Britney Spears Is Using a British Accent. Should Fans Be Concerned?
Foreign Accent Syndrome is a real condition that some celebrities may have experienced.
Britney Spears surprised fans earlier this week with a new video on Instagram in which she speaks using an unusual accent. It was something between British and Australian, fans decided.
While people imitate different accents for all kinds of reasons, the star’s recent mental health history has left some wondering if Spears’s accent was for fun or if it could potentially be a side effect related to a more serious medical condition.
While there is no reported professional diagnosis on Spears’s speech, there may be a connection between speaking with a different accent and cognitive dysfunction in certain circumstances. The condition is called Foreign Accent Syndrome — and for some, it can be a warning sign of potential mental health woes to come in the near future.
To learn more about the condition, we spoke with experts who explained how to distinguish it from just a bit of storytelling theatrics — none of them have treated Spears and only answered questions about the condition in general. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?
“Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is a rare speech disorder in which individuals speak with an accent that sounds different from their native one,” Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, CEO of The Heights Treatment, explains to HelloGiggles. “This can be due to a neurological or psychological condition, such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, migraines, multiple sclerosis, dementia.”
Under the condition, a person’s communication skills differ drastically; they might find themselves speaking with an accent that is not their own, and others may find it difficult to understand them or know how to respond appropriately. The adopted accent can range from “mild to severe” and can “affect a person’s ability to communicate effectively,” Ogle says.
Which mental health conditions does Foreign Accent Syndrome present itself in?
Most cases of FAS result from severe brain damage or an existing neurological disorder. But some mental health conditions may exacerbate the condition, including schizophrenia, depression, and severe trauma.
One of the main cognitive conditions in which unusual speech patterns may appear is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
PsychCentral notes that medical professionals diagnose individuals with the condition through various symptoms, including “noticeable changes in speech, behavior, and personal preferences” and that these changes can be subtle or more drastic, depending on the situation.
What are some signs someone might be experiencing Foreign Accent Syndrome?
There are a few ways you can tell whether someone is experiencing FAS, versus just imitating an accent for fun, according to Dr. Raffaello Antonino, clinical director and counseling psychologist at Therapy Central.
“The sudden onset of the accent” and “the individual’s inability to control the accent or revert back to their original accent” are some noticeable symptoms, he explains, along with “the fact that the accent may be from a region the individual has never visited or had contact with.”
Dr. Antonino cited two examples from the medical community: Linda Walker, a British woman who woke up from a stroke speaking in a Jamaican accent, and Sarah Colwill, an English woman who began speaking in a Chinese accent after a severe migraine.
A U.S. cancer patient recently began speaking with an “uncontrollable Irish accent” after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, despite no ancestral connections to Ireland and very little interaction with people who have the accent.
“People with FAS may experience difficulty controlling the speed at which they speak, and some can even be heard speaking with a stutter,” Ogle says. “They may find themselves becoming frustrated when trying to communicate due to the difficulties posed by their accent,” which can make communication with these individuals even harder.
Are there any well-known personalities who have experienced Foreign Accent Syndrome?
According to Dr. Antonino, FAS cases are “extremely rare” and most individuals who experience FAS “are not well-known.”
One of the most publicized cases was reported when ’80s pop icon George Michael woke from a coma in 2011 and allegedly began speaking with what he called a “West Country accent” that sounded very different from his typical north London one.
The new accent only lasted a few days, as Michael began to rehabilitate through physical therapy. Still, it left the singer and other medical professionals baffled.
Other celebrities attribute their accent adoption to their surroundings. Madonna spent a lot of her time in British settings, thanks to ex-husband Guy Ritchie, and Lindsay Lohan has spoken to the press about her accent fluctuations as well.
“When I’m around certain dialects, it changes each time,” The Parent Trap star explained, citing how she splits her time between Dubai, Mykonos, and movie sets around the world.
Could Britney Spears be suffering from FAS?
As far as Spears is concerned, no official FAS diagnosis has been suggested or confirmed. Media outlets have reported the singer using a British accent in the past, most notably in 2008 when she became involved in a few heated moments with the paparazzi.
TMZ reported that the singer “made two calls at the UCLA Psych Ward” in a British accent as well, and sources allegedly told The Daily Mail that Spears was diagnosed with DID, with multiple personas she doesn’t recall once she resumes to a stable condition.
These moments were especially amplified right before she entered into what became a 13-year long conservatorship, a stressful scenario in addition to her mental health conditions at the time.
Recently, fans have expressed concern over their favorite singer’s mental wellness, some even going as far as to have local authorities perform a wellness check on her after she deactivated her Instagram account. It’s not surprising that variations in her speech patterns might spark new worries.
Others, however, just chalk it up to Britney being Britney.
“Britney Spears has been known to enjoy accents, as well as changing her own accent purposely and often!” Twitter user @ShelbisShloth_ remarked about the latest post.
“semi-regular reminder that Britney Spears famously loves to do an accent,” Twitter user @eringraye adds.
If you are experiencing mental illness and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.