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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 10:38 GMT
Stroke gives woman British accent
Tiffany Roberts suffered a stroke four years ago
An American woman has been left with a British accent after having a stroke.

This is despite the fact that Tiffany Roberts, 61, has never been to Britain. Her accent is a mixture of English cockney and West Country.

Doctors say Mrs Roberts, who was born and bred in Indiana, has a condition called foreign accent syndrome.

This rare condition occurs when part of the brain becomes damaged. This can follow a stroke or head injury. There have only been a few documented cases.

British accent

Mrs Roberts discovered she had a British accent after recovering her voice following a stroke in 1999.

"When people first started asking me where in England I was from and a family member asked why am I talking that way, that is when I became very conscious that a part of me had died during the stroke," she said.

A part of me had died during the stroke
Tiffany Roberts

Four years on, she still struggles to convince people that she is a born and bred American.

"People in America accuse me of lying when I say I was born in Indiana.

"They would say 'What are you saying that for? Where in England are you from?'

"I would insist that I am not."

A tape recording of her voice before the stroke shows Mrs Roberts used to speak with a broad and relatively deep accent. She now speaks in a much higher pitch.

Doctors are still trying to find out exactly why foreign accent syndrome occurs.

But Dr Jack Ryalls of the University of Central Florida, said it is a real medical condition, which can occur after a patient has a brain injury.

"They recover to various degrees. When they don't recover or when they only have very, very residual effects left its heard as an accent. Its a real phenomenon. It just hasn't been documented very often."

Scientists at Oxford University are among those trying to get to the bottom of the syndrome.

Last year, they confirmed that patients can develop a foreign accent without ever having been exposed to the accent.

This is because they haven't really picked up the accent. Their speech patterns have changed. Injury to their brain causes them to lengthen syllables, alter their pitch or mispronounce sounds. These changes make it sound like they have picked up an accent. They may lengthen syllables.

The first case of foreign accent syndrome was reported in 1941 in Norway, after a young Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel injury to the brain during an air raid.

Initially, she had severe language problems from which she eventually recovered. However, she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was ostracized by her community.

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