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Perception of Concatenative vs. Neural Text-To-Speech (TTS): Differences in Intelligibility in Noise and Language Attitudes


Abstract and Figures

This study tests speech-in-noise perception and social ratings of speech produced by different text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis methods. We used identical speaker training datasets for a set of 4 voices (using AWS Polly TTS), generated using neural and concatenative TTS. In Experiment 1, listeners identified target words in semantically predictable and unpredictable sentences in concatenative and neural TTS at two noise levels (-3 dB,-6 dB SNR). Correct word identification was lower for neural TTS than for concatenative TTS, in the lower SNR, and for semantically unpredictable sentences. In Experiment 2, listeners rated the voices on 4 social attributes. Neural TTS was rated as more human-like, natural, likeable, and familiar than concatenative TTS. Furthermore, how natural listeners rated the neural TTS voice was positively related to their speech-in-noise accuracy. Together, these findings show that the TTS method influences both intelligibility and social judgments of speech-and that these patterns are linked. Overall, this work contributes to our understanding of the nexus of speech technology and human speech perception.
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Perception of concatenative vs. neural text-to-speech (TTS):
Differences in intelligibility in noise and language attitudes
Michelle Cohn1 and Georgia Zellou1
1Phonetics Laboratory, Department of Linguistics, UC Davis, USA
{mdcohn, gzellou}
This study tests speech-in-noise perception and social ratings
of speech produced by different text-to-speech (TTS)
synthesis methods. We used identical speaker training datasets
for a set of 4 voices (using AWS Polly TTS), generated using
neural and concatenative TTS. In Experiment 1, listeners
identified target words in semantically predictable and
unpredictable sentences in concatenative and neural TTS at
two noise levels (-3 dB, -6 dB SNR). Correct word
identification was lower for neural TTS than for concatenative
TTS, in the lower SNR, and for semantically unpredictable
sentences. In Experiment 2, listeners rated the voices on 4
social attributes. Neural TTS was rated as more human-like,
natural, likeable, and familiar than concatenative TTS.
Furthermore, how natural listeners rated the neural TTS voice
was positively related to their speech-in-noise accuracy.
Together, these findings show that the TTS method influences
both intelligibility and social judgments of speech — and that
these patterns are linked. Overall, this work contributes to our
understanding of the nexus of speech technology and human
speech perception.
Index Terms: concatenative TTS, neural TTS, speech-in-
noise perception, social ratings
1. Introduction
The recent pervasiveness of household voice-activated
artificially intelligent (voice-AI) devices (e.g., Google Home,
Amazon Echo) means that users are interacting with synthetic,
text-to-speech (TTS) voices in their everyday lives. Yet,
whether the speech generated by these modern systems is
equally intelligible across different listening conditions (e.g.,
background talkers, music, fans, etc.) has not been thoroughly
explored (cf., [1]). Further, there have been increasing efforts
to make voice-AI speech as naturalistic as possible, resulting
in more seamless, connected speech. For example, the
application of long short-term (LSTM) neural networks in
TTS (e.g., Wavenet [2]; for review see [3]) has resulted in
more naturalistic connected speech that is rapidly being
adopted industry-wide [4]. How differences in TTS methods
impact speech intelligibility, however, is an open question.
In the present study, we consider how different TTS
methods influence users’ perception of synthesized speech.
First, we test whether TTS generated via concatenative versus
neural synthesis methods might result in differences in
intelligibility during speech-in-noise perception. In
concatenative TTS, individually recorded utterances are
chunked into segments then re-combined via unit selection,
which listeners perceive as having prosodic peculiarities (cf.
