Brain surgery changes boy's accent

Last year, nine-year-old William Moore of York, England underwent emergency brain surgery after doctors discovered a brain abscess caused by meningitis. When he finally spoke again, William's Yorkshire accent had completely disappeared and he was now speaking the Queen's English (aka Received Pronunciation). After a long recovery, William is now fine but his Yorkshire dialect never returned. From The Evening Standard:
Brain surgeon Paul Eldridge, who works at the specialist Walton Neurological Centre, Liverpool, said it was possible that the infection and abscess had affected the area of the brain which controls language skills, forcing William to learn how to speak again.

"It's as if he's re-learnt how to talk from listening to language from sources different to those that prompted his speech first time around."

Phil Edge, head of therapy at the brain injury charity, Brainwave, said: "I've heard of other patients developing changes in their speech or behaviour following a head injury or brain surgery, but not quite to this extent that an accent completely changes.

"Usually, a person's speech changes in pitch or tone, but it's interesting that this boy's lost his Yorkshire dialect completely.

"Obviously there has been some change to the central speech centre of his brain which has caused differences in how it is functioning now, compared with before the operation."

UPDATE: Greg Benjamin points us to last week's Daily Mail article about the Czech motorbike racer who crashed and woke up speaking fluent English. Link (Thanks, Vann Hall!)


  1. Usually when I’ve heard of this type of thing happening it involves a foreign accent appearing after a car accident. This is the first I’ve ever heard of a different (“domestic”) regional dialect appearing after brain damage/surgery.

    As an American I would liken it to a Bostonian coming out of surgery with a Georgia accent (or the reverse)– it would be quite confusing to friends and relatives, and would instigate a lot of hassles and unwanted conversation (a la “My what a lovely accent, how long are you visiting here for?”)

  2. The linguist in me twitches for the interchanging use of “dialect” and “accent” in this article. It’s highly likely that the boy lost the accent, but probably not all of his dialect.

  3. Someone beat me to the foreign accent syndrome link to wikipedia. I’d just like to add that it’s not as rare as wiki says it is. I’ve seen two cases in my relatively brief neuropsychology career (both following a stroke) and several of the speech therapists I worked with had seen several a piece. When there are only so many “reported” cases the question is begged, “reported to whom?”

  4. Actually, Received Pronunciation is not quite the same as a “posh” English accent; RP is also known as “BBC English”, because it was the default accent of BBC announcers in decades past. A posh accent is more like how the Queen used to speak, and is even further exaggerated. One can think of the differences as being between a business suit and a tuxedo.

    That being said, neither the Queen nor BBC announcers now speak as they used to; class not being what it used to be in Britain, they have, in both cases, moved towards a generic middle-class accent closer to “estuary English” (i.e., the generic London accent).

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