What Counting Words Has Really Taught Us: The Word Gap, A Dangerous, but Useful Discourse

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Abstract

For the past two decades, a claim of a word gap between the vocabulary sizes of poor children and their wealthier peers has inundated educational policy. In this article, I use critical discourse analysis to show how the word gap theory is a dangerous, but useful, discourse that continues to be produced as a scientific explanation for the cause of poverty and that closing the word gap will be the ultimate remedy for poor people. The word gap is a discourse that arose to explain away poverty, while supposedly countering deficit discourses about the innate unintelligence of poor people. It has relocated the problem with poor people from innate incompetence and laziness to social incompetence that was produced by a word deficit. The analysis showed that those who adhere to the word gap discourse are absolved from any critical questioning of the oppressive workings in American society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-150
Number of pages14
JournalEquity and Excellence in Education
Volume53
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education

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