[5]). Further, the concatenation process, particularly for pre-
recorded real words, lacks the between-word coarticulation, or
articulatory overlap, that is present in natural, connected
speech [6]. Autoregressive neural TTS methods, on the other
hand, generate words that are conditioned on all previous
utterances, as well as on the immediately preceding segmental
content (the local acoustic-phonetic context), resulting in
significantly higher perceived ‘naturalness’ ratings by listeners
[2]. This reported difference in perceived naturalness leads us
to ask a second question: are there differences in how users
rate social characteristics of the neural and concatenative TTS
voices? Finally, we relate these two speech perception
behaviors and test whether these social judgments related to
In the following sections, we provide a background on the
speech-in-noise perception literature (§1.1), reviewing
differences based on ‘clear’ and ‘connected’ speech (§1.1.1),
the impact of semantic context (§1.1.2), and finally individual
differences in listeners’ ratings of social attributes and how
they are related to speech intelligibility in the human-human
literature (§1.1.3).
1.1. Speech-in-noise Perception
Difficulty in perceiving speech in the presence of noise is well
attested in the literature [7]–[11], particularly for adults and
children with hearing impairment [8]–[10]. Competing
auditory signals (e.g., a lawn mower, other talkers, etc.) can
interfere with a listener’s ability to hear a speaker’s intended
message, whether they are a dinner companion in a noisy
restaurant or if they are a voice-AI device in a noisy room.
While work has shown that the type of masking noise has an
effect on perception (e.g., multitalker babble versus white
noise in [11]), the acoustic-phonetic properties of the speech
signal are also a factor. For one, the type of voice matters:
listeners show lower intelligibility for TTS voices, relative to
naturally-produced human voices [12].
1.1.1. Casual vs. clear speech
Speech style also has an impact on perception: many studies
have shown reduced intelligibility for more ‘casual’ and
connected speech, relative to clearspeech [13]–[17]. Based
on their synthesis differences, neural and concatenative TTS
could serve as proxies for ‘casual’ and ‘clear’ speech,
respectively. For one, neural TTS is more likely to contain
phonetic reductions, typical of natural human speech; for
example, [18] show that neural TTS automatically generated
speech that included filled pauses (e.g., “um”) after training on
podcast episodes. Concatenative TTS, on the other hand, is
more likely to result in relatively more hyper-articulated
‘clear’ speech; each segment is carefully selected and
combined. Accordingly, we can set up several predictions for
the present study. On the one hand, less effortful and casual
Copyright © 2020 ISCA
October 25–29, 2020, Shanghai, China
speech results in shorter durations and less canonical segments
than in speech produced in a clear manner (‘clear speech’
[19]). As a result, there is less robust content for listeners to
glean from a noisy signal. Therefore, one prediction is that
speech-in-noise perception for neural TTS utterances will be
more difficult for listeners, relative to concatenative TTS, in
line with prior work in the human-human literature [13]–[17].
On the other hand, greater coarticulatory overlap [6], or
segmental connectedness, in casual speech might improve
‘auditory streaming’, allowing listeners to ‘chunk’ sets of
sounds and disentangle them from background noise [20]. For
example, [20] presented listeners with synthetic TTS varying
in degree of coarticulation on vowel F2 (cueing neighboring
/r/ or /z/); they found that speech-in-noise accuracy was higher
when the TTS output included the consonant-vowel
coarticulation, relative to when it did not. In the human-human
literature, there is also some evidence that coarticulation can
be helpful: [21] found that listeners displayed faster reaction
times for words produced with greater coarticulation in a
lexical decision experiment, than when the words were
produced with less coarticulation. Accordingly, another
prediction for the present study is that more connected TTS
methods (i.e., neural TTS) might improve intelligibility across
increasingly noisy contexts, with greater cues of coherence to
extract a word from background noise.
