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Journal Article

Changes in the language of perception in Cantonese


De Sousa,  Hilário
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Categories across Language and Cognition, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language documentation and data mining;

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De Sousa, H. (2011). Changes in the language of perception in Cantonese. The Senses & Society, 6(1), 38-47. doi:10.2752/174589311X12893982233678.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-BB3D-A
The way a language encodes sensory experiences changes over time, and often this correlates with other changes in the society. There are noticeable differences in the language of perception between older and younger speakers of Cantonese in Hong Kong and Macau. Younger speakers make finer distinctions in the distal senses, but have less knowledge of the finer categories of the proximal senses than older speakers. The difference in the language of perception between older and younger speakers probably reflects the rapid changes that happened in Hong Kong and Macau in the last fifty years, from an underdeveloped and lessliterate society, to a developed and highly literate society. In addition to the increase in literacy, the education system has also undergone significant Westernization. Western-style education systems have most likely created finer categorizations in the distal senses. At the same time, the traditional finer distinctions of the proximal senses have become less salient: as the society became more urbanized and sanitized, people have had fewer opportunities to experience the variety of olfactory sensations experienced by their ancestors. This case study investigating interactions between social-economic 'development' and the elaboration of the senses hopefully contributes to the study of the ineffability of senses.