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American man starts speaking in Irish accent after cancer diagnosis

“His accent was uncontrollable, present in all settings and gradually became persistent”

Doctors have studied the strange condition. FILE PHOTO© Getty Images/iStockphoto

Brisbane native Angie Yen (28) woke up with an Irish brogue eight days after undergoing tonsil surgery

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

A Californian man who had never been to Ireland started speaking in an Irish accent after developing an incredibly rare form of cancer, an astonishing new study has revealed

The man, who is in his 50s, was diagnosed with prostate cancer 20 months before he reported notable changes to his usual speech patterns, which manifested as a thick "Irish brogue".

In the bizarre case of foreign accent syndrome (FAS), it was established that the man had never been to Ireland and had never previously spoken in an Irish accent, although he had Irish family and friends and had lived in England briefly in his 20s.

The team who studied the case that was published in BMJ Case Reports wrote: "His accent was uncontrollable, present in all settings and gradually became persistent."

Doctors had ruled out any head trauma, and any other symptoms beyond unintentional weight loss.

Brisbane native Angie Yen (28) woke up with an Irish brogue eight days after undergoing tonsil surgery

But while an MRI of his brain came back as normal, a CT scan of his pelvis and abdomen revealed that his prostate cancer was progressing. As well as being diagnosed with FAS, he was referred to neurology for further investigation.

According to, FAS is extremely rare, with only around 100 people in the world having been diagnosed with the condition.

In most of those the unsettling development of the condition usually follows traumatic injury to the head or a stroke, resulting in damage to the areas of the brain responsible for speech. Often, the condition is not permanent and will go away, for example as the sufferer recovers from a stroke.

However, the change in sounds produced by people with the condition is often likely caused by altered movements of the patient's jaw and tongue, with the “foreign accent” only heard by people who recognise similarities.

Two years ago, two Australian women who developed Irish accents despite never being to Ireland told their bizarre stories to TV news programme 60 Minutes Australia.

Two Australian women reveal how they developed thick Irish accents while recovering from surgery

Australian woman wakes up sounding "very Irish” after having tonsils removed

Angie Yen and Kate Baggs documented their struggles with Foreign Accent Syndrome.

Brisbane native Angie Yen (28) woke up with an Irish brogue eight days after undergoing tonsil surgery that April.

She took to TikTok to document her struggles with her newfound Irish accent and was met with widespread scepticism from people who believed she was making it up.

However, Yen told 60 Minutes reporter Sarah Abo that the ridicule and disbelief stung.

"The Australian accent that I've known for a very long time was just wiped out overnight," Yen told 60 Minutes.

"I'm sick of being taken as a joke. It's a very serious thing."

Kate Baggs, on the other hand, said that she has been speaking with an Irish accent since suffering from a hemiplegic migraine in 2019.

Baggs, 30, from Melbourne, said that her accent "shifted" mid-sentence and described it as "the strangest feeling".

Baggs, who suffers from a type of extreme migraine, had her first episode in 2015 when her accent suddenly changed to Canadian before eventually returning to her native Australian.

The Melbourne native has lived in Australia her entire life and has never visited Canada or Ireland, while Yen has also never been to Ireland.

Speech pathologist Professor Kirrie Ballard said that the condition is medically genuine.

"Foreign Accent Syndrome is a legitimate disorder," she said.

"It's described as a person's speech changing so that it sounds as though they're speaking in a different accent to their habitual accent."

In the case of the California man, he was still speaking in an Irish accent three months later, as he was receiving treatment.

He had developed abdominal and leg pain which indicated the cancer had spread to his liver and bones. The cancer progressed further, metastasising to his brain.

The team believe his foreign accent syndrome was caused by paraneoplastic syndrome, given that it can be associated with prostate cancer, and that the progression of his FAS coincided with the progression of the cancer.

Paraneoplastic syndromes, the team write, are systemic symptoms caused by abnormal masses "through hormonal, immune-mediated or unknown mechanisms".

The team believe that this is the first case reported in the medical literature of FAS as the result of prostate cancer, though there have been two others reported in patients with other malignant cancers.

The team hopes that the case highlights the need for more literature on FAS and paraneoplastic syndromes in cancer patients, to better understand the link between the rare syndromes.

The man eventually died in palliative care, with the team noting "his Irish brogue-like accent was maintained until his death.”

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