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.

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