‘Word gaps’, raciolinguistic ideologies and the re-normalisation of deficit discourses in England’s schools
2022-04-12, 09:30–10:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 3


Since the 1960s, educational linguists, sociolinguists and social anthropologists have critiqued deficit-based approaches to language education underpinned by theories of verbal deprivation. In the last decade however, deficit ideologies have seen a re-normalisation in England’s education policy via discourses, funding and pedagogical materials related to the so-called ‘word gap’ or ‘vocabulary gap’. This talk conceptualises ‘word gaps’ as manifestations of raciolinguistic ideologies in which the language practices of racialised, low-income speakers are heard as deficient, lacking, and indeed, full of ‘gaps’ because they fail to meet benchmarks set by the white listening subject. Using methods associated with policy diffusion and a raciolinguistic genealogy, I trace how such ideologies and ‘word gap’ interventions have circulated between education policy in England and America. I draw on a cluster of data to do so, including education policy documents, Hansard records, political discourse, textbooks for teachers, research reports, media coverage and the work of the schools inspectorate, Ofsted. I show how ‘word gap’ ideologies continue to be durable and attractive to policy makers in England, despite decades of criticism exposing how they perpetuate racial stratification which points the blame at minoritised speakers for their apparent failure to speak adequately.

Panel affiliation

Young speakers & language ideologies in education

Ian is a Senior Lecturer in English and Education at Edge Hill University, UK, with research interest in language policy and ideologies in schools.