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A Cognitive Approach to Urban Soundscapes: Using Verbal Data to Access Everyday Life Auditory Categories


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The present research on cognitive categories mediates between individual experiences of soundscapes and collective representations shared in language and elaborated as knowledge. This approach focuses on meanings attributed to soundscapes in an attempt to bridge the gap between individual perceptual categories and sociological representations. First, results of several free categorisation experiments are presented, namely the categorical structures elicited using soundscape recordings and the underlying principles of organisation derived from the analysis of verbal comments. People categorised sound samples on the basis of semantic features that integrate perceptual ones. Specifically, soundscapes reflecting human activity were perceived as more pleasant than soundscapes where mechanical sounds were predominant. Second, the linguistic exploration of free-format verbal description of soundscapes indicated that the meanings attributed to sounds act as a determinant for sound quality evaluations. Soundscape evaluations are therefore qualitative first as they are semiotic in nature as grounded in cultural values given to different types of activities. Physical descriptions of sound properties have to be reconsidered as cues pointing to diverse cognitive objects to be identified first rather as the only adequate, exhaustive and objective description of the sound itself. Finally, methodological and theoretical consequences of these findings are drawn, highlighting the need to address not only noise annoyance but rather sound quality of urban environments. To do so, cognitive evaluations must be conducted in the first place to identify relevant city users' categories of soundscapes and then to use physical measurement to characterize corresponding acoustic events.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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  • Acta Acustica united with Acustica, published together with the European Acoustics Association (EAA), is an international, peer-reviewed journal on acoustics. It publishes original articles on all subjects in the field of acoustics, such as general linear acoustics, nonlinear acoustics, macrosonics, flow acoustics, atmospheric sound, underwater sound, ultrasonics, physical acoustics, structural acoustics, noise control, active control, environmental noise, building acoustics, room acoustics, acoustic materials, acoustic signal processing, computational and numerical acoustics, hearing, audiology and psychoacoustics, speech, musical acoustics, electroacoustics, auditory quality of systems. It reports on original scientific research in acoustics and on engineering applications. The journal considers scientific papers, technical and applied papers, book reviews, short communications, doctoral thesis abstracts, etc. In irregular intervals also special issues and review articles are published.
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