1.1.2. Semantic predictability
In addition to acoustic-phonetic variations as a function of
clarity (e.g., clear’ versus ‘casual’ speech), listeners also use
semantic context from an utterance to aid in word
identification of speech in noise (e.g., [22]–[25]). How
listeners integrate this context, however, may differ according
to how their interlocutor is speaking: for example, [24] found
worse keyword identification in semantically anomalous
contexts, but less of a decline when the utterance was
produced in ‘clearcompared to ‘casual’ speech (produced by
the same talker). In other words, the effect of semantic context
on word intelligibility is mediated by the acoustic-phonetic
properties of the utterance. Thus, we ask whether the effect of
semantic predictability during speech-in-noise perception
differs across concatenative and neural TTS. One prediction is
that neural TTS, conditioned on the previous utterances (i.e.,
long-term) as well as the immediately preceding acoustic
context (i.e., short-term), will improve intelligibility of the
final target word since it provides more robust acoustic-
phonetic cues in the signal (e.g., coarticulation) which
listeners might be able to leverage when semantic context is
not helpful. An alternative prediction is that neural TTS will
result in even lower accuracy for low predictability sentences,
if listeners are not able to disentangle the target utterance from
the competing background noise.
1.1.3. Individual differences in speech-in-noise perception
There is also a great deal of variation among listeners in
speech-in-noise tasks (cf. [26], [27]). For one, a listeners’
familiarity with the speech variety has been shown to
influence their speech-in-noise perception [22], [23], [28]. For
example, [22] found that the intelligibility benefit of
semantically predictable contexts is reduced when the speaker
produces a dialect that the listener is unfamiliar with.
Others have shown differences in intelligibility and
participants’ ‘likeability’ of certain synthetic voices (but note
that a direct relationship between TTS voice and these ratings
was not observed) [29]. One possibility is that, in [29], there
was a confound between the socio-indexical characteristics of
the TTS voice itself and intelligibility. Here, we disentangle
these factors by holding the ‘speaker’ constant (i.e., same set
of AWS Polly voices), but manipulating the type of TTS
method. Therefore, an additional consideration in the present
study is whether individual language attitudes of the TTS
voices may relate to their intelligibility under difficult
listening conditions. In particular, the current study tests
whether there are differences in how listeners perceive neural
and concatenative TTS voices for four dimensions: how 1)
machine-like / human-like, 2) unfamiliar / familiar, 3) eerie /
natural, and 4) unlikeable / likeable the voice sounds. We
predict that there will be a relationship between these ratings
and intelligibility: in particular, that voices rated as more
human-like, natural, and familiar will show intelligibility
benefits, in line with the work on naturally produced voices.
1.2. Current Study
The present study consisted of two experiments. In
Experiment 1, we test keyword identification accuracy of
sentences presented in noise (comparing semantically
predictable and unpredictable contexts) for speech generated
from two different types of TTS methods: neural and
concatenative TTS. Both TTS types were trained on 4
identical speaker datasets. Using TTS voices generated by
distinct methods allows us to explicitly test predictions about
the role of neural versus concatenative speech on
intelligibility. It also provides a benefit for direct replication of
this study in other labs, where idiosyncratic properties of
recruited speakers may otherwise contribute to differences in
their relative intelligibility. In Experiment 2, we collect each
participant’s ratings of four social attributes: human-likeness,
familiarity, naturalness, and likeability of each voice. We first
test whether there are systematic differences in these ratings
by TTS Condition (neural vs. concatenative) and then relate
patterns of variation directly to intelligibility ratings in
Experiment 1.
2. Experiment 1: Intelligibility in Noise
2.1. Methods
Participants consisted of 28 native English speakers (24
female; mean age = 19.29 years, sd = 1.41 years) recruited
through the UC Davis Psychology subjects pool. 26
participants reported that they had experience using at least
one voice-AI system: 15 for Amazon Alexa, 8 for Google
Assistant, and 11 for Apple’s Siri.
