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You Tink I Tawk Funny?
by Walt Giersbach

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, didn’t find it amusing at all. She returned to consciousness after suffering a stroke only to discover she’d been cursed with a New Jersey accent.

“Whaddya mean,” 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 hospital—cactus pictures, cactus murals, cactus postcards. By all that’s 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.

“Joisey Root’?” the nurse asked. “What a funny person. She left.”

Ruth had indeed wrapped herself in the bedsheet and was walking down Grant Road. “Yo, I’m tryna foind a bus,” she told a police officer. “I wanna get ovah to de west side.”

“Foind?” He looked bewildered, and then became suspicious. “Hey, wait a minute. You’re 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 bridge players.”

“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, there’re worse things than a Mexican jail. You could be in New Jersey.”