem to go away because maybe it was just temporary.
A Few Weeks
When she had the problems before, the odd-sounding accents went away in a few weeks. She told the Washington Post that the Irish and Australian accents went away after a few weeks. This one was a bit more persistent.
She told The Daily Sun, “People would think it was a joke, saying things like, ‘You sound like a Spice Girl,’...It was hard because I was really struggling. I have come to terms with the fact I might sound like this forever. I realize it’s part of me now.” The condition she had wasn't completely unheard of, though.
Foreign Accent Syndrome
Michelle was diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome. This happens when there's a traumatic injury to the brain, as in a stroke or serious concussion, that affects the speech center of the brain. This has a variety of effects on speech.
Usually, the victims of this will speak with proper grammar, but the sound of their voice changes. It might change from the American "yeah" to the Nordic "ja" as an example. It's a very rare condition, though. Not too many cases of this have ever been observed.
Foreign accent syndrome was first observed in 1907. A French neurologist named Pierre Marie observed it in a Parisian man. The man had suffered a brain injury but seemed fine, except that he was speaking with an Alsatian accent.
That's a very different accent than the one that you would hear in Paris, as Alsatia is an area near the French/German border. Over the next 100 years of medical research, only 60 cases have ever been observed. The doctors didn't know what to do.
The condition is so rare that most doctors don't really know what to do with it. There are certain times when it has been observed as a psychological or anxiety-based condition as well. It was observed in other patients before.
The most famous case of foreign accent syndrome happened in Norway right before World War II. G.H. Monrad-Krohn was a neurologist who studied that case. It had much more serious consequences for its victim than Michelle's.
In the case observed by Monrad-Krohn, a Norwegian woman identified as Astrid got a head injury due to some shrapnel striking her during a German bombing raid. Unfortunately, it caused her speech to sound like she had a German accent.
In that case, the foreign accent that Astrid had developed had some bad consequences for her. Monrad-Krohn wrote, “She complains bitterly of constantly being taken for a German in the shops, which consequently have nothing to sell her." She wasn't the only one either.
In 2013, an Australian woman named Leanne Rowe woke up with what appeared to be a French accent. Lyndsey Nickels, a professor of cognitive science at Macquarrie University, explained why it sounded like Rowe was speaking French.
She wrote, “Vowels are very susceptible to being distorted by slight differences in tongue, lip, or jaw placement. Different languages have different vowels, and within a language, one of the main differences between accents is in the vowels.” There are other effects too.
One reason that the voice sounds so much like a foreign accent is because of the difference in intonation. Different emphasis on different syllables can make a word sound like it was spoken by a non-native speaker. In cases of damaged speech centers, this can be one of the first things to go.
For example, think of the word "accent." If you are American, you probably pronounce it ACK-cent. If you're British, you'll probably pronounce it AHCK-sent. That subtle difference can make you sound like you're speaking in a different dialect. Non-English speakers get it too.
All Over The World
Even though the condition is rare, incidents of it have been seen all over the world. There was Julie Matthias in the UK. She went to sleep and woke up sounding like she was Chinese. In her case, it turned out that a bad car accident had caused the trauma.
Others have been seen in South America, Japan, and in many other countries. Michelle's condition wasn't unique, but it was rare. Neurologists have some advice when dealing with a suspected case of foreign accent syndrome.
When dealing with a case of foreign accent syndrome, many neurologists have no idea what to do. The condition is rarely studied, and it isn't exactly something that would pop up in a doctor's office every day.
Toby Yaltho, a neurologist at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Neurology Associates in Texas, treated a patient in 2016. He said at the time, "It's such a rare condition that neurologists don't believe that this is a real condition...The big thing is to know that she's not faking it." Michelle's case was far from over.
Michelle Myers has a lot going on. She's in pain because of Ehlers-Danos, and now she was speaking in a foreign accent. Sadly, there is no real cure for Foreign Accent Syndrome, and there's no way to tell when the accent will go away.
She told Fox News, “I would give anything to be normal. I would give anything...Rare diseases are very emotional. You feel very alone, isolated. I want to help someone, so they don't have to live in hiding.”
We hope that you've learned a bit about this rare, strange, and fascinating condition. It's not something that comes up very often, but it can disorient the victims. If you learned something from this story, please share the story with your friends! Thanks for reading!