Attitudes toward Computer Synthesized Speech

Attitudes toward Computer Synthesized Speech

John W. Mullennix (University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, USA) and Steven E. Stern (University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-725-1.ch013
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This chapter reviews an emerging area of research that focuses on the attitudes and social perceptions that people have toward users of computer synthesized speech (CSS). General attitudes toward people with speech impairments and AAC users are briefly discussed. Recent research on people’s attitudes toward speaking computers is reviewed, with the emphasis on the similarity in the way that people treat computers and humans. The research on attitudes toward CSS and whether persuasive appeals conveyed through CSS indicates that, in general, people view CSS less favorably than natural human speech. However, this tendency is reversed when people know that the user is speech impaired. It also appears that people’s attitudes are modified by the situation which CSS is used for. Overall, the findings present an intriguing perspective on attitudes toward people with speech impairments who use CSS and will serve to stimulate further research in this area.
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Over the years, attitudes in society regarding individuals possessing severe communication impairments have shifted from financially reimbursing people for loss of function to attempts to re-establish normal speech to attempts at using communication alternatives (Beukelman, 1991). In recent years, communication alternatives have benefited greatly from technological advancements in the area of alternative and augmentative communication (AAC). These advancements have provided encouraging news for those suffering from hearing loss, stuttering, speech impairments, language disorders and autistic spectrum disorders. A variety of different techniques have been developed to assist adults and children, with unaided communication techniques (consisting of manual signs and gestures) and aided communication techniques (consisting of external devices) both proving useful (Mirenda, 2003). The goal of using AAC techniques is to develop and enhance communicative competence (Beukelman, 1991; Light, 1996). As Light (1996) puts it, “Communication is the essence of human life” (p. 61). We communicate to express needs and wants, to establish and maintain our social relationships with friends and family, to share information with each other and to fulfill the normative conventions of social interaction (Light, 1996). The inability to communicate can be potentially devastating to an individual. In terms of AAC being able to assist individuals with communication disorders, as Beukelman (1991) puts it, “For someone who is unable to speak to ‘'talk’ and someone who is unable to write to place words on paper or computer screen… it is magical” (p. 2).

In the present chapter, our focus is on speech impaired individuals and the use of AAC devices designed to provide them with spoken voice output. In the research literature, these devices are called voice output communication aids (VOCAs) or speech generating devices (SGDs). VOCAs are portable electronic devices that produce synthetic or digitized speech output (Mirenda, 2003, p. 210). In the research reviewed below, we focus specifically on VOCAs that produce computer synthesized speech (CSS). CSS is often bundled together in text-to-speech systems, which are systems that take typed text and convert it into synthesized speech output. The famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has been using a text-to-speech system for years to communicate with others and deliver his lectures. In fact, at one point Dr. Hawking became so attached to his American accented synthetic voice that he refused to switch to a newer system with a British accent.

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