ERDF 114 Maltese Text to Speech Synthesis

 

Maltese Speech Engine Version 1.3.0 - Multiple uses like reading or as a communication tool.

European Regional Development Cohesion Fund Malta 2007-2013

What is Speech Synthesis?

Speech engines (Speech synthesisers) are used by computers in order to convert  written text to audio/speech output. If you are looking for information on the Online Maltese Dictionary project, this is available at http://www.maltesedictionary.org.mt/#home

FITA

FITA obtained funding via the European Regional Develipment Fund ( 85% EU funds and 15% National Funds), to develop a SAPI compliant Maltese Text to Speech Engine (MSE).  The project commenced in 2009 and was concluded in 2012.

The project consisted of four components, namely:

  1. Project Management
  2. Research
  3. Software Development
  4. Publicity

Project Management

Following the application process and initial project setup of ERDF114, in June 2009 Mr. Roger Davies Barrett was hired as project manager and under the guidance of the CEO of FITA and ERDF114 project leader Stanley M. Debono, he ran the day to day administration of the project.   Apart from the administrative aspects inherent to an ERDF project, ERDF114 included the implementation of the software design specifications set out by FITA and also the coordination of the user testing.

MSE Launch 8th Nov 2012
Research Study

The research element of the project focused on measuring the potential need in Malta for this technology.  This research was carried out by Fsadni and Associates and published in early 2010.  The study covered both households and business entities, and assessed the use of speech enabled software and the Maltese Speech Engine.

The study revealed that there was significant interest in the Maltese speech engine with 44% of participants stating that they perceived a use for speech enabled software which used the Maltese language.

Software Development

The tender for software development was awarded to Crimsonwing Malta.  Work on the software commenced in January 2010.  This consisted of a Lexicon, Speech Synthesis Module and two host applications which can demonstrate the final product.  Three prototypes were produced prior to the final version in order to assess the progress of the speech engine and provide a  means for end users to evaluate the product and channel their feedback through FITA.  FITA set out with the ambitious objective of producing natural speech quality.  At the end of the project, we are pleased to confirm that Crimsonwing rose to the challenge and produced Maltese Speech Synthesis which is on a par with, if not better than most other commercial SAPI voices that are available for English and other languages.  The methodology used by Crimsonwing enables continued development of the product, to include more words and better pronunciation based on user feedback.  Version 1.1 of the MSE was released in November 2013 and version 1.2 was released in June 2014.

FITA continues to collect user feedback in order to improve on the work already done.  Registered users are therefore encouraged to use the download and feedback links from the Project>Maltese Speech> MSE Download and Feedback pages. Future product updates shall continue to be published via the FITA website. In order to receive notification of FITA website updates, you may opt to follow FITA from our website’s home page.

Publicity

On 13th September 2012 the ERDf114 project drew to a close with the organisation of an information seminar which addressed the end user queries which arose after the product release on 26th June 2012.

Maltese Speech Synthesiser information video

Video transcript (PDF)

What Applications can use the Speech Engine?

The Maltese Speech Engine is compatible with the Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI V5) standard.  Only speech enabled software which is compatible with this standard can use the MSE.   These include screen readers and many educational and assistive technology software.  Moreover, the first version of the Maltese Speech Synthesiser is designed to work on the MS Windows platform, starting with Windows XP and above.

The MSE 1.1  update includes improved speech intonation and larger lexicon containing some 10,000 words more than the previous version. Under Windows 8.0 this has performed well with no new issues reported.

The MSE 1.1 update is tested to work properly up to Windows 8.0. We are aware of technical issues with Windows 8.1 where the MSE installer seems to corrupt the speech engine registry, so not only are the Maltese voices not listed, but any existing voices are also removed. We further verified that uninstalling the MSE may restore the existing voices so, backtracking to a Windows restore point does not seem to be necessary. However installing on Windows 8.1 is to be avoided until the next official release of the MSE by FITA.

Who will benefit?

  1. Blind persons and persons with low vision
  2. Persons with an intellectual impairment
  3. Persons with Dyslexia
  4. Illiterate persons
  5. Children in pre-primary and primary schooling
  6. Persons with a mobility impairment who may have difficulty handling documents or books
  7. There are many commercial applications that could use annunciation of process and commands in Maltese, thus allowing industry to customise equipment to Maltese speaking operators.  Some of the most common applications are e-services and the automated handling of phone calls.

Conclusion

The greater inclusion of disabled persons within the information society will benefit Maltese people as a whole by empowering individuals to gain better access to education and obtain gainful employment.  E-services that rely on the Maltese language can be made more user friendly for Maltese speakers by utilising the Maltese speech engine in order to facilitate computer access.  Through empowerment and social inclusion disabled persons need to rely less on family and state support.  Byensuring that appropriate steps are taken to minimise the digital divide, FITA enables individuals to contribute productively to society and the economy.

 

Operational Programme I – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013

 

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