Digital Humanities Abstracts

“Human-machine communication by voice (A multimedia tutorial for linguists and engineers)”
Magdolna Kovács Department of General and Applied Liniguistics, Debrecen University Péter Nikléczy Kempelen Farkas Speech Research Laboratory Gábor Olaszy Kempelen Farkas Speech Research Laboratory

1. Introduction

Human-machine communication by voice is one of the most dynamically developing fields in information technology. Since human speech in its oral form is the most natural and compact means for communication, it should be used for information exchange in any technical innovation, new technology, as widely as possible. Speech technology is inevitably gaining greater and greater importance in computing. Speech technology is a relatively new field in applied science, and it is strongly interdisciplinary. It integrates both human and engineering sciences such as theoretical and applied linguistics, acoustic phonetics, physiology, mathematics, software engineering, database handling. Although for several years it has been widely recognized, that for success, it is essential to combine these disciplines in education, it is still hardly reflected in higher education curricula [1]. The reason is obvious: it is an essential but a painfully hard task to build the bridges between the various disciplines involved in speech technology, to show its basis in its all complexity. In support of, or, instead of interdisciplinary curricula, special subject oriented courseware should be offered to the students. Multimedia tutorials are, undoubtedly, the most suitable teaching aids in speech communication sciences and for several reasons. Multimedia in this case does not simple offer novel ways of presenting unfamiliar material but it suits best both the nature of human speech itself and the technical requirements of the subject; it provides tools for experiments, creative, problem-solving learning; for the development of necessary skills in e.g. labeling speech, reading spectrograms and it offers extensive resources for ear- training. For the past few years a number of computer assisted learning systems have been developed in the field, the variety of which demonstrates the range of the topics covered, the anticipated knowledge and utilization of interactive elements [1, 2]. In this paper we will introduce a new multimedia tutorial "Speech technology for Hungarian" and highlight some of the methodological and technical problems associated with the development of multimedia applications in speech communication sciences.

2. Outlines of the content

The multimedia tutorial introduces main features of speech technology. "Speech technology for Hungarian" summaries a kind of knowledge that is not taught as a complex course in Hungarian higher education institutions and presents it in a form suited for independent self- instruction by students. The objective of the tutorial is to provide a starting point for improving the training of future Hungarian linguists and speech technologists. For linguistics students it can help to turn from traditional articulatory phonetics towards state-of-the-art speech science and prepare them to solve important issues in the practical application of speech. For engineers it provides the linguistic basis for speech science, the lack of which explains the low quality of some existing applications. The tutorial consists of seven units: 1. Anatomy and physiology of speech production and hearing; 2. Physics of sound; 3. Speech acoustics; 4. The Hungarian speech; 5. Speech synthesis; 6. Speech recognition by machine; 7. Digital speech processing, and provides a glossary of terms and an annotated reference list of relevant literature for the past five years. To tailor the content material to the target users we decided not to deal in detail with the underlying mathematics of signal processing, Unit 7 outlines only the main and most widely used digital speech processing techniques such as FFT, LPC, PSOLA, HMM. At the same time, the tutorial pays special attention to language specific issues. So, for example, Unit 4 offers a collection of extensive articulatory and acoustic data on the segmental and suprasegmental building elements as well as thorough description of rules for the Hungarian language; in Unit 6 separate parts deal with the definition of language dependent rule sets for duration modelling, for the adjustment of correct intensity values in the case of each soun and for the modelling of the structure of the fundamental frequency changes in time (sound, syllable, word, phrase, sentence and text level). Each unit ends with exercises for self-assessment.

3. Technical Issues

One of the first main questions that arises is the selection of the developing tool. In spite of the fact that the audio capabilities of early versions Java were quite restricted, Web-browser executable Java softwares have rapidly gain ground in speech science CAL-systems for their platform independence and computational capabilities. Before Java 1.3 one did not have speech input capability; audio playback was restricted to a-low or mu-low coded 8 bit quality, what is certainly unsuitable for a course about the understanding of the real nature of the sound. With sound handling becoming much more versatile in Java 1.3, we decided to implement the tutorial using relatively cost-saving and platform-independent tools: standard HTML including Java 1.3 and other plug-ins - Flash 5.0 and QuickTime 5.0 for animations and video elements.

4. An Example

For demonstration, let us quote the tutorial material on speeding up and slowing down the tempo of speech signal. To fit into the time-limits of a TV or radio commercial or for psychological experiments the artificial manipulation of speech tempo has to be implemented without changing pitch and distorting the quality of the sound. The basic technical issues in speech processing are the determination of cutting or pasting periods, short segments of sounds. The question is what stretches of the signal to choose to minimize the distortion. There are different solutions to this problem, most of them based on mathematical methods applied uniformly to the speech signal. The tutorial material leads the student through the steps of working out an algorithm that accounts for the acoustic structure of different sets of sounds and the contextual changes in the formant frequencies [3]. This algorithm fits the best the main aim of the courseware: to show how the understanding of the nature of the sounds can be utilized in practical applications. The section is based upon with interactive elements by the help of which students themselves can manipulate the tempo of the speech examples.


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