You Tink I Tawk
The Guardian, Apr. 20, 2010
Sarah Colwell found it amusing when a series
of migraines caused her native West Country
accent to be displaced by a Chinese lilt. But
after a month, the joke is wearing thin for the
35-year-old. I have never been to China,
she says. It is very frustrating and I just
want my own voice back. Colwell is one of
around 60 recorded cases of Foreign Accent
Syndrome (FAS), a rare condition arising from
damage to the part of the brain that controls
speech and word formation.
Ruth Scoggins, a life-long
resident of Tucson, Arizona, didnt find it
amusing at all. She returned to consciousness
after suffering a stroke only to discover
shed been cursed with a New Jersey accent.
she asked her doctor. You tink I wanna tawk
like dis? I got no cherse.
Dr. Mohandas Patel took a
moment to parse her dialect, realizing that by cherse
she meant choice. He left the woman
chewing her bedsheets, and ran excitedly to the
patio. This was his opportunity to write a paper,
contribute to science, secure fame and a return
to Mumbai. At the very least, he could smoke a
cigarette and get away from all the cactuses at
the hospitalcactus pictures, cactus murals,
cactus postcards. By all thats holy, he
wondered, did hospitals in Alaska decorate
everything with ice cubes?
When he looked in on his
patient later, he found she was gone.
the nurse asked. What a funny person. She
Ruth had indeed wrapped
herself in the bedsheet and was walking down
Grant Road. Yo, Im tryna foind a bus,
she told a police officer. I wanna get ovah
to de west side.
looked bewildered, and then became suspicious.
Hey, wait a minute. Youre not one of
those illegal immigrants, are you? Trying to
sneak into Arizona? We got a new law for that.
Dis is my home,
cowboy, she snarled. Getouddaheah!
Let me see your
passport, he demanded. Your green
card. You could be one of those domestics taking
jobs away from honest golf club members and
Stick it in your
tamale, she said, while her hand rose in a
distinctly American gesture.
And that is why an American
consulate member had to travel to Nogales, Mexico,
to hear the plight of an American trapped in a
linguistic/legal/neurological twilight zone.
I think, the
consul told her, you will not be home for
Sunday dinner. Ever. But, therere worse
things than a Mexican jail. You could be in New