Language Matters: Denying the Existence of the 30-Million-Word Gap Has Serious Consequences

Child Dev. 2019 May;90(3):985-992. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13128. Epub 2018 Aug 13.


Sperry, Sperry, and Miller (2018) aim to debunk what is called the 30-million-word gap by claiming that children from lower income households hear more speech than Hart and Risley () reported. We address why the 30-million-word gap should not be abandoned, and the importance of retaining focus on the vital ingredient to language learning-quality speech directed to children rather than overheard speech, the focus of Sperry et al.'s argument. Three issues are addressed: Whether there is a language gap; the characteristics of speech that promote language development; and the importance of language in school achievement. There are serious risks to claims that low-income children, on average, hear sufficient, high-quality language relative to peers from higher income homes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Language*
  • Learning
  • Poverty
  • Speech