Saturday, September 03, 2005

Bah Hahbah

I was thinking about how to make computers pronounce in dialect - do you spell how you want something pronounced, or do you program the dialect in to the speech system?

So then I got thinking to an old story about automated voices and how good they are.

About 6 or 8 years ago, NOAA Weather Radio switched from a live person giving the forecasts and a computer reading them. The guy used to be a good old down east person - he had a great Maine accent. It sounded perfectly normal to me (it wasn't til I got to college that I realized my dad has an accent).

When they switched, the computer pronounced the town name Bar Harbor as Bar Harbor, which if you've ever been to Maine you'd know is not how any local pronounces it. They all pronounce it "Bah Hahbah". (Don't worry - we understand the conservation of letters law and just add the missing Rs to other words. Like our capital, Auguster. Though I'm not sure all the Rs are appropriately transferred - we talk a lot about lobstah, stahtin ahhh cahs with cah keys, and we love ahhh beeeah.)

So they had to program into this new fangled computer system the ability for the town to be pronounced "Bah Hahbah" so the locals wouldn't laugh at the voice too much, and more so that people knew what area the report was actually for!

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