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What exactly is abair.ie?

abair.ie is a speech synthesiser for Irish — it turns written words into speech. (The Irish word "abair" means "say".)

Like any other speech synthesis system, abair.ie is under constant development to further enhance the quality of the output. One of the biggest challenges when creating abair.ie was to lay down the linguistic groundwork on which to build a synthesiser, something that had not yet been done for Irish.

As of now, abair.ie features two of the three major dialects – Ulster and Connaught Irish. A Munster Irish voice is currently being developed.

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Who supports abair.ie?

This project is being funded by Foras na Gaeilge. It developed out of the work that began with the WISPR project. (See Background for more information.)

From the beginning we have received great support and encouragement from people and organisations that have particular interest in our work on the synthesis of Irish and on the possibilities related to the development of technology of this kind, particularly in the fields of education and accessibility. Trinity College has supported the project and we are grateful for the support and input we get from our fellow researchers, both at Trinity and other universities all over the world.

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Why is the Gweedore voice called "Cabóigín"?

In Gweedore Irish, "cabóg" describes a precocious girl that talks ceaselessly. In primary school in Gweedore, "cabóg" was the nickname of Prof Ailbhe Ní Chasaide, director of the project.

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Is there a choice of dialects?

There are three major dialects of Irish: Ulster, Connaught and Munster, two of which are at present available on abair.ie. One speaker who is from Gweedore speaks Ulster Irish, while the other one is from Ráth Chairn and speaks Connaught Irish. We are already developing a voice based on Munster Irish and hope it will soon be available.

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I have problems using your website with Internet Explorer.

If our website doesn't work correctly with Internet Explorer, you might want to try one of the following browsers that are freely available: Firefox, Chrome or Safari. The reason for this is that Internet Explorer does not always comply with Web standards. This means that parts of our website have to be re-implemented for Internet Explorer. Since we prioritise the Web standard that most browsers comply with, development for Internet Explorer might lag behind at times.

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What is Firefox, why do you recommend it and how do I get it?

What is Firefox?
Mozilla Firefox is a Web browser. As of now, it is the only Web browser that is available in Irish. Firefox is software that allows you to read Web pages. Other common browsers include Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Opera. If you install Firefox, you can still continue to use these other browsers.

Why we recommend Firefox
To get the best sounding synthesis from abair.ie, we highly recommend that you use Firefox and its Irish-language spell checker. Both are free and very easy to install.

Spell checkers help you avoid spelling mistakes and typos, which are common even among the best writers. Correct spelling is extremely important to abair.ie and to Text-to-Speech synthesis in general. A missing fada, for example, degrades the quality of the synthesis, cf. féar (‘grass’) vs. fear (‘man’).

How to get Firefox and its spellchecker

Step 1. Installing Firefox:
This takes only a few minutes.

  1. Go to http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all.html
  2. Scroll down to "Irish"/"Gaeilge" (or the language of your choice).
  3. Click on the "Download" button on the right. Make sure you choose the right button for the operating system you are using: Windows, Mac OS X or Linux.
  4. Once you have downloaded the file that will be named something like "Firefox Setup 3.x.x.exe" on Windows), double-click on it to start the installation.
  5. Follow the steps in the installation wizard.

Step 2. Installing the Irish spell checker for Firefox:

  1. Start Firefox (if it is not already running) and go to https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3090/
  2. Click on "Download".
  3. Click on "Suiteáil anois"/"Install now".
  4. For the spell checker to work exit Firefox and start it again.
  5. Once installed, the spell checker puts a red line under misspelled words. To fix the mistake, simply right-click on the misspelled word, then click on the correct spelling.

Step 3. Adding abair.ie to your list of search engines in Firefox:
This will allow you to send text from any webpage in Irish* to the abair.ie homepage. abair.ie will synthesize it automatically and play the sound files.
*(for example focal.ie or beo.ie)

  1. Make sure that you have installed Firefox. (See Step 1 above)
  2. Go to this page.
  3. Click on the link "abair.ie" (right under "1. Other general engines").
  4. Click on "Cuir leis/Add".
  5. To use, you have two choices:

    a. Type a word or phrase in the search box and press enter.
    OR
    b. (b). Highlight the words with your mouse, right-click and select "Cuardaigh abair.ie ar.../ Search abair.ie for...". (Make sure that you see the abair.ie search box at the top of your browser window and not Google or any other search engine.)

    A new tab will open and you can hear abair.ie read the text.

Further options: Installing the Firefox "language switcher"

You can install another version (e.g. the English version) of Firefox and switch between the two versions, using the language switcher (officially the "locale switcher").

  1. Install another version (or other versions) of Firefox (see Step 1 above).
  2. Go to https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/356/
  3. Click on "Download".
  4. Click on "Install now".
  5. To use, choose "Languages" from the Tools menu and then the language, then restart Firefox.

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I click on the "synthesise" button, but I don't hear anything.

In case you don't hear anything, make sure your headphones or speakers are connected properly and that you haven't turned the "mute" mode on; also make sure that your volume is not set too low. Try again.

It could also be that there is a problem with the synthesis system, but in that case, you usually get an error message.

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Sometimes the synthesiser doesn't read numbers and symbols correctly.

Reading numbers and symbols correctly is a very complicated task, even for people. For example, the pronunciation of the word "2" depends on the context, as the examples below illustrate:

  • €2 [dhá euro]
  • 2 chailíní [beirt chailíní]
  • 1 nó 2 [ceanndhó]
  • seomra 2 [seomra a dó]

We have written rules to deal with numbers and symbols (to "normalise" them) and the system handles the samples above correctly.

