Talking and sharing with other people is a very important human need for pleasure and survival. We use languages, to be precise natural languages, to express everything we wish to communicate in writing, or speech (we also use signs/symbols to communicate but it’s very limited in its scope of application, compared to the use of words of natural languages).

Language is the reason why we have the ability to develop and deploy complex systems of communication and thinking; it gives us the ability to use symbols that have forms and meaning and have recognition from and accessible to all the people we live with. We use languages to express feelings, facts, imaginations, ideas, stories, actions and reactions of people etc.

One of the important uses of languages is the ability to compare quantities, i.e., to express facts about something; to tell exact details of things.

But the natural languages can’t be used to measure and express the exact quantities of things, as well as, compare things in precise manner. For instance, English language can’t be used to express the marks obtained in exams, we need numbers to quantify marks obtained in exams; and the only way we can comment/communicate the difference in the height of two students is to express the difference as more, much, less, small, high, etc. and the exact height of the two can’t be expressed.

More specifically, the following are the ways in which quantities of various things are expressed in a natural language, such as English:

Big

Small

High

Low

More

Many

Less

Much

Few

Some

Little

Thin

Fat

Short

Long

And many more words like great, huge, enormous, extensive, massive, vast, giant, mighty, modest, tiny, minute, negligible, minimal also help us quantify things.

You may have noticed that all of the above words for quantity have the following two features of interest:

  1. None of them are fixed quantities, i.e., a giant figure could be any size, e.g., for a 2-year old child her parents are like ‘giants’, and a truck is also giant
  2. All of them convey relative quantities, i.e., what is a giant in one situation is actually small in another, e.g.,  for a 2-year old child her parents are like ‘giants’, but the same parents are small in front of a truck, or a building

In other words, the expression of quantity in the natural languages is rather gross, not specific.

Of course, there are many things which are such that we can’t be specific about the quantity of those things, i.e., we can’t really measure quantity, e.g., we can’t really measure and specify the exact level of pain, joy, all other kinds of feelings, imagination, ideas, level of energy, mood, amount of input for an intellectual work, and such other things.

On the other hand, there are many situations where we need to very specific about quantity of things, such as prices of all the things we buy, or sell; weight, height, volume, length, breadth, height, height of a place above sea level, temperature, scores in academic education and games, are just a few examples.

It may also be added that most things have several ways of quantifying them, e.g., our bodies can be quantified in several ways –

Weight

Height

Feet size

Hand span

Palm span

Girth (waist size)

Blood count

Body temperature

… and many more things

Can you list out the multiple ways of quantifying a book, house, school, car, cycle, and parliament?

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