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‘Foreign Accent Syndrome’ and the Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526-1569)/Wikipedia/Public Domain

In 1941, a young Norwegian woman suffered a serious head injury after being hit by shrapnel during a German air raid during World War II. Though the woman recovered a bizarre thing happened when she began speaking Norwegian with a German accent. It was so noticeable that her fellow Norwegians began to avoid and shun her.

She experienced what today is referred to as Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) that occurs when people who have experienced stroke or severe head trauma begin speaking their native tongue with a distinctive and recognizable accent.

It is a rare condition, first mentioned in 1907 by a French Neurologist named Pierre Marie, and since 1941 there have been approximately 100 cases of FAS.

In 2013, the BBC did a documentary on a woman from England who went to a hospital in 2010 after experiencing a severe migraine. When she woke up the next morning, Sarah Colwill was speaking with a Chinese accent, that was so noticeable that others mocked her accent and would ask her to make fried rice.

In Canada, a woman by the name of Rosemary Dore had a stroke and ended up with an accent from the east coast of Canada.

In an interview with the CBC, she stated:

“Everybody, even the doctors … they [thought] I was from Newfoundland, because I have an accent. But I didn’t, because I come from Windsor, Ont.”

Dore had never been to Eastern Canada and did not have any family or friends from that region, yet somehow she was speaking with a noticeable accent from the region.

Others have picked up French and Russian accents. A man from Baltimore started speaking in a Scandinavian accent after his stroke.

But it has been puzzling as to why they are talking with recognizable accents.

Though their normal language can return over time, FAS may have an odd connection to the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis.

In the account recorded in Genesis 11, we are told that the people all had one common language and speech. Which meant that not only were they speaking the same language, but as well using the same words. For example, in North America a boot refers to a shoe, but in England it refers to both a shoe and as well the trunk of a car, with the latter being the more pronounced usage.

But as these ancient peoples gathered together in the Shinar valley, located in Babylon/modern Iraq, they decided to build a giant tower to the heaven.

Because of this, the Bible records that God moved in and divided the peoples into different languages, forcing them apart.

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. (Genesis 11: 6-7 NIV)

Though we are not explicitly told how this happened, it appears that God rewired people’s minds creating different languages.

And this is where FAS provides an interesting insight. Writing for Creation Moments, Paul Bartz explains:

“A growing number of studies and experiences — such as foreign-accent syndrome’ — suggests that humans have been programmed with more than language ability. Some of the unique features of specific languages may actually be programmed into our brains.”

In other words, the people who experience FAS are speaking with recognizable accents because at the Tower of Babel human brains were preprogrammed with the specific features that make up different languages, such as intonation and pitch.

And in FAS those hidden preprogrammed differences surface.

READ: Sarah Colwill, British Woman, ‘Woke Up Chinese’ After Suffering Severe Migraine In Hospital AND The woman from Plymouth who woke up with a Chinese accent AND Ontario woman gains East Coast accent following stroke AND An Accent on Language Ability AND Rare disorder after stroke puts the accent on brain understanding

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