15 March 2014

The Foreign Accent That Came From Space - 4 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.
A snap of fingers. Suddenly, the darkness that surrounded me turned into a multitude of bright colors. Then, I heard a voice coming from a blurry figure which gradually acquired the contours of Dr Knapp.

It’d been quite a tedious journey since I left ward 38 of the Brotherton Wing. I had to listen to relatives, who I had no memory of meeting before, taking the mickey out of my accent. After a few travels to the Clarendon Wing of Leeds General Infirmary, and a wait of three weeks, I managed to finally have an MRI scan of my brain done. A news reporter from BBC Yorkshire approached Sharon after an interview, but she declined it, to avoid attracting more attention. Even though, editors of The Sun could not pass that opportunity to print one of their witty headlines: Whatever Happened to the Lad’s Tyke? The Daily Mail also printed an article mentioning my case and a possible Epidemic of Foreign Accent Syndrome.

This was how my case reached neuropsychologist and specialist in speech disorders from the Metropolitan University of Newcastle Upon Tyne: Dr Tyler.

In our first meeting, after examining the results of my MRI scan, Dr Tyler explained that like other patients with foreign accent syndrome I presented minuscule alterations in several areas of the brain that controlled speech. Dr Tyler was intrigued because I did not have a history of migraine attacks, and presented no visible signs of head injury when the symptoms of foreign accent syndrome appeared. No other exam indicated signs of stroke as the cause of those alterations either. Dr Tyler hypothesized that I perhaps suffered from a rare neurological condition called cerebral vasculitis, which is basically an inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain that may starve language areas of vital oxygen. In order to determine that I would need to do a magnetic resonance angiography. Since my previous MRI scan had ruled out the hypothesis of tumor, I would have to wait perhaps for months to obtain an MRA on the NHS through the normal procedures.

Dr Tyler also recorded our meeting sessions and subsequently submitted my speech to a transcription and linguistic analysis under the supervision of Dr Wright - a dialectologist from the Linguistics Research Centre of the University of Leeds*.

Dr Wright concluded that, besides the evident phonetic distortions, my English presented structural patterns of what Larry Selinker, in his 1972 paper, identified as Interlanguage. Interlanguage is the stage when the language you're learning, i.e. second language or L2, presents features of your mother tongue, i.e. first language or L1. So, in all respects, my English truly resembled that of a learner of English as second language.

Larry Selinker (1972): concept of Interlanguage
I couldn’t be less surprised, since I knew that indeed I had come to Leeds as an exchange student. I eventually gave to Dr Tyler a full account of my Peruvian background in Trujillo, which included my parents’ landline number. After my confession, Dr Tyler then contacted a specialist psychiatrist from the Leeds Institute of Health Science, Dr Knapp, and arranged a meeting.

I agreed to be submitted to a hypnosis session so as to make me recollect the circumstances that led me to unconsciousness that night at Hyde Park. Under hypnosis, I recalled details of my supposed meeting with the messenger.

"Do not be impressed with that." Dr Knapp told me after I questioned what kind of memory was that. "Your subconscious mind have just worked out a combination of elements from your quotidian life and elements of alien abduction narratives. It did it in order to justify the confusion that the foreign accent syndrome creates on your identity. It's more simple and frequent than you may suppose." He still emphasised.

"You don't need to say that again.Although the hypnosis caused me to have a vivid recollection of a supposed meeting with some kind of alien, I remained sceptical myself.

“Well, whatever have happened in the night you were found at Hyde Park - as you tell me – it’s still deeply blocked from your memory. So, for the time being, I prefer to leave it there.”

I appreciated the doctors’ efforts to help me, even if their approaches only reinforced my identity convictions.

After the hypnosis session, Dr Knapp conducted a further investigation of my case. He found out that I'd taken part in a conversation exchange scheme that puts language learners in contact with native speakers of the language they wish to learn. Revising my records at the Language Centre, where the exchange scheme service is offered, Dr Tyler discovered that during two semesters I'd had weekly meetings with this Peruvian exchange student who came from the National University of Trujillo. Dr Tyler explained the case to Mary-Anne Ansell, the executive director of the Language Centre, and managed to gain access to the records of the Peruvian student.

The Peruvian student's landline number in Trujillo matched the number I'd given to Dr Tyler. Dr Knapp explained me that scientists largely accepted that memories could be altered by outside influences and that his investigations into my case reinforced that assumption. 

In his conclusions Dr Knapp stated that my altered accent could be a symptom from a delusional misidentification syndrome named Capgras Delusion. This leaves the person acting a bit like Miles Bennell from Invasion of the Body Snatchers: thinking that everyone is being replaced by pod alien doppelgängers.

