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Dominant-language replacement: The case of international adoptees*

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2009

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.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, SE – 106 91 Stockholm,
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This work was supported by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, grant No. 1999-0383:01 to K. H. and N. A. and grant no. J2001-0244:1,2,3 to H.-S. P. We would like to thank Katrin Stölten for carrying out the phonetic analyses of VOT production and categorical perception. We are also grateful to Christopher Stroud for comments on an earlier draft and Thomas Lavelle for checking and correcting our English writing.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
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