Englishman wakes up speaking Welsh after stroke

Rare brain disorder left English-speaking Alun Morgan only able to communicate in Welsh

An 81-year-old Englishman woke after a serious stroke to discover he could speak Welsh – despite spending only a few months there as an evacuee during the Second World War.

Morgan grew up speaking English, but after his stroke, lost the ability to communicate in any language but Welsh, even though he was last there 70 years ago.

Mr Morgan, whose sudden competence in Welsh is caused by a brain disorder called aphasia, is now re-learning English.

Apart from the single, short spell, the retiree has spent his life in England, although his grandmother – with  whom he lived during the war – was a Welsh speaker, as is his wife.

Speaking in Welsh from his home in from Bath, Somerset, yesterday, he said: “I was born in 1931 and when the war came I was sent down to Wales as an evacuee. It gave my wife the shock of her life when I started speaking Welsh. After the stroke it was hard going. I’ve managed to remember English but I’ve almost forgotten Welsh again.”

Joe Korner of the Stroke Association, which runs the Communication Support Service Mr Morgan used to recover some of his English, said that aphasia is one of the language issues which can arise after a stroke. He said sufferers can also begin speaking their own language in a different accent.

More commonly, though, stroke sufferers simply struggle to recall words. “Some say it is like having the word on the tip of your tongue; but with all words, all of the time,” he said.

Mr Korner added: “This is a pretty rare condition; we believe there may be around 250,000 sufferers in Britain, with only a handful of new cases each year.” He said that the Stroke Association believes that one reason could be that the brain’s “plasticity” leads it to find new ways of doing things previously taken for granted.

“We believe the damaged brain finds new pathways, which unlock memories or knowledge that is latent but not expressed,” said Mr Korner.

Mr Morgan said he spoke “a bit of both” languages as a child. He said: “We were London Welsh and I learned a bit of Welsh when I was in London. Then, when I was evacuated to Wales during the war, we spoke it virtually all the time because my aunt didn’t speak much English, so I had to pick it up very quickly.”

But his time in Wales was only four years and he has not spoken it since his childhood.

The Stroke Association recommends seeking urgent medical attention if someone is suspected of suffering from a stroke. More information can be found on their website: stroke.org.uk

The Aphasia affect

Aphasia, which is usually sparked by a stroke or serious head injury, is caused by damage to the parts of the brain responsible for language. Most sufferers lose language skills, but others can uncover abilities they didn’t know they had. In a similar condition known as “Foreign Accent Syndrome”, 49-year-old Kay Russell from Gloucestershire began speaking English with a French accent after suffering what she believed was a migraine. And 35-year-old Sarah Colwill from Devon began speaking with a Chinese accent after suffering similar pain. Other sufferers struggle to  remember words.

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