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Niclas Abrahamsson

About me

The central concerns of my research and teaching include linguistic (especially phonetic and phonological), psycholinguistic (including neuro-cognitive), and psychological aspects of SLA/bilingualism. A recurrent theme is child-adult differences in language acquisition and loss and their relation to the maturation of the brain and so-called critical periods.

My current research program includes (1) age of acquisition effects vs. bilingualism effects, (2) the roles of procedural/implicit vs. declarative/explicit memory in near-native grammatical acquisition and processing, and (3) listeners’ perception of non-native speech.

Since 2010 I'm a full professor of Swedish as a Second Language, and from July 1st 2018 the director of the Centre for Research on Bilingualism.

 

Education

  • 2001: PhD degree in Bilingualism, Stockholm University (Centre for Research on Bilingualism). Thesis title: “Acquiring L2 Syllable Margins. Studies on the Simplification of Onsets and Codas in Interlanguage Phonology.”
  • 1993: BA degree, Stockholm University (Linguistics, Phonetics, Psychology).


Employment and qualifications

  • 2010-present: Full professor in Swedish as a Second Language, Centre for Research on Bilingualism/Dept of Swedish Language and Multilingualism, Stockholm University.
  • 2006-2010: Associate professor/senior lecturer (‘universitetslektor’) in Bilingualism, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University.
  • 2006: Tenure (‘docent’)
  • 2002-2005: Post-doc fellow (‘foass’)/Assistant professor in Bilingualism, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University.
  • 2001: Researcher
  • 1996-2001: PhD position, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University.
  • 1990-1995: Research assistant in numerous research projects on bilingual development, second language acquisition and third language acquisition, Department of Linguistics and Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, under the leaderships of professor Björn Hammarberg, professor Kenneth Hyltenstam, and professor Åke Viberg.

 

Teaching

  • 1994-present (yearly/several times per year since 1998): Courses in SLA, bilingual development, and Swedish as a Second Language at BA, MA, and PhD levels (regular programs and teacher-training programs), Stockholm University.
  • 2009-present (yearly/several times per year): Courses in psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives in SLA and bilingualism at BA, MA, and PhD levels (regular programs and teacher-training programs), Stockholm University.
  • 1997-present: Occasional guest lectures on SLA, bilingualism, psycholinguistics, L2 phonology, and research methodology in numerous programs in linguistics, logopedics, modern languages, and Swedish as a second language at different Swedish and Nordic universities.

 

Supervisor of doctoral theses

Main supervisor

  • Katrin Stölten (Stockholm University, the Centre), graduated 2013: “The Effects of Age of Onset on VOT in L2 Acquisition and L1 Attrition. A Study of the Speech Production and Perception of Advanced Spanish-Swedish Bilinguals”
  • Memet Aktürk-Drake (Stockholm University, the Centre), graduated 2015: “Phonological Adoption through Bilingual Borrowing. Comparing Elite Bilinguals and Heritage Bilinguals”
  • Helena Smeds (Stockholm University, the Centre), graduated 2015: “Blindness and Second Language Acquisition. Studies of Cognitive Advantage in Blind L1 and L2 Speakers”
  • Tatiana Antonchik (Stockholm University, the Centre), ongoing: “Acquisition of Compounding in Swedish as a Second Language”
  • Marta Quevedo Rodriguez (Stockholm University, the Centre), ongoing: “Effects of Language-dependent Memory in Bilinguals” (working title)
  • Maryann Su Lin Tan (Stockholm University, the Centre), ongoing: “Lexically Guided Perceptual Learning of Foreign Accented Swedish and its Positional Transfer”