If confirmed by further exams, my case would be a particularly unusual one, since instead of believing that a close friend or relative had been replaced by some sort of doppelgänger I actually believed that I was another person. This was further complicated duo to my memory loss.

Apart from that Peruvian phone number I couldn't find any other proof of my original identity. The student accommodation office also had no record linked to my Peruvian family name. I couldn't continue speculating what had happened the night before I woke up in the ward 38. I had to admit that Sharon didn't really have any hidden agenda by claiming to be my mother - neither Sharon nor everyone else who claimed to know me from a long time. The only sensible option that I had left was to accept the clinical assistance that Dr Knapp offered me. Dr Knapp then advised me that writing about that experience could function as a remedy to my identity crisis. 

So I began writing.

Alas, Dr Knapp must've forgotten to mention that such remedy might have a side effect: I began recalling parts of my meeting with the messenger that hadn't appeared during my hypnosis session...

The end.

* This is a fictional story based on a factual language disorder - Foreign Accent Syndrome. None of the action narrated ever took place in the actual settings or institutions referred. The characters are purely fictional and any similarities between them and real individuals are purely coincidental. Some characters were named after real individuals in honour of their real world expertise; none of them ever had any involvement with the action narrated, since all events are purely fictional.

8 March 2014

The Foreign Accent That Came From Space - 3 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.
It felt like I've been waken from a deep slumber. After a little struggle, forcing my eyelids to open, I distinguished an obfuscating white light glowing above me. All I could hear was this continuous dull humming noise that sounded as if coming from inside my own head. My limbs were numb. As I gained consciousness, I realized that I was lying on my back on a hard raised surface. I lifted the upper part of my body and remained sat, trying to understand what place was that. The bright light glowing above me dispersed itself and merged with everything else that was just all-white. I saw no hallway out. I turned my head slightly as I noticed some kind of spectrum resting on the periphery of my vision. When I stared straight at this spectrum it just remained there shapeless, extremely out of focus. Then I realized that my pupils should be dilated.

“Do not worry. I am the messenger. I am here to help.” This shapeless thing addressed me in a deep voice! It was a man.

I had full consciousness of the eeriness of that situation and had many questions rumbling around my mind. Yet, I should be under some sort of emotional hallucination that made me feel somnolent and impelled to pay attention - as if I was attending a regular morning lecture at the Roger Stevens Building. Gradually, the hard surface where I lay minutes before morphed into a smooth seat where I then reclined comfortably. Behind the messenger, a screen projected itself, showing patterns of constellations, whilst the he assumed a lecturer’s posture.

“I belong to an assemblage of messengers who, like me, are presently engaged in particular missions throughout different locations on the earth. We act under the command of a higher authority, our main function being to inspire individual humans and entrust these individuals to multiply our inspiration amongst others.” Along with the messenger’s words, the screen showed a succession of iconic images which I recognized from the GCSE History books.

“Messengers and humans alike are creations from a unique source of power. The main difference between messengers and humans resides in the function attributed by the source of power… Humans” he proceeded, “were created with the function to preserve and enhance energy that comes from the source of power. The energy, then, flow back to the source, continuously improved.” The messenger’s mouth appeared to move out of synch with his voice. Somehow, he was streaming those concepts straight into my thoughts, without actually speaking.

Behind him, the screen showed pictorial illustrations which looked suspiciously like the ones from the Holy Scripture that my mother kept open on the table at home. Following the illustrations on the screen I gained awareness that the earthly realm had been created amorphous with the purpose to be under the constant control of the source of power. By exerting control upon the forms of the earthly realm the source of power preserved and enhanced itself. The source of power then created organisms, namely humans, capable of performing such control upon the earthly realm. Thus, every time that a human organism exerted such control, this organism processed the maintenance and enhancement of a fraction of the energy from the source of power. However, humans would not exercise control upon the earthly realm without a stimulus. This was where the function of the messengers became essentially connected with the function of the humans. Messengers provide afflatus. 

In the Paleolithic, messengers inspired the Neanderthals to knap the forms of solid matter, like stones and bones, and later to control heat and create fire. Having control over fire enabled the early humans to be further inspired to control their environment, subdue wild beasts at distance, and heat clay to craft pottery and construct stronger dwellings. Equally, humans were inspired to control the appearance and taste of their victuals by cooking and seasoning. In the dawn of civilization the messengers multiplied the effect of their stimulus by inspiring intellectually advanced humans to exert control over masses of humans. In this way, hordes of humans were stimulated to exert control over large blocks of solid matter and construct massive monuments. Messengers worked closely along humans in the heyday of stonemasonry. They were indirectly the architects of the Pyramids in Egypt, the Citadel of Athens in Greece, Persepolis in Iran, and other sites that, like R’lyeh, today lie at the depths of the ocean. When the messengers inspired great leaders, such as the king Alexander of Macedon, to expand their empires they were actually expanding the reach of their inspirational stimulus. Throughout history, humans were inspired to exert their controlling abilities upon everything in the earthly realm. Works of art are the best evidence of the messengers’ inspiration that compelled humans to control the forms of hard materials, coloured substances, and the elements of sound, to generate sculptures, paintings, and music. Still, one of the messengers’ most marvellous endeavours was to inspire humans to exert control over their guttural sounds. This is when humanity was endowed with their primordial tongue: the Indo-European-Semitic language.

