South Carolina Man Develops Thick Irish Accent From Mysterious Syndrome

A South Carolina man in his 50s who had prostate cancer developed an "uncontrollable" Irish accent in a "very rare" and mysterious syndrome.

The man, who died several years ago from his cancer, had no Irish background and had never been to the country.

A man talking
Stock image of a close-up of a man talking. A South Carolina man in his 50s who had prostate cancer developed an “uncontrollable” Irish accent. iStock

His story is documented in a study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports. The authors said his bizarre condition was consistent with "foreign accent syndrome."

FAS is a very rare and complex condition with a range of causes. It is characterized by a consistent change in speech, where an individual sounds like they are speaking in a foreign accent.

Doctors and scientists have not been able to explain fully how this syndrome develops in some people. But there can be both psychological and biological factors involved. FAS cases have been linked to stress, trauma, brain injury, brain tumors, and strokes, as well as a history of psychiatric disease.

In the case of the South Carolina man, an author of the BMJ study, who treated the patient, said there was "no clear" biological explanation.

"At the time of onset of this Irish pseudo-accent, he had none of these causes," Dr. Andrew Armstrong told Newsweek. He is a professor of medicine, surgery, pharmacology and cancer biology in the Divisions of Medical Oncology and Urology at Duke University, North Carolina.

The man had no neurological/brain abnormalities or psychiatric history when his symptoms started, doctors said. The speech changes appeared around 20 months after his initial prostate-cancer diagnosis. His pseudo-Irish accent was uncontrollable, present in all settings and gradually became persistent.

The authors speculate that the man's FAS was sparked by the evolution of his prostate cancer to a much more aggressive variant called small cell prostate cancer. This has been associated with a range of so-called "paraneoplastic" autoimmune syndromes that can affect the brain and other organs.

But while these types of syndromes are well described in cancer, especially small cell, FAS has never been reported in such a case.

"We don't have a 'smoking gun' explanation in this case," Armstrong said. "Other possibilities are psychological, although he did not have major issues with anxiety or depression and actually was fairly amused by this FAS development."

The man's cancer also spread to his brain around a year after the onset of his FAS. Doctors said this could have contributed to the syndrome, even though it was not visible when the Irish accent appeared.

"It is possible that this had a physical cause in his language center," Armstrong said.

The man had never visited Ireland but had a few friends and distant family members from the country. He had also lived in England briefly in his 20s.

"FAS can take many accent forms in different patients, and I assume prior knowledge of an accent is common," Armstrong said. "This is my first case personally. It is quite rare to see in oncology."