Co-supervisor

  • Emanuel Bylund (Stockholm University, the Centre), graduated 2008: “Age Differences in First Language Attrition. A Maturational Constraints Perspective”
  • Alejandra Donoso (Stockholm University, Dept of Romance Studies and Classics), graduated 2016: “Expresiones de movimiento en español como segunda lengua y como lengua heredada. Conceptualización y entrega del Camino, Manera y Base”
  • Raphaël Domange (Stockholm University, English Dept), ongoing: “Proficiency, Language Use and the Debate over Nativeness: A Sociolinguistic Survey of South Delhi English”
  • Johanna Einarsson (Stockholm University, Dept of Swedish Language and Multilingualism), ongoing: “Intonation hos L2-talare av svenska” [Intonation of L2 speakers of Swedish]

 

Research

​Research projects

  • 2020-2021: “Multilingualism and the Lexical Deficit: a Meta-analysis” (co-applicant), grant no. 200-0676Byggmästare Olle Engqvists Stiftelse (main applicant/project leader: E. Bylund).
  • 2017-2019: “A Compensatory Role for Explicit/Declarative Memory in Grammatical Processing: A Combined Latency, ERP, and tDCS Study of Nativelike Second Language Acquisition” (main applicant/project leader), grant no. 2016-01630, VR/Swedish Research Council (co-applicant: E. Bylund). [Read more]
  • 2017: “Native Listeners’ Perception of Near-native Speech: The Roles of Expectancy Violations, Stereotype Incongruity, and Reconstructive Memory” (project leader), partly supported by (i) a grant from The IDO-foundation for language research in memory of Hellmut Röhnisch, and (ii) part of grant no. SAB16-0051:1, RJ/Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (co-worker: A. Persson).
  • 2017: “Age, Maturational Constraints and the Critical Period for Language Acquisition. What have we Learnt from Very Advanced Second Language Users – and What Remains to be Learnt?” (RJ Sabbatical, the full year of 2017), grant no. SAB16-0051:1, RJ/Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation.
  • 2015-2020: “Bilingualism and Second Languages”, leading research area at Stockholm University, 2015-2020 (co-ordinator and author of the application), six-year grant to five departments, Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities.
  • 2010-2012: “Non-nativelike Ultimate Attainment in a Second Language: An Effect of Age of Onset or of Bilingualism?” (project leader; co-workers: E. Bylund, K. Hyltenstam), sub-project within the research program “High-level Second Language Use”, 2006-2012, grant no. M2005-0459, RJ/Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (program coordinator: K. Hyltenstam).
  • 2008-2010: “Perceptual Compensation in Blind Second Language Learners” (main applicant/project leader), grant no. 2007-1679, VR/Swedish Research Council (co-applicant: H. Smeds).
  • 2006-2008: “The Role of Age and Language Aptitude for High-level L2 Proficiency” (project leader), sub-project within the research program “High-level Second Language Use”, 2006-2012, grant no. M2005-0459, RJ/Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (program coordinator: K. Hyltenstam).
  • 2005-2007: “First Language Attrition in Advanced Second Language Speakers” (main applicant/project leader), grant no. 421-2004-1975, VR/Swedish Research Council (co-applicants: K. Hyltenstam, E. Bylund).
  • 2000-2002: “Age of Onset and Ultimate Attainment in Second Language Acquisition” (co-applicant), grant no. 1999-0383:01, RJ/Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (main applicant/project leader: K. Hyltenstam).
  • 1994-1996: “Age of Onset and Ultimate Attainment in Second Language Acquisition”, internally funded, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University (project leader: K. Hyltenstam)
  • 1990-1995: Research assistant in numerous research projects on bilingual development, second language acquisition and third language acquisition, Department of Linguistics and Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, under the leaderships of professor Björn Hammarberg, professor Kenneth Hyltenstam, and professor Åke Viberg.

