Sunday, November 2, 2008

Foreign Accent Syndrome


By Stephen Ellis


Nobody asked me, but…

Last week on the news (and drawing quite a bit of attention) were a couple of people who have what they call a Foreign Accent Syndrome. Briefly, these people started speaking with foreign accents…usually more than one…and this happened without any control of the person doing the speaking. They would start a conversation in a strictly-American manner and, suddenly start speaking with a French accent or a Russian accent. The people doing this swore that they had no control of this and have been examined by several physicians who seem to be without explanation.

I can explain it, and, in fact, have had several experiences with this syndrome. The problem is that in order to really understand it, you’re going to have to become a steady reader of this blog because the facts that create this syndrome are not simple.

Let me relate my first experience with this syndrome:

When I was in my late teens (I had graduated high school when I had just turned 16), I worked my way through college as a magician and a hypnotist. My agent would book me into hotels in what was called the “Borscht Circuit”: small, resort, hotels in the Catskill Mountains just north of New York City. On any given weekend, I might have from one to four bookings, varying from hotels to private parties to (a) appear as a magician mentalist, (b) put on a hypnotism show or (c) be hired to walk through the dining rooms of larger hotels and simply sit down with the diners and perform close-up magic. Fortunately, for me, I was quite successful and I was able to pay my college tuition, pay my rent, keep food on the table and save a little bit on the side.

Being young and good-looking (I actually was good-looking when I was young), and being a stage performer, I was attractive to a lot of females varying in age from their teens to their sixties, and several of the younger females would ask me to hypnotize them.

I was never foolish enough to hypnotize any females without other females being present because I had been warned by other hypnotists (and it is true) that most females, when awakening from hypnosis, have the feeling that they have been sexually used. I didn’t need a criminal record as a sexual predator, so whenever I hypnotized a female, I would only do so in the presence of several other people.

On one occasion, at a private party, I was putting on a hypnotism show. Recently, a book entitled “The Search for Bridie Murphy” had been on the best-seller list. The book was about a woman who, under hypnosis, had started to speak with a heavy Irish brogue and identified herself as a woman named Bridie Murphy who lived in a small village outside of Dublin about a hundred years ago. I’ll talk more about the fascinating case of Bridie Murphy in another blog, but for this blog the story of Bridie Murphy had piqued my curiosity so much that I tried something on one of my subjects who happened to be a seventeen-year-old girl.

When giving a hypnotism show, I would routinely regress subjects through the years and have them remember what presents they got for their third birthday party and who was there, etc.

This time, however, I told this female subject that I was regressing her back to her mother’s womb…and even before that. I asked her where she was,,,

Imagine everyone’s shock and surprise when this girl started to speak in French! I am not a linguist, but French is something quite distinctive. I knew some words in the language, but not a lot. Fortunately, there was a woman in the audience who said she spoke French…but said she could not understand many of the words the girl was rambling on in French because she said the words were ancient and no longer in use.

At the insistence of her friends who were, understandably, frightened, I brought the subject back to the present and woke her up.

She told us that she did not speak French. She did not know anyone who spoke French and that she was studying Spanish in High School. She did not remember anything that had transpired while she was hypnotized.

This incident does not fully explain how the women in the news report had this Foreign Accent Syndrome, but it does open the door to some possibilities. Future blogs will explain it in more detail. Please, encourage your friends to read this blog. It’s new and I have very few readers, but I guarantee you this blog will never cease to be interesting.

As I said, nobody asked me.


Frieda said...

Interesting. Only 50 cases of foreign accent syndrome have been documented. Of those, I wonder how many occurred after a brain injury. Doctors have yet to figure the cause. It would be nice to see more medical research on the condition.

Piper said...

Cases like this I am sure are abundant. I am one of them who does it routinely. I am a Canadian citizen who has never been down into the area of Virginia, yet speak with the accent of someone from that area quite frequently. It is a distinctive one as it is a combination of southern drawl and maritime. It happens just out of the blue and in some cases can get quite embarrassing. Especially when speaking to someone from the Virginia area and to them your accent disappears. I think it might have to do with past lives?