Tag Archives: terms for quantity

How do you say “Way too many”?

In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, thirteen indigenous languages are spoken. (This in addition to Spanish.)

In Oaxaca city, working with a group of preschool teachers who were making handmade readers for their students, we posed a question: How, in your various languages, would you express quantity: words like “lots,” “a few,” “some,” “a bunch”?

They grinned and asked us back: What are you referring to? Because in our languages it depends whether you’re talking about a lot/few/some/bunch of:

Long, skinny objects

Round objects

Animals

Fingers

Stuff that is neither close nor far away

Things we used to have

Things we might have someday

and so on.

I was humbled. Until then I had felt smug about the precision of my prose.

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