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

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Erika Hoff, Meredith L. Rowe, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)985-992
Number of pages8
JournalChild development
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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