Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Quality and Quantity

Where chimps and pigs meetNPR ran a story on the survival of small shops in France despite the invasion of malls and monster stores like Walmart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. The success of these small shops, according to those interviewed for this story, derives from the fact that small shop owners provide greater quality for which the French are willing to pay higher prices.

It occurred to me that the difference between quality and quantity might deserve a few words in this blog. We haven’t taken a turn at talking about chimpanzees yet but that research is aimed at the distinction between quality and quantity (the language connection).

Those who believe that chimpanzees and other pongids may have the capacity to speak in a language are arguing for a purely quantitative difference between humans and these species. That is to say, both humans and pongids share the same quality, the ability to speak, they only differ in the quantity of words and sentences they can produce.

Those of us who are convinced that humans are the only species with the ability to speak a language, are convinced that the difference between humans and other species is qualitative. That is, humans and pongids are radically different in that one species possesses an ability (quality) that the other does not possess at all.

The NPR program brought up another use of these two concepts. Quality also means “superiority of characteristics or features” and this was the definition Eleanor Beardsley (love that name!) in the NPR piece had in mind. Our European counterparts are far more willing than US citizens to pay extra for quality. We are more interested in quantity and the cheaper the goods the larger the quantity of them we can acquire.

The result is that more and more of us give up our small towns to giants like Walmart who offer low quality goods at low prices. My wife and I avoid them, for we are willing to pay 10-20% more for better quality (such as the absence of poison in our food), chatting with the store owners, and a pleasant stroll down town rather than through a gloomy warehouse the size of downtown. We consider the extra money we pay an investment in the survival of Lewisburg.  Many small towns have not.

We long ago noticed that the business districts in German cities are also surviving the onslaught of malls and super stores because their locations are restricted to the perimeter of the cities. I am sure it is a Europe-wide prejudice that motivates Europeans to fight these corporations by simply preferring quality. I just thought it interesting that the difference boils down to a preference of quality over quantity in the European and US societies.

One Response to “Quality and Quantity”

  1. Brian Johnson Says:

    Dear Doctor,

    Another factor that hinders the proliferation of mega-stores, at least in Germany, could be the limitations on business hours. I understand that 24-hour operation and doing business on Sundays is not legal.


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