Project members: Marianne Gullberg, Annika Andersson, Susan Sayehli

Although bilingualism is prevalent in the world, the acquisition and processing of a language when another language is already in place remain surprisingly understudied. Adult second language (L2) acquisition and bilingual language use remains poorly understood. Differences between languages (in vocabulary, meaning, grammar, sound patterns, gesture) raise questions like: How does a new language develop and then co-exist with other languages in the mind and brain of an (adult) individual? How do co-existing language systems influence each other?

One current study, Swedish Word Order Processing in L2 (SWOP), independently funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), focuses on how adult L2 users understand Swedish word orders that they themselves do not use correctly. Correct Swedish word order like Igår åkte jag till Malmö [Yesterday went I to Malmö] are very difficult for learners of Swedish who instead typically say things like Igår jag åkte till Malmö [Yesterday I went to Malmö]. Surprisingly, nobody has previously investigated whether the comprehension of word order might predict production patterns. We therefore compare how native Swedish speakers, and adult German and English learners of Swedish produce and understand word orders. We use ERPs to measure brain activity during the reading of Swedish sentences combined with other measures of comprehension and production. The aim is to shed new light on the potential effects of the first language (± similar to the target language), general bilingual effects common to all learners, and the relationship between comprehension and production in learning and bilingualism. We have finished collecting data in the autumn of 2013, and are now analysing the data.

Improving our understanding of the nature of adult acquisition and bilingualism has theoretical implications for our understanding of language use and linguistic cognition with its neurological underpinnings. It also has practical implications for language education, for more sophisticated views of language impairment (to be distinguished from normal consequences of bilingualism), and for the societal view of bilingualism, minority populations, etc.

Testing how the brain processes Swedish word orders

Recent publications:

Edited volumes

Gullberg, M., & Indefrey, P. (Eds.). (2010). The earliest stages of language learning. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Gullberg, M. & Williams, J. (Eds.). (2012). Cognitive second language acquisition. (Volume 6 of Chapelle, C. (Ed.) The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.) New York: Wiley-Blackwell. URL:; doi: 10.1002/9781405198431.

Recent papers in peer reviewed journals

Alferink, I., & Gullberg, M. (2014). French-Dutch bilinguals do not maintain obligatory semantic distinctions: Evidence from placement verbs. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 17(1), 22-37.

Brown, A., & Gullberg, M. (2012). Multicompetence and native speaker variation in clausal packaging in Japanese. Second Language Research, 28(4), 415–442. doi: 10.1177/026765831245582

Brown, A., & Gullberg, M. (2013). L1-L2 convergence in clausal packaging in Japanese and English. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16(3), 477-494. doi: 10.1017/S1366728912000491.

Gullberg, M., Roberts, L., & Dimroth, C. (2012). What word-level knowledge can adult learners acquire after minimal exposure to a new language? International Review of Applied Linguistics, 50(4), 239-276. doi: 10.1515/iral-2012-0010

Oliver, G., Gullberg, M., Hellwig, F., Mitterer, H., & Indefrey, P. (2012). Acquiring L2 sentence comprehension: A longitudinal study on word monitoring in noise. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15(4), 841-857. doi: 10.1017/S1366728912000089

Veroude, K., Norris, D. G., Shumskaya, E., Gullberg, M., & Indefrey, P. (2010). Functional connectivity between brain regions involved in learning words of a new language. Brain and Language, 113(1), 21-27. doi: DOI 10.1016/j.bandl.2009.12.005

Peer reviewed book chapters

Gullberg, M. (2012). Bilingualism and gesture. In T. K. Bhatia & W. C. Ritchie (Eds.), The handbook of bilingualism and multilingualism (2nd ed. ed., pp. 417-437). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. doi: 10.1002/9781118332382.ch17

Gullberg, M. (2011). Thinking, speaking, and gesturing about motion in more than one language. In Pavlenko, A. (Ed.). Thinking and speaking in two languages (pp. 143-169). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.


Andersson, A. (2012). Second language acquisition in 6- to 8-year-old native Spanish-speaking children: ERP studies of phonological awareness, semantics, and syntax. Unpublished PhD, University of Oregon.

Sayehli, S. (2013). Developmental perspectives on transfer in third language acqusition. Lund: Lund University, Dept. of LInguistics and phonetics. ISBN: 978-91-7473-442-3; ISSN: 0347-2558.

Conference presentations:

Kaufmann, N. & Gullberg, M. (2013). Multilingualism across the lifespan: The effects of first exposure to an unknown language on the processing of phonotactics. Eurosla 23, Amsterdam, 2013.

Sayehli, S. (2013). The interaction between developmental stages and transfer in L3 acquisition: evidence from spontaneous speech and elicited imitation tasks. Eurosla 23, Amsterdam, 2013.

Andersson, A., Fanning, J., & Sanders, L. (2013). The role of age of acquisition and proficiency on nonword rhyming in 6- to 8-year-old bilingual children. Paper presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, San Fransisco.