Educational linguists across England and the USA have long critiqued deficit-based language ideologies in schools, yet since the early 2010s, these have enjoyed a marked resurgence in England’s education policy in discourses, funding, and pedagogical materials related to the so-called ‘word gap’. This article conceptualises the word gap as a realisation of raciolinguistic ideologies in which the language practices of racialised, low-income and disabled speakers are characterised as deficient, limited, and indeed, full of ‘gaps’ because they fail to meet benchmarks designed by powerful white listeners. With a genealogical approach, I trace how word gap ideologies and interventions are tethered to colonial logics and have (re)intensified in England’s education policy in recent years. I draw on a cluster of data, including education policy documents, Hansard records, political discourse, textbooks for teachers, research reports, media coverage and the work of Ofsted, the schools inspectorate. I discuss the durability of the word gap ideology in England, newly marketed under seemingly benign guises of scientific objectivity, social justice and empowerment – despite decades of criticism exposing how it perpetuates racial and class hierarchies whilst blaming marginalised speakers and their families for their apparent failure to use the right kind of words.
- word gap
- language ideology