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The computer finds its voice... in true Maltese

New software which transforms written text into Maltese speech will soon ease access into the electronic world for readers with physical, sensory or cognitive requirements.

New software which transforms written text into Maltese speech will soon ease access into the electronic world for readers with physical, sensory or cognitive requirements.

The first speech synthesiser which transforms electronic text into spoken Maltese will be released in July and people will be able to download it for free on their own computer.

Maltese text which sounds pleasant to the ear

For the past two years, Crimsonwing – a company originally established in the UK – has been developing a synthesiser which will produce spoken Maltese by recognising keyboard and verbal input and transforming text into audio. This will facilitate access to Maltese electronic text for readers with physical, sensory or cognitive needs.

This EU and government funded project was initiated by the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (Fita) and the work was carried out entirely in Malta by a consortium of Maltese entities.

The synthesiser was developed as a series of prototypes and the final product will be released in July. It will be available for free from a specifically developed website (www.fitamalta.eu), or on CD from Fita.

The first prototype, presented in August 2010, was a simple system featuring a male voice, based on academic research carried out at the University of Malta.

The second one, launched seven months later, was designed from scratch. Each voice actor read a 15,000-word script, compiled from an initial 20 million words, statistically representative of the sounds of the Maltese language.

The third prototype, presented in October, featured a larger lexicon and sound database for the male voice, and the introduction of a female and child voice.

This prototype included an intonation model of the Maltese language to produce more natural sounding speech.

Project Manager Roger Davies-Barrett said many e-government websites will now be fully accessible to those who have in the past “given up” because of the badly pronounced Maltese.

Michael Micallef, who is blind, is carrying out internal testing for Fita. He believes this project will have a “great impact” on Maltese society, because elderly and illiterate people will be able to read online Maltese newspapers for the first time and blind people can read Maltese text “which sounds pleasant to the ear”.

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