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July 5, 2010

BehindTheMedspeak: Foreign Accent Syndrome

Long story short: Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is a condition in which a foreign-sounding accent suddenly and unexpectedly appears after brain damage, such that native English speaking individuals when speaking English are perceived as non-native English speakers.

Often caused by a stroke, it can also follow traumatic brain injury.

It's so rare that fewer than 60 cases have been reported in the world medical literature since it was first described by neurologist G.H. Monrad-Krohn in a detailed 1947 case report published in the journal Brain.

Brigid Schulte's May 30, 2010 Washington Post story about a northern Virginia woman who acquired the syndrome illustrates just how problematic existence can be once fate plays out.

The article follows.


Fairfax woman developed Russian accent after head injury

Some people fall on their heads and wake up with their memory wiped out. A few revive with their personality totally changed. Others die. Robin Jenks Vanderlip fell down a stairwell, smacked her head and woke up speaking with a Russian accent.

Vanderlip has never been to Russia. She doesn't remember ever hearing a Russian accent. She lives in Fairfax County, was born in Pennsylvania and went to college on the Eastern Shore. Yet since that fall in May 2007, the first question she gets from strangers is: "Where are you from?"

"They say your life can change in an instant," she said in what sounds like a thick Russian accent. "Mine did."

For 42 years, Vanderlip, whose case is being studied at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland, spoke with what NIH neurologist Allen R. Braun called a typical mid-Atlantic American accent.

But since the fall, her clipped way with consonants -- dropping the final "s" from some plural words, saying "dis" and "dat" for "this" and "that," or "wiz" instead of "with" -- and her formation of vowels -- "home" sounds more like "herm," "well" sounds like "wuhl" -- identify her more like a transplant from Moscow. The more fatigued she becomes, the thicker her accent grows.

What she has, Braun and other doctors say, is Foreign Accent Syndrome -- a rare and little-understood medical condition that can follow a serious brain injury. "It does sound strange," Braun said. "It certainly does sound like someone has a foreign accent."

The syndrome was first described by a neurologist in the closing days of World War II. A Norwegian woman hit in the head by shrapnel fell into a coma and woke up speaking with a German accent. Fellow Norwegians ostracized her as a result, according to the medical literature.

Fewer than 60 cases have since been reported worldwide. Puzzled doctors have studied a Louisiana woman who, after a brain injury, suddenly began speaking with a Cajun dialect; a woman from the Newcastle region of England who speaks like a Jamaican; and a Boston man who developed what sounded like a Scottish burr. There are Americans who have developed British-sounding accents, Britons who sound French, a Japanese stroke patient with a Korean accent, and a Spanish-speaker who acquired a thick Hungarian accent.

'Somebody's joke'

"The first time I heard about Foreign Accent Syndrome, I thought, 'This is not true; this is somebody's joke,' " said Julius Fridriksson, who has studied brain images of patients suffering from the malady at the University of South Carolina and who, as a native of Iceland, speaks English with a slight accent.

Then he began working with a patient who had spoken with a Southern U.S. accent all his life but woke from a stroke sounding like a proper British gent. "This was an accent he could not control."

Scientists are quick to point out that these are not bona-fide accents. (And none of the patients has spontaneously learned a foreign language.) Rather, in a way no one quite understands, the damage to the brain disrupts speech formation.

Shelia Blumstein, a Brown University linguist who has written extensively on Foreign Accent Syndrome, said sufferers typically produce grammatically correct language, unlike many stroke or brain-injury victims. But subtle changes in intonation and melody make syndrome sufferers sound foreign. No amount of therapy, she said, seems to reverse that.

"I did have one patient who had a stroke and developed Foreign Accent Syndrome, then had another stroke and it disappeared. Do dee do do. Do dee do doo," she said, imitating the "Twilight Zone" theme song. "There is still so much we don't know."

Two days after her fall, Vanderlip awoke unable to speak. A friend called 911, and Vanderlip was rushed to Fair Oaks Hospital, where an MRI showed she'd had a stroke. Working with a speech therapist, she could make rudimentary sounds and slowly relearn how to speak -- but with a Russian-sounding accent. When the accent remained even after Vanderlip regained speaking ability, a neurologist diagnosed Foreign Accent Syndrome.