Doctoral research

  • 1996-2001: “Acquiring L2 Syllable Margins. Studies on the Simplification of Onsets and Codas in Interlanguage Phonology.” (supervisor: B. Hammarberg)

 

Publications

A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Age of acquisition – not bilingualism – is the primary determinant of less than nativelike L2 ultimate attainment

    2021. Emanuel Bylund, Kenneth Hyltenstam, Niclas Abrahamsson. Bilingualism 24 (1), 18-30

    Article

    It has recently been suggested that bilingualism, rather than age of acquisition, is what underlies less than nativelike attainment in childhood L2 acquisition. Currently, however, the empirical evidence in favor of or against this interpretation remains scarce. The present study sets out to fill this gap, implementing a novel factorial design in which the variables age of acquisition and bilingualism have been fully crossed. Eighty speakers of Swedish, who were either L1 monolinguals, L1 simultaneous bilinguals, L2 sequential monolinguals (international adoptees), or L2 sequential bilinguals (childhood immigrants), were tested on phonetic, grammatical, and lexical measures. The results indicate consistent effects of age of acquisition, but only limited effects of bilingualism, on ultimate attainment. These findings thus show that age of acquisition – not bilingualism – is the primary determinant of L2 ultimate attainment.

    Read more about Age of acquisition – not bilingualism – is the primary determinant of less than nativelike L2 ultimate attainment
  • Revisiting the bilingual lexical deficit: The impact of age of acquisition

    2019. Emanuel Bylund (et al.). Cognition (182), 45-49

    Article

    Whereas the cognitive advantages brought about by bilingualism have recently been called into question, the socalled‘lexical deficit’ in bilinguals is still largely taken for granted. Here, we argue that, in analogy with cognitiveadvantages, the lexical deficit does not apply across the board of bilinguals, but varies as a function ofacquisition trajectory. To test this, we implement a novel methodological design, where the variables of bilingualismand first/second language status have been fully crossed in four different groups. While the resultsconfirm effects of bilingualism on lexical proficiency and processing, they show more robust effects of age ofacquisition. We conclude that the traditional view of the linguistic costs of bilingualism need to give way to anew understanding of lexical development in which age of acquisition is seen as a major determinant.

    Read more about Revisiting the bilingual lexical deficit: The impact of age of acquisition
  • Effects of age and speaking rate on voice onset time

    2015. Katrin Stölten, Niclas Abrahamsson, Kenneth Hyltenstam. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 37 (1), 71-100

    Article

    As part of a research project on the investigation of second language (L2) ultimate attainment in 41 Spanish early and late near-native speakers of L2 Swedish, the present study reports on voice onset time (VOT) analyses of the production of Swedish word-initial voiceless stops, /p t k/. VOT is analyzed in milliseconds as well as in percentages of word duration, thereby accounting for speaking rate effects. The results revealed an overall age effect on VOT production; however, this age effect became salient and sta­tistically significant for all three stops only when speaking rate was taken into consider­ation. Similarly, when speaking rate was accounted for, only a small minority of the late learners exhibited actual nativelike L2 behavior, and most (but far from all) early learn­ers performed within native-speaker range. The results are taken as an indication for relative VOT, as opposed to absolute VOT, constituting a reliable measure of nativelike L2 stop production, which has important implications for future research on age effects and maturational constraints in L2 acquisition.

    Read more about Effects of age and speaking rate on voice onset time
  • Effects of Age of Learning on Voice Onset Time

    2014. Katrin Stölten, Niclas Abrahamsson, Kenneth Hyltenstam. Language and Speech 57 (4), 425-450

    Article

    This study examined the effects of age of onset (AO) of L2 acquisition on the cate­gorical perception of the voicing contrast in Swedish word-initial stops varying in Voice Onset Time (VOT). Three voicing continua created on the basis of natural Swedish word pairs with /p–b/, /t–d/, /k–ɡ/ in initial position were presented to 41 Spanish early (AO < 12) and late (AO > 12) near-native speakers of L2 Swedish. 15 native speakers of Swedish served as controls. Categorizations were influenced by AO and listener status as L1/L2 speaker, in that the late learners deviated the most from native-speaker perception. In addition, only a small minority of the late learners perceived the voicing contrast in a way comparable to native-speaker cate­gorization, while most early L2 learners demonstrated nativelike categorization patterns. However, when the results were combined with the L2 learners’ produc­tion of Swedish voiceless stops (Stölten, 2005; Stölten, Abrahamsson & Hylten­stam, in press), nativelike production and perception was never found among the late learners, while a majority of the early learners still exhibited nativelike pro­duction and perception. It is concluded that, despite their being perceived as mother-tongue speakers of Swedish by native listeners, the late learners do not, after detailed phonetic scrutiny, exhibit a fully nativelike command of Swedish VOT. Consequently, being near-native rather than nativelike speakers of their second language, these individuals do not constitute the evidence necessary to reject the hypothesis of one or several critical (or sensitive) periods for language acquisition.

