I don’t have time for a lengthy post today, which is unfortunate: the way software deals with regional accents deserves a longer discussion (led by someone more knowledgeable than me, frankly). Regardless, I want to share a Slate article apropos of the passing of Steve Jobs. Apparently, Apple’s speech recognition software has a unique way of processing regional accents (thanks to Twitter friend ‘@opedr‘ for pointing it out for me):
Take, for example, the plosive consonant T…British people tend to pronounce the T sound in butter much more clearly than Americans, who swallow it. Eventually, the program establishes a kind of bell curve for the phoneme, and it will interpret any sound whose frequencies and other physical characteristics fall within the parameters of that curve as a possible attempt to produce that phoneme.
You can read the whole thing here. Forgiving the inexactitude of the descriptor ‘swallow’ (how do Americans ‘swallow’ t’s?), it’s an interesting, if brief, read.
If Apple’s speech-recognition program creates a bell curve for the accents of English, this prompts an obvious question: what accent does the ‘middle’ of the curve resemble? The program must start off with some type of ‘standard’ set of pronunciations and treat other accents as deviations from it. Is the ‘standard’ accent American? British? Or some kind of computated ‘average?’