After two years of hard work, the Maltese Speech Synthesiser will be available for free download for the Maltese speaking community across the world this summer 2012! The Speech Synthesiser transforms electronic text into spoken Maltese, providing additional support to Maltese speaking people, including disabled people, such as blind people, as well as people with low vision or dyslexia.
Back in February 2010, KPMG Crimsonwing developed a Speech Synthesis software specifically targeting the Maltese language. This project was part financed by the European Union Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to a co-financing rate of 85% EU Funds and 15% National Funds.
This tender was issued by an ICT, research and development authority, with the primary aim of enabling people with disability to read and write Maltese electronic text through the use of existing speech enabled software, in conjunction with the Maltese Speech Synthesiser. Roger Davies-Barrett, Project Manager for ERDF114 said that “from the moment that KPMG Crimsonwing was awarded the contract, I was pleased to be dealing with a ‘serious’ company who had a good reputation in the development market here in Malta.”
Whilst speech synthesis technologies for English and other major languages have a long history, there is currently no equivalent for the Maltese language, and hence, this software will be the first of its kind. The final product will consist of a suite of three voices: an adult male, an adult female and a male child.
A key requirement for the synthesiser, which is developed for the Microsoft Windows platform, is compliance with Microsoft’s Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI). This is a software standard that ensures compatibility with a wide variety of assistive and educational software applications available on the Windows platform. The software supports Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 32bit and 64bit editions.
The Maltese Speech Synthesiser is being developed as a series of prototypes culminating in a finalised product that is slated for release this summer 2012. It will be available for free download from a specifically developed website, or alternatively a CD with the program can be requested from the authority.
The final system will eventually feature fully compiled sound databases for the three voices, an even larger lexicon, improved language processing and control of volume, speaking rate and pitch. The software will also undergo a series of performance tuning exercises to improve the overall efficiency and responsiveness of the synthesiser. Throughout the project, KPMG Crimsonwing has been working closely with disabled persons using assistive technology, as well as teachers and trainers in order to insure the functionality of the engine. Michael Micallef, who is blind and is carrying out internal testing on behalf of the authority, stated it is now a great pleasure to listen to Maltese text and feels that the end result of this project will have a “great impact on Maltese society as for the first time, elderly people and illiterate persons will have the possibility to read the online Maltese newspapers and last but not least, blind people now have the possibility to read Maltese text which sounds pleasant to the ear”.
Due to its specialist nature, this project has proved to be a welcome challenge for KPMG Crimsonwing, but also a rewarding endeavour, not only in terms of technical accomplishment, but also as a civic contribution to Maltese society. “I felt excited and proud at the same time when I heard about the project. It’s about time that we have something that can give a boost to the spoken language of Maltese” said Michael Micallef.
If you are interested in reading more details about how we developed the Maltese Speech Synthesiser, please have a look at the full case study.