We selected 192 sentences from the Speech Perception in
Noise (SPIN) test [30], where monosyllabic target words
occurred sentence-finally. Half of the sentences contained
target words were semantically predictable based on context
(e.g., “The boat sailed along the coast.”), while the other half
were semantically unpredictable (e.g., “Miss Brown might
consider the coast.”). Using AWS Polly, all 192 sentences
were generated with both concatenative TTS and neural TTS
for 4 adult female Amazon Polly voices (US-English): ‘Salli’,
‘Kendra’, ‘Kimberly’, and ‘Joanna’. All sound files were
resampled to the lower sampling rate of the two (neural TTS:
22,050 Hz) and amplitude-normalized (60 dB). The beginning
and end of each sentence was padded with 800 ms of silence;
as a result, when mixed with the speech-shaped noise, all
target sentences were gated into noise. Next, we generated
speech-shaped noise using the long-term average spectrum
(LTAS) for all sentences combined [31], [32]. Then, all
sentences were combined with the speech-shaped noise at two
signal-to-noise ratios: -3 dB and -6 dB SNR [33].
Participants completed the experiment in a sound-
attenuated booth in the UC Davis Phonetics Lab. Participants
were seated in the booth facing a computer monitor and
keyboard and wearing over-ear headphones (Seinheiser Pro).
On each trial, participants heard a sentence and were prompted
to type the last word of the sentence using the keyboard. The
192 sentences were presented equally across the 8 voices (4
speakers x 2 TTS conditions) and 2 SNRs; which sentence
was presented in which condition was fully randomized
between subjects. Finally, participants completed a short
hearing screen (250-8000 Hz [34]). Data for participants who
did not pass the screening were excluded from the analysis.
2.2. Word Identification Analysis
Keyword accuracy on each trial was coded as binomial data (1
= correct word identification, 0 = incorrect) automatically
using string matching. Trial accuracy (1 or 0) was modeled
with a mixed effects logistic regression with the lme4 R
package [35]. Fixed effects included TTS Condition (2 levels:
concatenative, neural), Signal-to-Noise Ratio (2 levels: -3 dB
SNR, -6 dB SNR), Semantic Predictability (2 levels: low,
high), and all possible interactions. Random effects included
by-Listener random intercepts and by-Listener random slopes
for TTS method, SNR, and Semantic Predictability conditions.
Additionally, we included by-Talker random intercepts to
account for variation in baseline intelligibility for each speaker
dataset. Contrasts were sum coded.
2.3. Word Identification Results
Table 1 provides the summary statistics of the accuracy
model. Figure 1 shows the mean accuracy across the
conditions. First, there was a main effect of TTS Condition:
listeners were less accurate at keyword identification for
neural TTS than for concatenative TTS (see Figure 1). SNR
level and Semantic Predictability were also significant main
effects: listeners were less accurate at keyword identification
for sentences presented at a lower SNR (-6 dB SNR), relative
to a higher SNR; and listeners were less accurate at identifying
words occurring in low semantic predictability sentences than
high semantic predictability. There was also a significant
interaction between SNR and Semantic Predictability: low
predictability sentences at a low SNR (-6 dB SNR) had even
lower keyword identification accuracy.
Table 1: Model summary for word identification accuracy
TTS(Neural) x SNR(-6)
TTS(Neural) x Predict(Low)
SNR(-6) x Predict(Low)
TTS(Neural) x SNR(-6) x
Figure 1: (Experiment 1) Mean accuracy of keyword
identification in high and low Semantic Predictability
contexts, lower and higher SNR, across two TTS synthesis
types. Error bars = standard error.
Figure 2: (Experiment 2) Mean ratings for TTS type: neural
(blue circle) vs. concatenative (green triangle). Error bars =
standard error.
3. Experiment 2: Language Attitudes
3.1. Methods
Following Experiment 1, the same participants completed a
ratings study, where they heard a single sentence (“The girl
knows about the swamp.”) produced by each of the 4 speakers
in the 2 TTS conditions (8 voices in total) and provided 4
ratings of the voice using a sliding scale (0-100): (1) How
machine-like/human-like, (2) How unfamiliar/familiar?, (3)
How eerie/natural? and (4) How unlikeable/likeable? Order of
neural and concatenative TTS voices was blocked, so that the
TTS for the same speaker was not presented sequentially. The
ratings task was also blocked by question: Participants
provided a rating for each of the 8 voices for a given
dimension (e.g., ‘human-likeness’).
