Nuance Communications and Intelleca have introduced a South African version of Nuance's RealSpeak text-to-speech (TTS) engine that dynamically converts any input text into spoken output. This is the first application of its kind for the South African market.
The new female TTS voice, named Tessa (text-to-speech South Africa), can be used to deliver premium voice quality and natural-sounding synthesised speech for call centre and network-based speech applications.
Developed in conjunction with Intelleca in South Africa, the partner of Nuance for the development of speech recognition language models in the region, Tessa is the latest addition to the Nuance RealSpeak TTS portfolio, a collection of nearly 40 voices representing more than 25 different languages and dialects.
"There are many text-to-speech engines on the market," says Shaun Cochrane, executive Product and Sales-Engineering at Intelleca, "but they typically use American, United Kingdom or Australian English accents, and their recordings often sound tinny and stilted, as they do not take advantage of new-generation speech technologies. Nuance and Intelleca sought to address this.
"The scope of the job was vast," adds Cochrane. "We had to find and contract just the right person, with the right voice persona. The person we chose needed to have a clear voice, speaking good-quality South African English. In the event, after a process involving Intelleca, Nuance, voice artist agencies, several dozen candidates and Web-based surveying of existing clients, we found our voice artist of choice.
"We had prepared thousands of scripts, which we recorded at Intelleca Labs. Over the course of 12 days, we recorded an average of 600 MB of audio a day, at just under 1000 phonetically rich sentences per day. Nuance and Intelleca's voice coaches worked closely to ensure each recording met the requisite standard."
The level of detail was extraordinary: for instance, as Tessa has to support pronunciation of frequently used South African names and words, specific scripts were created to cover such items. These scripts were created from scratch as South Africa's languages are new languages for Nuance's global catalogue of text-to-speech engines.
"Tessa will boost adoption of text-to-speech applications in South Africa," adds Cochrane. "The potential applications are limitless: from reading newspapers out loud, to directory inquiries, from text messages being read out to stock exchange feeds. Tessa has the potential to revolutionise the speech application market in South Africa."