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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news
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  • Will the Word Pedometer make babies smarter?

    It’s the giving season, and the most intellectually woke gift for that underprivileged infant on your list is the Word Pedometer®. Just attach its voice-activated mic to a bit of clothing and the pedometer counts every word the baby hears. People will want to talk to the baby just so they can watch the the baby’s daily word-count soar. Because according to the manufacturer, hearing lots of words before age five is the key to success in school and later in life—it’s even better than Mozart for developing the infant brain. So increasing the number of words a baby hears will make that baby smarter, especially if they are from a poor or minority family that normally can’t afford extra words. 

    At least that’s the theory behind what is essentially a Fitbit for Words. But the theory is wrong. It perpetuates the long-discredited belief that economically deprived minorities are also linguistically deprived. Talk is cheap, so give them words, not food stamps, and babies will succeed. Yes, babies need to be talked to, but metering the words they hear won’t make them baby Einsteins.