Sigh Whitehouse

Will Hutton makes some interesting points about class, and why it still matters, in a recent Observer piece.? But he’s also made a rather startling mistakes in his maths.? He states that

The good luck of being born into the right family is profound. Two American researchers, Betty Hart and Todd Risley, show how children from professional families hear on average 2,153 words per hour compared with 616 words per hour for kids in welfare families, so that by the age of three, there is a 30 million word gap between the vocabularies of children of families on welfare and those of professional families.

A 30 million word gap in vocabulary?? Surely just reading it back would tell you that there is something wrong in that statement.? It looks as though Will has mistaken occurrence for uniqueness.?

Now what the authors state in the Major Findings of their paper is that

By age three, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in the professional families was about 1,100 words. For children from working class families, the observed cumulative vocabulary was about 750 words and for children from welfare families it was just above 500 words.

So, either Will is making a really elementary mistake of assuming that each word is unique, or he is misusing the word “vocabulary”.

In doing so he has extrapolated a 30 million word gap in vocabulary from a report that found, at most, a 600 word gap.

1 comment

  1. He must meet some very verbose kids if he thought that could be right.

    When he wrote that didn’t it occur to him that there probably aren’t 30 million words?

    I have no idea how many words there are but I’ll take a guess that there aren’t 30 million.

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