The term derives from the words xenos for ‘foreigners’ and glossy for’ language’, and it may all be Greek to us, but there are written accounts of people suddenly being able to speak in a foreign tongue dating back from the scriptures to more modern times. The earliest account appears in The New Testament where the alleged phenomenon manifested itself in the subject’s ability to speak tongues – still popular in some areas of the world, particularly on Reality TV!
More recent examples include an American woman named Dolores Jay who turned into a German teenager – language, back story and pimples (not really) – while under hypnosis. Another American, another woman, and another case of hypnosis saw a Mrs Jensen present as a Swedish farmer – plaid and all! Probably the most famous case was that of a young girl called Rosemary from Blackpool who starting speaking an ancient Egyptian dialect – and although this sounds more like a scene from Rosemary’s Baby, this is the most documented case of Xenoglossy.
These cases are embraced by reincarnation believers, but are disputed by most scientists and sceptics as there has never been enough evidence to prove these claims categorically, however, ‘foreign accent syndrome’ is a recognised neurological condition in the world of medicine. Sufferers of foreign accent syndrome have usually experienced a brain trauma or even a severe migraine, from which they awake to find they are quite literally tongue tied and speaking with an unusual accent. Doctors attribute this to damage to the area of the brain responsible for linguistic ability.
There are many cases of this occurring, including Sarah Colwill from Devon, who suffered from frequent migraines – in 2009, she had one so extreme that when she came to in the hospital she had what appeared to be a Chinese accent. Another popular case is of Judi Roberts, from Indiana, USA. Following a stroke at the age of 57, Roberts woke with a semblance of an English accent, despite never being to the country, and the accent being somewhat farcical. But the most famous case was when pop star George Michael claimed to have awoken from a three week long coma with a West Country accent – despite his North London roots. By George, we think you’ve been enjoying the good life a bit too much!
Accents are a subjective thing, some you love, some you loath – if you suddenly woke up with ‘foreign language syndrome’ which would your preferred accent be?