Acquiring a foreign accent is a pain in the neck – scratch that – jaw – but not when you are Lisa Alamia whose accent changed from South American to British immediately after undergoing jaw surgery.
It may sound like a hoax but Alamia, a Texan soccer mom of Mexican heritage, did indeed have an unwitting change in her accent after she went under the knife to fix an overbite. She now speaks with a British twang.
“I didn’t notice it at first,” said Alamia, “But my husband told me I was talking funny. My surgeon thought it was just a physical result of the surgery and that it would go away as I healed.”
The sudden change in her enunciation surprised her husband and children. Alamia underwent a jaw surgery in December and after recovering, began sporting a British accent. Her husband, Richard, noted it right away. Suspicious, he asked the doctor whether it was normal to have a post-surgical change in the voice. The doctor reassured him that the intonation is associated with surgery and is transient.
But it wasn’t! Lisa later on went to see a neurologist, Dr Toby Yaltho of Houston Methodist Hospital Sugar Land, who examined her for neurological disorders, traumatic events such as strokes or any other complication of the brain. Lisa cleared all neurological tests, leaving the doctor with no option other than to look for potential alternative and rare syndromes, one of which was Foreign Accent Syndrome.
Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is an extremely rare speech disorder that sparks a sudden change in your accent, rhythm and tone. You may be a native speaker but wake up speaking with a French lilt the next day. The syndrome usually develops after neurological damage such as a stroke. A sudden change in the tone can be the first sign of stroke and should be rigorously investigated by the healthcare provider.
FAS is an impairment of motor control with speech being one of the most complex motor functions involving the integration of several neurons and brain centers. If one or more of the neurons or centers are damaged, the process can have long-lasting implications on speech, its timing, and tone.
In Lisa’s case though, there has been no neurological damage. Her transition is mind-boggling and has her baffled as well. Speaking to ABC news, Lisa said she was rather “shocked and confused”. It took Lisa many months to come forward because she feared people would not believe her and would bombard her with questions she had no answer to.
There is another possible explanation in which lower jaw surgery- mandibular osteotomy- can change the slight tone and the accent of a person. But a complete shift to another accent cannot be the result of the surgery Lisa underwent.
FAS is such a rare disorder that over the last century, not more than 100 cases have surfaced. In most cases, a neurological insult accounted for the syndrome. For instance, the first case of FAS that emerged in 1941, occurred when an Algerian woman’s brain was hit by shrapnel. Lisa’s case is an exception and pinpoints towards a separate cause such as the change in her oral morphology during her jaw surgery.