Before the Indo-European-Semitic all humans communicated through a system of elementary sounds, much like most animal subspecies do. Then, humans began controlling the resonation of sounds from their vocal cords, and using their tongues and lips in multiple combinations to further modify the sounds. This allowed humans to make more defined associations between sounds with things, situations, and thoughts. Then, through the control of rhythm and intonation, the system of sounds gained more complexity, and the humans were allowed to establish further associations of meaning. The complexity of associations generated inevitable inconsistencies across different subgroups of individuals. Before long, the sounds of the primordial tongue were associated in such an inconsistent manner that individuals couldn't understand each other anymore. The humans were further inspired to exert control over the inconsistencies of the Indo-European-Semitic, what caused the emergency of a number of more consistent sublanguages. And that was exactly the messengers’ purpose. Despite enabling better communication, the Indo-European-Semitic also allowed the messengers to establish a control to human understanding of each other. Through that route, the messengers actually established a linguistic network system through which they could regulate the reach of their inspirational stimulus.

 Messengers needed such regulator system because human subgroups began to evolve at different rates. Whenever a human subgroup evolved, their potential to exert control upon the forms of the earthly realm also evolved. In order to trigger these subgroups’ potentials the messengers had to provide them with more advanced forms of inspirational stimulus. So, the messengers used a specific sublanguage, intelligible only to those who were evolved, to conveniently restrict the reach of a new inspirational stimulus. This linguistic network system, for example, allowed the messengers to inspire exclusively the Israelite slaves when these had evolved enough to exert their controlling abilities independent of the command of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Whilst communicating with the Israelites, messengers kept the Egyptians from understanding that inspiration. The linguistic network system became so intricate that the messengers were capable of regulating the reach of their inspirations at the individual level. This is how the messengers fine-tuned their inspirational stimulus and restricted their intelligibility only to those who were appropriately evolved. The linguistic network system is still essential to the messengers’ endeavours nowadays. Yet, just as they inspired a subdivided linguistic system to limit the reach of their inspirations, they also had to inspire a unifying linguistic system to transmit the inspirations that a larger number of humans were already prepared to receive.

One of the messengers’ former mission was to inspire the dwellers of the Ancient Rome with the forms of Latin. The forms that structured Latin proved themselves to be resilient across the many human subgroups that ended up acquiring modified forms of this language. During a long period, Latin became the linguistic system through which the messengers conveyed their inspirations to saints, martyrs, explorers, scientists, and philosophers. Images of Augustin of Hippo, Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galileiand René Descartes appeared on the screen. But Latin was only the onset. In their mission to inspire a unified linguistic system, the messengers also inspired the forms of Germanic. The forms that structured Germanic were not as resilient as the forms that structured Latin, but the messengers needed them to create a base for their greater project, an ultimate system that would accumulate resilient forms of both Germanic and Latin. This is how they inspired the forms of English, which is still being perfected today.

I noticed that every time that I shifted my attention off the messenger, his facial features shifted in minimal details, producing alterations that couldn't be perceived immediately but that after a continuous sequence of subtle changes made me feel like I was staring at a different face. Suddenly, the messenger’s mouth began to move in synch with his voice again. "...And that's what brings us to this moment."

"You find yourself now inside a chamber with physical properties that maximises your ability to exert control upon forms. During our meeting you have exerted control upon all the forms within this physical spaceMy physical appearance and movements are just some of the things that you have controlled. All that I am doing is providing you with the appropriate stimulus and you complete the scenario by exerting your natural controlling abilities on the amorphous forms within this physical space... The earthly realm have pretty much the same physical properties found within this chamber. But human individuals need to evolve to a certain level to understand the messengers’ inspirational stimulus. That triggers their potential controlling abilities. This is why the linguistic forms of English have been inspired on humans, so that us messengers can communicate our ultimate inspirational stimulus to the individuals that will be prepared by the turn of the third millennium. To accomplish our mission, around the beginning of the twentieth century, us messengers have inspired sufficiently evolved individuals whose first language is English. These individuals were entrepreneurs, authors, and leaders, like Andrew Carnegie, Wallace Wattles, and Martin Luther King, who were suitably selected to multiply the messengers’ inspiration using their English through writings and speeches. Naturally there will be still a good time until the forms that structure English reach a state that will define an ultimate unifying language system and carry our inspirations to all humans. Until there, since English have inherited essential characteristics of the primordial linguistic system, namely the Indo-European-Semitic, it can still be fine-tuned with the purpose to either broaden or narrow the reach of some inspirational stimulus transmitted through English..."

