The first attempts to mechanically reproduce the human voice with a machine go as far back as the 18th century. Wolfgang von Kempelen built a device using a bellow as lungs, windpipes as vocal chords and a clarinet as mouth. In the 18th and 19th centuries these machines were subsequently improved but it was not until the 20th century, when the electronic revolution set in, that speech synthesis really took off. Samples of human speech were collected, stored on computers and the processing power of computers made it possible to search the speech data bases and produce new utterances.

Speech Synthesis in Everyday Life

Although Text-to-Speech synthesis is a relatively new science, it is frequently used in everyday life. Most of us have come across a synthesised voice one time or another, for example on the telephone while trying to get through to a certain department of a big company. Apart from being a cost saving device for businesses, further fields of usage for speech synthesis are being explored. The technology helps disabled people in various ways. A synthesiser can give a voice to someone who is vocally impaired, a well-known example of this is the famous British physicist and astronomer Stephen Hawking.

In addition to that, speech synthesis helps the visually impaired, people with dyslexia or people who are illretarte for one reason or another. Speech synthesis is the technology that is behind a watch that reads the time aloud, for example, or the mobile phone that reads text messages to people who have difficulties reading them. Speech synthesis is also used to teach young children how to read and write and it is also used to teach foreign languages in class rooms and beyond.

Irish Speech Synthesis

Speech synthesis is mainly used in majority languages. abair.ie is the first synthesis system that has been developed for Irish and it is already being used by the visually impaired. We hope to expand on this in order to turn it into a learning/teaching resource for Irish and to provide Irish synthesis for trains, mobile phones, online dictionaries, GPS systems etc.

Recent years have seen an increase in people from all over the world who have a keen interest in Irish, sometimes people who do not have any link with Ireland. People who live abroad frequently use abair.ie to listen to Irish pronunciation or simply to hear the utterances of their choice. This is of utmost importance for people who have no access to native speakers.