23 February 2014

The Foreign Accent That Came From Space - 1 of 4

While collecting data from headlines of English papers for my MA dissertation, I came across a curious article about a rather strange language fact.

The following short story is based on such strange fact.
In the morning that I woke up in the ward 38 of the Brotherton Wing, at Leeds General Infirmary, I did not feel like myself. I mean, literally. I'd read Kafka's Die Verwandlung, but it was nothing like that. I had all my human parts in the right place and the face I saw in the mirror, as far as I could remember, was pretty much mine - with the familiar light frown lines of a man of 25. But that was just not me. I had no memory of how I had been brought to that hospital ward and the healthcare assistant was of little assistance on that question. Then this woman named Sharon, who I could not remember of meeting before, came affirming that she was my mother. I had to tell her that I had amnesia and had no memory of being acquainted with her. I lied. I knew perfectly well that I had no amnesia. That woman simply couldn't be my mother because I knew my mother well and she, unlike Sharon, couldn't speak a word of English in the first place. And I wasn't mad either, since my English accent certainly confirmed that Sharon had to have somehow made a mistake. In the minute I began to talk to Sharon, she made an expression of bewilderment.

“What happened t' your voice? I cannot understand you well.”

In the following day - based on the fact that my English sounded pretty much like that of a Latin American and on the information that Sharon fed to the senior staff nurse - I heard the news. “What?”

Foreign accent syndrome.” The nurse practitioner who came that afternoon emphasised, visibly not convinced of her own words. “You must be suffering from foreign accent syndrome. It's rare. But that's the only explanation we can give you preliminary.”

“I heard you well. I've heard of this... syndrome once. But isn’t this the result of a stroke or a head trauma?” I questioned, observing the nurse's expression turn slightly uneasy.

“You're right. You present no apparent signs of stroke or head injury. But the community support officers who rescued you at Hyde Park informed us that they found you unconscious.” She moved her eyes over the records sheet in her hands, as if to fill her statement with some authority. “Whatever had brought you to unconsciousness must've affected your brain too...”

I drifted off while the nurse excused herself and left. Later, when Sharon appeared again, the head nurse came in person and tried to enlighten us a little.

“Sadly, cases of foreign accent syndrome have become oddly frequent in England in the last years. Yours, as far as we have knowledge, is the third case in the UK just this year.”

The head nurse seemed to have a concern with providing us information on that syndrome. In matter of minutes she gave us a mini lecture that made me feel less of an oddball case. In Devonshire - Southwestern England - an acute migraine sufferer named Sarah Colwill had a severe headache and, after passing out, woke up no longer speaking with her usual West Country lilt but with a Chinese accent instead. Just a hundred and thirty miles Northeast, in Gloucestershire, another case involved a woman named Kay Russell who had migraines as well and who, after a kip, woke up with a French accent. Under that perspective, my case was less unusual.

“The's not much for us to do here now. We're discharging you this evening and you can go back home with your mom.” Then, turning to Sharon, the head nurse proceeded. “Make sure he returns still this week to obtain a prescription from a local physician for an MRI scan of the brain. That should solve this foreign accent enigma.

Just before making her way out of ward 38, I could swear I saw the head nurse give a wink to Sharon whilst they exchanged a light smile of complicity.