Sunday, 10 June 2018

Word gap. Is it?

I'm reading a good deal about the 'word gap'. This is the observation that there is a huge gap in the number of words known by different children. This blog is a query.

Language is always more than just words. It's about how we sequence words, whether in passages of speech or writing or whether in conversation. Random production of words is not language. So, if we're going to talk about a 'word gap', we had better be sure that this is at best a shorthand for saying 'language gap' as just counting different words will not tell us enough about how children are communicating with each other. 

This leads to 'methodology' - that is, how was the data collected to find out about this word gap. Ever since this extraordinary study by William Labov:

we have known some important stuff about the effect the researcher has on the people the researcher is talking to - in particular in relation to language. Adults talking to children is no simple thing either.

So, my query is this: in the studies of the 'word gap', how was the data collected? Was any of the data collected when children talked to each other with no adult present? Was any of the data collected when children were e.g. planning a task, talking about something that they had been doing, telling stories, discussing a point of view, or something that is in, say, a picture book? Are there transcripts of these adult-free conversations available which prove the existence of both a word-gap and a communication gap (ie involving sequences of words)? And can any of this be linked to a class or culturally linked failure on the part of significant numbers of children? 

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