The messenger started moving in my direction, looking deeply into my eyes. He, then, raised the tone of his voice. "...You have been brought to my presence with the purpose of having your English fine-tuned so as to adjust the reach of my inspirational stimulus."

Having said that, the messenger approached me and produced a mask which was placed over my face and mouth just before I blacked out.

Final part next...

2 March 2014

The Foreign Accent That Came From Space - 2 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.
Was I actually suffering from paranoia? After waking up in a infirmary ward, with no memory of how I’d been taken there, a complete stranger appeared affirming to be mother; and when my obvious Latin American accent evidenced that I couldn’t possibly have been raised by a native English speaker, the head nurse seemed determined to convince me I had foreign accent syndrome.

“Do you know this nurse?” I asked Sharon, trying not sound hysterically suspicious.

Sharon’s light smile turned into a light scowl. “Wha’, hun?”

If something dodgy was going on I’d better put Sharon on the spot quick, otherwise I could end up in some nutter’s slaughterhouse. So, I raised my voice to a tone of challenge. “The nurse… you know each other.”

Sharon held a sigh. “Oh luv. We’ve been through this…” She turned her head midsentence, and hastened toward the exit.

Discreet as she was, Sharon caused a few necks to turn. Before I even could feel any remorse, I was left to shun facing the looks which other ward patients threw at me.

I'd already rehearsed a non-discreet rant. Following my first meeting with Sharon, I demanded to one of the nurses that I had to talk to some civil authority. After that, a social worker had come to have with me.

"We fully understand your concern. We ask you just a couple of hours so that we can talk to yo... Ms Sharon and make sure she can provide us with evidence of your acquaintance and connection to her."

Roughly an hour later, the social worker was back. "...this was given to us by Sharon herself."

She gave me pictures showing that I bore a striking resemblance to Sharon's actual son. I just could not bring myself to understand what coincidental odds made Sharon's son go missing right at the time that they found me unconscious at Hyde Park. The social worker still told that I was enrolled as an undergraduate in the Bachelor of Computer Science from the University of Leeds. Indeed I already knew that. But the social worker seemed to deliberately neglect a small detail: I was an overseas exchange student. I had sound memory that I'd come originally from the National University of Trujillo, northwestern of Peru. She should've had a hint that there'd be something wrong with that information when my English presented no characteristic feature of the West Yorkshire dialect.

All things considered, when all coincidences showed that Sharon should be right in her judgement, I checked the mobile that was found with me. It did list my real parents' landline number in Trujillo. I didn't mention any of these facts to the social worker or Sharon to avoid bringing her more distress. Soon as I brought myself to calm down I'd definitely contact my actual parents overseas.

Half an hour after having raised my voice to Sharon and made her disappear, the same social worker returned again, bringing with her a few documents that evidenced Sharon's integrity as a person. But I wouldn't give up that easy.

"What about the student accommodation? I must live like most students from the University of Leeds." I asked, actually knowing exactly where I stayed - but having to deny that knowledge since I was still faking amnesia. "Could you check this out?"

"Actually, I did check this out with the Student Accommodation Office. It turns out you do live in a shared residence in Headingley." Her words brought me a sigh of relief. Finally something was making sense. "But we're in July, right in the middle of vacation period. And so the accommodation is closed till the beginning of the new academic session in September."

White Lodge, Student Accommodation in Headingley
My memory had betrayed me regarding that information. I was then left with no choice but to go with Sharon to what supposedly was our residence in Horsforth – a town six miles from the commercial centre of Leeds.

Sharon remained supportive and patiently introduced me to what seemed to be my room, my things, and my routine. As far as I could determine there were no immediate issues between us. Despite the fact that Sharon was a single parent, we seemed to form a quite functional family. Most days Sharon worked as the morning shift manager of the Whistlestop Cafe at the main station. During the first two mornings I tried to reach my real parents.

"Madre, es tú?" I used my native Spanish.

I was hung up a few times. In the third day attempt, someone finally answered. "Quién es esso?"

Who is it? I didn't recognise the voice at the other end. It was my turn to hang up. I'd always been a level-headed person and I wouldn't fall prey of desperation so easy. I'd find an answer.

An ocean apart from my real family and home, I took that as challenge to my ability to remain focused under all the madness that was going on around me. So, I initially focused on getting my head around that situation and trying to recall what had exactly brought me to the ward 38.