    Read more about Effects of Age of Learning on Voice Onset Time
  • Age of onset and nativelike l2 ultimate attainment of morphosyntactic and phonetic intuition

    2012. Niclas Abrahamsson. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 34 (2), 187-214

    Article

    Research has consistently shown there is a negative correlation between age of onset (AO) of acquisition and ultimate attainment (UA) of either pronunciation or grammar in a second language (L2). A few studies have indeed reported nativelike behavior in some postpuberty learners with respect to either phonetics/phonology or morphosyntax, a result that has sometimes been taken as evidence against the critical period hypothesis (CPH). However, in the few studies that have employed a wide range of linguistic tests and tasks, adult learners have not exhibited nativelike L2 proficiency across the board of measures, which, according to some, suggests that the hypothesis still holds. The present study investigated the relationship between AO and UA and the incidence of nativelikeness when measures of phonetic and grammatical intuition are combined. An additional aim was to investigate whether children and adults develop the L2 through fundamentally different brain mechanisms-namely, whether children acquire the language (more) implicitly as an interdependent whole, whereas adults learn it (more) explicitly as independent parts of a whole.

    Read more about Age of onset and nativelike l2 ultimate attainment of morphosyntactic and phonetic intuition
  • Does first language maintenance hamper nativelikeness in a second language?

    2012. Emanuel Spångberg Bylund, Niclas Abrahamsson, Kenneth Hyltenstam. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 34 (2), 215-241

    Article

    Within the field of SLA, the incidence of nativelikeness in second language (L2) speakers has typically been explained as a function of age of acquisition. An alternative interpretation, however, is that L2 learners do not attain nativelike proficiency because of first language (L1) maintenance. This interpretation has nevertheless remained mostly theoretical due to the lack of empirical evidence. This study sets out to address the role of L1 proficiency in L2 ultimate attainment by examining L1 and L2 proficiency in 30 early L1 Spanish-L2 Swedish bilinguals. Language proficiency was assessed through grammaticality judgment tests and cloze tests, and additional data on language aptitude were collected through the Swansea Language Aptitude Test (v. 2.0; Meara, Milton, & Lorenzo-Dus, 2002). The results showed positive correlations between nativelike L1 and L2 behavior. Additionally, it was found that language aptitude was positively correlated with nativelike L1 and L2 performance. In view of these findings, it is suggested that (a) L1 maintenance does not hamper L2 nativelikeness and (b) language aptitude is an important factor for bilingual ultimate attainment.

    Read more about Does first language maintenance hamper nativelikeness in a second language?
  • The role of language aptitude in first language attrition

    2010. Emanuel Bylund, Niclas Abrahamsson, Kenneth Hyltenstam. Applied Linguistics 31 (3), 443-464

    Article

    While language aptitude has been investigated actively within second language research, there is a current dearth of research on the effects of aptitude in cases of attrition. The aim of the present investigation was to explore the role of language aptitude for L1 proficiency in speakers who experienced a break with their L1 setting prior to puberty. Twenty-five L1 SpanishL2 Swedish bilinguals residing in Sweden participated in the study, and 15 native speakers of Spanish living in Chile were recruited as controls. The L1 proficiency was measured by means of a grammaticality judgement test (GJT) and language aptitude data were obtained through the Swansea Language Aptitude Test (Meara et al. <xref ref-type="bibr" rid="B36">2003</xref>). Results showed a positive correlation between GJT performance and language aptitude. More specifically, the bilinguals with above-average aptitude were more likely to score within the native range on the GJT than those with below-average aptitude. It was also seen that among the participants with below-average aptitude, GJT scores were related to daily L1 use. In view of these findings, we suggest that language aptitude has a compensatory function in language attrition, helping the attriter to retain a high level of L1 proficiency despite reduced L1 contact.