Other changes

Since the fall, it's not only Vanderlip's accent that has changed. She has become forgetful and tires easily. Formerly loquacious and eloquent, even, friends say, she has become introverted, can't speak coherently for more than 35 minutes at a time and has lost her job as a regional manager for the nonprofit Operation Hope. A single mother of two, she lives off savings and disability payments.

Andrew Uscher, a longtime friend, said many of Vanderlip's friends have drifted away as she has struggled with her injury, financial issues and depression.

"When we go out, people just assume she's from another country," he said. "It bothers her -- not that people think she's foreign instead of American, but that it doesn't sound like her. It's not her normal speech pattern. And we all like to be true to who we are."

Nearly three years after she slipped on stairs at the National 4-H Council building in Chevy Chase, grabbed for a handrail, hurtled backward, hit her head and screamed for help, Vanderlip filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court against the 4-H, alleging that the stairs were unsafe and seeking at least $1 million in damages. The 4-H Council did not respond to a request to comment.

On her home answering machine, Vanderlip has preserved her old voice as a greeting. "Please leave your message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can." She sounds confident, articulate. And American. Her eyes redden when she hears it.

"When I sound different, people think that I'm different," she said. "To this day, my daughter is nervous about me going on field trips or working in the classroom, because she's a little embarrassed about how I sound." Vanderlip, who is studying brain-injury education George Washington University, said the incredulous looks she gets when she explains that she's a native-born American can get wearing.

She said she was devastated as she watched a Fox News Channel report on her lawsuit, with anchor Megyn Kelly repeatedly referring to her as "Inga from Sveden" and commentator Lis Wiehl saying: "She says she's going to be damaged because now some people think she has this nice, sexy Danish accent? I don't think so!"

Since she began speaking like a foreigner, Vanderlip sometimes wants to be anywhere but here. She and her children have started taking vacations abroad, where she can lose herself in a polyglot of accents. "I feel there's no one to judge me in a foreign country," she said. "I don't feel so out of place."


A 2005 story in the Kansas City Star documented another case.

The University of Texas at Dallas has created a website to serve as a support and resource for those with FAS and those close to them.

July 5, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cord Knuckles


They call them




but we


know better.



[via 7gadgets]

July 5, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"The End of Mr. Y" — by Scarlett Thomas


I saw this 2006 novel mentioned in passing in a review of some other book, such that it piqued my interest enough to buy a copy.

It's hard to know where to begin.

The 38-year-old English author seems a complex person, only made more so after time spent exploring her website, which includes an archive of lectures and readings as well as miscellania, and her blog.

March 2007 Bookslut interview here.

2005 3am interview (before her breakthrough book, "The End of Mr. Y) here.

Her MySpace page here.

"The End of Mr. Y" Facebook page here.

Publisher's page for her book here.

Download the first chapter here (scroll down the page to the bottom for a link to a PDF file).

Read three excerpts from the book here.


Browse the book here.

July 5, 2010 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Outdoor Shower


By Inga Sempé.

Wrote Nick Vinson in the June 5, 2010 Financial Times, "The work of Paris-based Sempé is featured often on these pages because her current output is worthy of the attention. It is always straightforward, pleasing and usually clever."


"The Delta shower... is proof in point. The stainless steel structure sits over its own teak slatted base so all you need is a flat surface and a garden hose – no plumbing or plumbers required."

I'll take one.

$2,475 a bit rich for your blood?


That's why I put up the close-ups above and below.


Take a trip to Home Depot, then make your own.

July 5, 2010 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Why nobody speaks Sentinelese: "All trespassers on the island have been killed"


From Wikipedia : "Since interactions with the Sentinelese have been extremely rare, brief, and generally avoided by the Sentinelese themselves, there has been no material, language samples or even word lists published on their language...."

And: "Since nobody outside the community can speak Sentinelese, and all trespassers on the island have been killed, the authorities cannot communicate with the islanders."

"Bernhard Glaeser wrote in 1995 that scientists hoped soon to learn Sentinelese."

[via Joe Peach]

July 5, 2010 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



From the website:


SPIbelt®  holds small personal items during your bike rides, workouts, or on a trip. 

Deceptively roomy belt features a Spandex-blend pouch that expands to carry your keys, cell phone, MP3 player, ID, money and more. 

Belt will not bounce, shift or interfere with activity like bulky fanny packs do. 

