Woman Falls Down Stairs, Wakes Up With Russian Accent

A Virginia woman has to explain where she's from more than most thanks to a tumble down a stairwell three years ago.

Though she was born in Pennsylvania, went to college on the Eastern Shore and lives in Fairfax County, Robin Vanderlip speaks with a Russian accent these days, the Washington Post reported. She's had it ever since she woke up from that fall.

The National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland are on this case of foreign accent syndrome. Vanderlip's not the first, but fewer than 60 cases have been reported worldwide, the Post reported.

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.

It can get annoying -- answering for her speech -- so when she takes vacations these days, Vanderlip likes to go abroad and try to get lost in all the other accents out there, the Post reported.

In addition to the accent, since her fall Vanderlip is forgetful, tires easily and can't speak coherently for extended periods of time, which cost her her job.

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