    Read more about The role of language aptitude in first language attrition
  • Andraspråksinlärning

    2009. Niclas Abrahamsson.

    Book

    Denna grundbok belyser fenomenet, ämnet och forskningsfältet andraspråksinlärning. Med utgångspunkt i 1960-talets brytning med behavioristisk inlärningspsykologi och kontrastiv språkanalys diskuteras de mest centrala frågeställningarna inom den därefter följande moderna, mentalistiskt orienterade andraspråksforskningen.

    I bokens tio kapitel presenteras de huvudsakliga empiriska upptäckterna och teorierna om andraspråkets utveckling och variation, dess kognition, processning och universella egenskaper, liksom inflödets, interaktionens och undervisningens roll, effekter av sociala och individuella skillnader samt modersmålets inverkan. Många exempel ges från studier av svenska som andraspråk. Boken avslutas med en termordlista med förklaringar till centrala begrepp inom fältet.

    Boken vänder sig främst till universitetsstuderande på grundnivå i ämnen som tvåspråkighet, svenska och nordiska språk samt till blivande och verksamma lärare i svenska som andraspråk och modersmålssvenska.

    Read more about Andraspråksinlärning
  • Dominant-language replacement

    2009. Kenneth Hyltenstam (et al.). Bilingualism 12 (2), 121-140

    Article

    This article challenges a recent proposal for the theoretical interpretation of L1 and L2 interaction that results from the abrupt change of language environment in internationally adopted children. According to this proposal (Pallier, Dehaene, Poline, LeBihan, Argenti, Depoux and Mehler, 2003; Ventureyra, Pallier and Yoo, 2004), such children experience a total loss of their L1, while, as adults, they exhibit a nativelike ultimate attainment of their L2. These authors suggest that what they see as a total loss of L1 allows a resetting of the neural network that normally subserves L1 retention and hence permits a complete acquisition of the L2. Data from two of our own research projects, one on L1 remnants in Korean adoptees in Sweden (see Park, forthcoming), and the other on age of acquisition and ultimate L2 attainment of Swedish (see Abrahamsson and Hyltenstam, in press), which included data from Latin American adoptees in Sweden among other participants, suggest (i) that L1 remnants are indeed maintained, (ii) that L2 attainment is not enhanced by severe L1 attrition, and (iii) that there is an age dimension to both the degree of L1 attrition and the level of L2 ultimate attainment in international adoptees. We therefore contend that a maturational interpretation of language replacement data is preferable.

    Read more about Dominant-language replacement
  • The robustness of aptitude effects in near-native second language acquisition

    2008. Niclas Abrahamsson, Kenneth Hyltenstam. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 30 (4), 481-509

    Article

    Results from a number of recent studies suggest that nativelike adult second language (L2) learners possess a high degree of language learning aptitude, the positive effects of which may have compensated for the negative effects of a critical period in these learners. According to the same studies, child learners seem to attain a nativelike command of the L2 regardless of high or low aptitude, which has led researchers to conclude that this factor plays no role in early acquisition. The present study investigates the L2 proficiency and language aptitude of 42 near-native L2 speakers of Swedish (i.e., individuals whom actual mother-tongue speakers of Swedish believe are native speakers). The results confirm previous research suggesting that a high degree of language aptitude is required if adult learners are to reach a L2 proficiency that is indistinguishable from that of native speakers. However, in contrast to previous studies, the present results also identify small yet significant aptitude effects in child SLA. Our findings lead us to the conclusions that the rare nativelike adult learners sometimes observed would all turn out to be exceptionally talented language learners with an unusual ability to compensate for maturational effects and, consequently, that their nativelikeness per se does not constitute a reason to reject the critical period hypothesis.

