Foreign Accent Syndrome

Experts said an Oregon woman who awoke from a dental surgery with a British-sounding accent is suffering from a rare condition known as foreign accent syndrome.

Karen Butler, 56, said she awoke from dental implant surgery in 2009 with her speaking voice altered to a British-sounding accent with a bit of Transylvanian thrown in the mix.

“I had just had surgery, so at first we assumed it was because of all of the swelling,” Butler said. “But within a week the swelling went down and the accent stayed.”

Dr. Ted Lowenkopf, a neurologist and medical director at Providence Stroke Center in Portland, Ore., said Butler has foreign accent syndrome, which is so rare only 60 confirmed cases have been documented around the world. He said the condition usually follows a minor stroke and stems from a minor injury to the part of the brain responsible for language pattern and tone.

“Although we think it sounds like a British accent, if you had a language expert listening to her, they would say that’s not an English accent,” Lowenkopf said. “It’s sort of an amalgam of different-sounding speech that sounds like a foreign accent. But it’s not truly typical of any one foreign accent.”

Butler said she takes the teasing from her friends and family in stride and the condition has actually been a boon to her social skills.

“I used to be painfully shy, and now there’s always something to talk about,” she said.