3.2. Analysis & Results
Participants’ ratings of the voices were analyzed using
separate linear mixed effects models with the lme4 R package
[35]. Fixed effects included TTS Condition; random effects
included by-Listener and by-Speaker random intercepts.
As seen in Figure 2, all models showed a similar main
effect of TTS Condition: listeners rated the neural TTS voices
as more human-like [β=9.92, t=8.6, p<0.001], likeable [β=8.5,
t=6.4, p<0.001], natural [β=8.5, t=6.3, p<0.001], and familiar
[β=3.50, t=2.0, p<0.05] than the concatenative TTS.
4. Relating Intelligibility and Ratings
To test whether there was a relationship between an individual
participant’s rating for a given voice (e.g., ‘Salli’, neural) and
their word identification accuracy for that voice, we conducted
a post-hoc analysis. We modeled word identification accuracy
in separate mixed effects logistic regression models for the 4
ratings (familiar, human-like, natural, and likeable), with the
fixed effect of TTS Condition, Rating Score (continuous, z-
scored within speaker/rating), their interaction, and by-Subject
and by-Speaker random intercepts.
All four models showed no main effect of ratings on
accuracy. However, two models revealed significant
interactions: word identification accuracy was higher for
neural TTS when they were rated as being more human-like
[β=0.09, t=2.9, p<0.01] or more natural [β=0.06, t=2.0,
p<0.05]. There was no effect of familiarity [β=-0.05, t=1.7,
p=0.10] or likeability [β=0.05, t=1.8, p=0.08] by TTS.
5. Discussion
The present study investigated whether the type of TTS
synthesis method (concatenative or neural) results in different
listener perception patterns. In Experiment 1 (speech-in-
noise), we found that neural TTS resulted in overall reduced
intelligibility, relative to the concatenative TTS method. This
result is in line with prior research indicating that more casual,
connected speech results in more difficulty for listeners in
identifying the linguistic message in human-human interaction
[19], suggesting that it extends to synthesized voices. For one,
this finding suggests that neural TTS, while increasingly
naturalistic, may actually reduce listeners’ ability to
understand speech from a modern voice-AI system, if it's
being used in the presence of competing noise (e.g., a fan,
multiple background talkers). At the same time, this finding
counters prior work where increased coarticulation has been
shown to improve speech-in-noise perception for TTS voices
[20]. While we also used TTS voices in the present study, the
synthesis method greatly differed (here, concatenative and
neural TTS; formant-based synthesis in [20]). Future work is
needed to test what types of coarticulation might be
advantageous in more recent TTS methods (e.g., neural TTS).
Additionally, this reduction in accuracy for neural TTS was
not further modulated by signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) or
semantic predictability; in line with prior work [22]–[25],
these factors independently reduced accuracy (lower for low
predictability; lower at -6 dB SNR) and were additive:
accuracy was further reduced at low SNR and low
Meanwhile, in Experiment 2 (social ratings), we observed
differences in listeners’ ratings of concatenative versus neural
TTS for four social attributes: listeners rated neural TTS as
more human-like, natural, and familiar, and likeable than
concatenative TTS, consistent with prior work (e.g., [2]).