    Read more about The robustness of aptitude effects in near-native second language acquisition
  • Development and recoverability of L2 codas: A longitudinal study of Chinese/Swedish interphonology

    2003. Niclas Abrahamsson. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 25 (3), 313-349

    Article

    This study deals with the development and recoverability of word-final codas in Chinese-Swedish interlanguage. The relation between consonant deletion and vowel epenthesis is investigated from both a developmental perspective and a grammatical-functional one. Longitudinal, conversational data from three Chinese beginner learners of Swedish were analyzed. First, it is shown that for these learners the acquisition of Swedish codas was U-shaped rather than linear such that they exhibited relatively high accuracy rates at early stages, lower accuracy rates at later stages, and again high accuracy rates at more advanced stages. It is also demonstrated that the epenthesis-deletion differential is closely related to second language proficiency in that the proportion of epenthesis to deletion errors increases over time. Furthermore, the data show that word-final codas that are relatively important for the retention of semantically relevant information generate lower overall frequencies of simplification and greater epenthesis-deletion proportions than codas containing information that is relatively recoverable from other segments or features in the context.

    Read more about Development and recoverability of L2 codas: A longitudinal study of Chinese/Swedish interphonology
  • Acquiring L2 Syllable Margins

    2001. Niclas Abrahamsson, Björn Hammarberg, Roy Major.

    Thesis (Doc)

    This thesis deals with developmental, universal, grammatical, and functional factors involved in the acquisition of L2 syllable structure. More specifically, using speech data from Spanish and Chinese learners of Swedish, the thesis examines the production and development of syllable onsets and codas—that is, syllable margins. In doing so, the present work draws on various theoretical considerations and empirical findings from research on L1 and L2 acquisition, phonology and phonetics, language variation and language typology. The thesis includes three empirical studies, all of which are based on longitudinal conver­sational data. Study I deals with the acquisition of word-initial /sC(C)/ onsets by one native Spanish speaker, whereas Study II and Study III focus on the acquisi­tion of word-final codas by three native Chinese speakers. Study I and Study II both showed that onset and coda length and phonetic environment are influen­tial factors in the production of syllable structure, while sonority may not be as reliable a predictor of production difficulty. Next, both Study I and Study III provide evidence of a U-shaped rather than linear development of pronunciation accuracy. This pattern is interpreted as an effect of initial increase in fluency, with more focus on content and less on form. In addition, Study III showed that L2 proficiency is related to the epenthesis-deletion differential. An increasing ratio of epenthesis-to-deletion is the first-order indicator of increasing L2 profi­ciency during early stages of acquisition, but increased target-like production becomes the first-order indicator of development at later stages. Finally, Study III showed that learners are aware of potential ambiguity resulting from simpli­fication in different grammatical/functional categories. Codas that are essential for the retention of semantic information are preserved through higher accuracy rates and higher relative levels of epenthesis errors.

    Read more about Acquiring L2 Syllable Margins
  • Vowel epenthesis of /sC(C)/ onsets in Spanish/Swedish inter­phonology: A longitudinal case study

    1999. Niclas Abrahamsson. Language learning 49 (3), 473-508

    Article

    Previous studies showed that vowel epenthesis of initial /sC(C)/ clusters in the L2 production of L1 Spanish speakers is conditioned by several variable constraints, such as preceding environment, onset length, and sonority relations among onset members. This case study was designed to investigate whether the patterns obtained from elicited speech also hold for conversational data. A longitudinal corpus of spontaneous/natural speech from 1 adult L1 Spanish learner of L2 Swedish was used. The study confirmed most of the results from previous research, for example, that the frequency of epenthesis varies with preceding phonetic environment. However, the study suggested that a lowering effect of preceding vowels must be present, not just the enhancing effect of preceding consonants suggested by Carlisle (1997).

    Read more about Vowel epenthesis of /sC(C)/ onsets in Spanish/Swedish inter­phonology: A longitudinal case study

Show all publications by Niclas Abrahamsson at Stockholm University