Unfortunately, the rules can't handle every situation. For example, if you type "2 chailini" (misspelled, without fadas on the last two 'i's), the system won't realise that you are talking about people, and the synthesiser will say "dhá" instead of "beirt".

In other cases, pronunciation depends on context, but it is difficult or impossible to write a rule to express the context. Consider, for example, the sentences below:

  • “Seo m’uimhir: 896-1348”. ('This is my number: 896-1348.')
  • “Tá suíocháin 896-912 curtha in áirithe agam don ghrúpa”. ('I have booked seats 896-1348 for the group.')

In the first case, there is a phone number, and a person would say "a hocht a naoi a sé, a haon a trí a ceathair a hocht" ('eight nine six, one three four eight'). But in the second case, a person would probably say "ocht gcéad nócha a sé go míle trí chéad is ceathracha a hocht" 'eight hundred and ninety-six to one thousand one hundred and forty-eight'.

We are continually improving the normalisation rules, and your input is extremely valuable to us in this area.

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Why can't abair.ie handle English words?

Every synthesis system is designed for a particular language, because every language is different in important ways. For example, the spelling system of Irish is very different from that of English. Consider, for example, the letter sequence "t-e-a-c-h". This string of letters is pronounced differently in Irish ("Tá teach ann.") and in English ("I teach there.").

That said, in the future, we hope that the system will be able to handle English input, since Irish speakers often use English words while speaking (or writing) Irish. We hope that abair.ie will be able to deal with these words correctly in the future.

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Is it important to use fadas?

Yes. It is extremely important that the input text to abair.ie be spelled correctly, and that fadas be used where appropriate.

The system turns the words you type into phonetic symbols according to a list of letter-to-sound rules (for example, it turns the sequence of letters "uí" (in the word "buí", for example) to the phonetic symbol [i:] (i fada)). If the input is misspelled, there will be problems with the output.

If you don't use fadas in writing (as is often the case in text messages, for example) or if you make typos or spelling mistakes, human readers can usually understand the meaning and correct the mistakes. Unfortunately, neither abair.ie nor any other speech synthesis system is as smart as a human reader.

In the spelling system of Irish, fadas express certain pronunciations and sometimes they make distinctions between two words (for example, "áit" 'place' v. "ait" 'strange' or "seó" 'show' v. "seo" 'this'). If you type "Bhain mé sult as an seo" 'I enjoyed the show.' (without a fada) the synthesiser will say the word "seo" with a short o.

If you type "taech", the system will not understand that you meant "teach", and the synthesiser will try to say the word "taech" (with a broad t and the wrong vowel), although there is no such word in Irish.

If you type "2 chailíní" 'two girls', the synthesiser will (correctly) say "beirt chailíní", but if you type "2 chailini" (without fadas), you will hear "dhá" instead "beirt", because the system doesn't recognise that you are talking about a person. (Of course, the pronunciation of the noun will be incorrect as well.)

To avoid typos and spelling errors, we highly recommend that you use the browser Mozilla Firefox and its Irish spell-checker.

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How can I type fadas on my keyboard?

If you use the Windows operating system, you need the "English (Ireland)/English (IE)" keyboard. Don't worry, you don't need a new, physical keyboard!

If you live in Ireland and you bought your computer in Ireland, there is a good chance that you already have the "English (Ireland)" keyboard by default. To put a fada over a letter, press the "alt gr" key (to the left of the space bar) and the vowel at the same time. For example, to type "a", press the "alt gr" key and the "a" key at the same time. To type capital letters, press the "shift" key as well (the three keys together). Try it in the abair.ie input window.

If you are not able to type fadas, follow these directions to activate the "English (Ireland)" keyboard on your computer. To do that, click on "Start" at the bottom lefthand corner of your screen. Choose "Control Panel" and then "Regional and Language Options". Then choose "English (Ireland)" from the dropdown menu and click on "OK" to put the change into effect.

Optionally you can open the panel "Click here to add a fada" right below the text input field. If you click on any of the letters presented to you, they will be inserted into the text field.

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Why does the synthesis take so long?

The delay between generation and output of the synthesis depends greatly on the length of the text being synthesised. In addition, if there are a lot of people using the system, this slows down the output.

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abair.ie isn't working correctly and I get an error message.

If abair.ie is not working correctly and if you get an error message, please send us the exact text of the message and mention the source of the message (the web, the sound player, etc.), if possible.

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I sent in feedback, but the problem hasn't been fixed yet.

Your feedback is very valuable to us and we read each piece of feedback we get.

Often we can't fix problems immediately, and correcting the system is a long-term process, because we need to "diagnose" the source of the problems. If abair.ie says a certain word incorrectly, we need to check to see whether there is a problem with the dictionary, with the letter-to-sound rules, with the annotation of the corpus, etc. We need to be careful that the solution to one problem doesn't cause other problems.

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What's the difference between unit selection and HTS?

In abair.ie two different kinds of Text-to-Speech synthesis are in use.

The first is called unit selection. The major advantage of this system is that it generates speech that sounds very natural. On the other hand, it tends to be slow and sometimes goes astray.

The second system is called HTS. The major advantage of this system is that it is very fast and stable. On the other hand, the speech generated by HTS does not sound very natural. Nevertheless, it is functional and handy for anybody who wants to go through their daily tasks fast and efficiently, even if the quality of the speech is not the best.

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Can I use the synthesiser on my computer without being connected to the internet?

At present there is no sofware package available that allows you to run the synthesiser on your computer without being connected to our server. But if you have special requirements or needs, contact us and we can work out a solution for you.

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When will Munster Irish be available?

The Munster voice will be available in October 2015. It will be launched offically on

29 October at Oireachtas na Samhna 2015 (17:00)

More information...

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