Can be worn discreetly under clothing. 

One size fits most.


Back to naming school for this puppy.


July 5, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Google — What lies beneath


Eric A. Taub's March 25, 2010 New York Times story explored avenues to pursue when a simple Google search for someone doesn't get results.

Excerpts follow.


In the Internet era, finding a long-lost friend is relatively easy. But what happens when you want to find someone who flies under the digital radar, a low-key individual who leaves few traces to his or her existence on the Web?

Once only high-priced private investigators had the time and resources necessary to find those kinds of people, but if you understand the best strategies to substitute mouse clicks for shoe leather, the Internet makes the task fast, simple and often no-cost.

“First, ask yourself what you know about someone,” said David Sarokin, a federal government worker who, in his spare time, has extensively studied the best ways to find people online. (Many of his tips can be found on the eHow.com Web site.)

Enter the person’s name in Google or another search engine, and use quotes to surround the first and last name; that way, the entire name is searched. If the person is in a phone book, often the phone entry will pop up as the first Google listing.

The task is easier if you’re looking for someone with a unique name; trying to find the Joe Smith with whom you attended high school 40 years ago is likely to be much more difficult than locating a first-grade pal named Joop Van Heineken.

Conversely, said Jim Adler, the chief privacy officer for Intelius, an online data firm, “If your name is Tom Cruise, you’ll be unfindable on the Web — unless you’re the famous Tom Cruise.”

Search not just on names, but last-known places the person has lived. Do you know your friend’s profession? Enter names of professional journals for which he or she may have written. If you have an idea of a possible workplace, or a spouse’s name, search for those as well.

In addition to standard search engines, try affinity and social networking sites where your friend may have registered, like Classmates.com, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

Jigsaw.com claims a database of 20 million business contacts worldwide, with addresses, titles, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Two basic searches are included when registering, and more contact information is available on a pay-per-use or subscription basis. One contact costs $5, while subscriptions range in price from $25 a month to $1,000 a year.

If the person you’re looking for is politically active, the Federal Election Commission's Web site (fec.gov) lists the addresses, ZIP codes and occasionally even the occupations of those who have given $250 or more to a national campaign.

Criminalsearches.com lists criminal and traffic violation charges for no fee. While the amount of information you receive free is limited, the date of the court action could indicate that the person is still alive. You could also try a sex offenders database that many states have online. In addition to the offense, photographs and home addresses of the individual are often listed.

Many of the search tips are only operative if you know an individual’s last name. Women who change their last names upon marriage can easily fall under the radar. (If you want to be found by long-lost friends, add your last name to your social network listing.)

Mr. Sarokin also recommends perusing wedding notices on the Web sites of major newspapers. Not only will you get a geographical hint but, if you’re looking for a woman, you’ll be able to see what her married name might be.

Many Web sites offer limited personal information free, like confirmation of an individual’s name, age, location and family members. To encourage you to pay, you’re enticed with the prospect of juicier information for a one-time or subscription fee.

Is it worth it to pay for personal information? “The pay sites are mostly unnecessary,” said Mr. Sarokin. “A lot of them are bogus and unreliable.”

But even those that are legitimate, like Intelius.com and PeopleFinders.com, may disappoint. To get the most out of them, read their promises carefully. Private online databases typically don’t generate their own information, but rather aggregate public databases, combining home-purchase information, salary, marriages and divorces, traffic violations, relatives’ names and liens, judgments and bankruptcies.

Many say that they guarantee certain information, but that promise often adds qualifiers like “information included when available.”

The best sites use various algorithms to sort through data, eliminating errors and duplications. But mistakes are inevitable.

If you can’t find any current information about an individual there may be a simple reason: he or she may be dead.

To find out if that’s the case, several sites including Rootsweb.com and Tributes.com offer free access to the Social Security Death Index, a listing of more than 85 million deaths in the United States. Legacy.com also adds a database of published obituaries from hundreds of American newspapers.

If you want to shield yourself from prying eyes, many sites let you remove information; click on their “privacy” links to find out how.

But if this information resides on public or commercial databases, it’s likely to pop up on other Web sites. The best way to stay unfound is to keep your name out of public records, as movie stars do.

July 5, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Racy Egg Rolling Salt Shaker


6.5cm L x 5.5cm W x 5cm H.




[via Running Dive]

July 5, 2010 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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