Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Human Speech System: Woman acquires new accent after stroke

ScienceDaily (USA, online research news site) reports on a case in Canada of a woman who developed a new accent after having a stroke. This is a recognized medical condition known as the "foreign accent syndrome". What struck me about this particular case is that
  1. the subject had not been exposed to the newly acquired accent before
  2. the new accent was still in her native language (english)
  3. even after two years of therapy, the new accent persists
I'm not a specialist in brain science, although I do follow it out of curiosity, but it seems to me that this case brings into question exactly how independent or dependent human spoken language accents are on our common brain structures. It seems to beg the question whether the speech-motor area in the brain puts constraints on the formation of accents, and, assuming it does (which seems reasonable), then how much? Is it entirely a matter of coincidence that the damage to her brain resulted in a new, but recognizable, accent? Why not some accent that was unrecognizable? Does the speech-motor area have some type of built-in presets that directly lead to or indirectly influece the development of different accents?

But what does this have to do with forensics, you might ask? Well, for starters consider voice comparison and subject profiling both rely directly and indirectly on understanding how the speech-motor area functions and how accents develop. Fascinating stuff!

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