An Accent on Language Ability
“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”
After suffering a stroke, a man in Baltimore suddenly began speaking with a Scandinavian accent. Though he had no experience with languages other than English, he suddenly sounded Nordic and appeared unfamiliar with English! In the weeks after the stroke, his speech gradually returned to normal. After three and one-half months, he again spoke with no trace of accent.
This affliction is real. It’s called “foreign-accent syndrome.” It’s a rare condition in which a brain malfunction causes speech to sound as if the speaker has a foreign accent. Americans have also reportedly developed apparent German, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian accents.
Scientists say the fact that speech follows certain patterns in this way suggests something about the way the human brain is wired. A growing number of studies and experiences – such as “foreign-accent syndrome” – suggest that humans have been programmed with much more than just language ability. Some of the unique features of specific languages may actually be programmed into our brains.
The Bible tells us that everyone on Earth spoke the same language until God confused the languages of rebellious people at Babel. “Foreign-accent syndrome” suggests that many of the detailed characteristics of language may have been originally wired into the brain. It also helps us see that language is more that just noises to which we have given meaning. Language is God’s gift.
Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, I thank You for the gift of language. Forgive me for the times I have misused this gift, and help me to once again use language in witness and praise to You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Author: Paul A. Bartz
Ref: “Rare disorder after stroke puts the accent on brain understanding.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Oct. 17, 1990. p. 7A. Image: The Tower of Babel – by Gustave Dore (PD)
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