Finally, we linked the data from Experiments 1 & 2. We
found individual variation of ratings was linked to word
intelligibility. A given listener’s ratings of how human-like or
natural they found a neural TTS voice correlated with their
accuracy in identifying words in that voice: voices that were
rated as sounding more natural and more human-like showed
less of a decrease in intelligibility than voices that were rated
as less natural and less human-like. One possible explanation
is that a listener who rated the voice as sounding less human-
like may assume they would not be able to understand the
TTS. This is in line with work on stereotyping of human
speakers: where listeners show reduced accuracy in speech-in-
noise tasks based on top-down expectations (e.g., [38]). At the
same time, listeners might assume that the more ‘human-like’
TTS voices should also produce the clear speech adaptations
that real humans produce in more challenging listening
conditions (e.g., a lower SNR [36], low semantic predictability
[25]), i.e., hyper-speech to the assumed benefit of their listener
(cf. H&H Theory: [37]); that these adaptations do not occur
might be one reason for the lowered accuracy for neural TTS
overall (but note that we did not observe any interactions
between TTS type and SNR / semantic predictability in the
present study). Future work varying the voice qualities across
different listening conditions, as well as measuring individual
differences (e.g., in computer personification) can tease apart
this possible contribution.
There are many other open questions, which can serve as
areas for future research. For one, the present study does not
include a pre-test to measure listeners’ a priori expectations
for TTS voices; for example, ratings of the voices (e.g.,
human-likeness) might have been influenced by the listeners’
difficulty hearing that voice in the speech-in-noise study.
Additionally, the relative contribution of speakers’ experience
with voice-AI systems may be a factor in how well they can
perceive TTS sentences in noise; in the present study, nearly
all listeners (26/28) had prior experience using voice-AI. How
this experience might interact with listeners’ expectations is
also an area to be explored. Moreover, an in-depth
investigation of coarticulation patterns would be insightful to
quantify why neural TTS voices sound more human-like, as
well as what coarticulatory adjustments may improve
Finally, this study has implications for voice user interface
design. For one, it is noteworthy that the more advanced and
realistic TTS method results in less intelligible speech in
adverse listening conditions. Further work exploring this
effect across different types of background noise (e.g., 1-
talker, multitalker babble) and across listeners (e.g., older
individuals, hearing-impaired individuals, individuals with
autism) can be insightful for tailoring TTS across individuals
and communicative scenarios. Additionally, our work suggests
having a user choose the voice that sounds most human-like
and natural to them may aid intelligibility across listening
conditions, even if this speech synthesis method is less
intelligible in adverse listening conditions overall.
6. Acknowledgements
This material is based upon work supported by the
National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Research
Fellowship under Grant No. 1911855 to MC and by an
Amazon Faculty Research Award to GZ. Thank you to Yulan
Liu and Roland Maas for their feedback on the paper.
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... For further investigations, the results obtained from the acoustic analysis and automatic investigation of intelligibility and naturalness could be paired and further investigated based on Cohn and Zellou's [28] results. Cohn and Zellou [28] reported that in a noisy environment, neural network TTS systems (such as Bluemix in the current study) have lower intelligibility in a healthy population than concatenative systems. ...
... For further investigations, the results obtained from the acoustic analysis and automatic investigation of intelligibility and naturalness could be paired and further investigated based on Cohn and Zellou's [28] results. Cohn and Zellou [28] reported that in a noisy environment, neural network TTS systems (such as Bluemix in the current study) have lower intelligibility in a healthy population than concatenative systems. This is due to the fact that neural networks have more coarticulated and human-like speech than concatenative systems, which have a more hyper articulated voice. ...
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Text-to-speech (TTS) systems provide fundamental reading support for people with aphasia and reading difficulties. However, artificial voices are more difficult to process than natural voices. The current study is an extended analysis of the results of a clinical experiment investigating which, among three artificial voices and a digitised human voice, is more suitable for people with aphasia and reading impairments. Such results show that the voice synthesised with Ogmios TTS, a concatenative speech synthesis system, caused significantly slower reaction times than the other three voices used in the experiment. The present study explores whether and what voice quality metrics are linked to delayed reaction times. For this purpose, the voices were analysed using an automatic assessment of intelligibility, naturalness, and jitter and shimmer voice quality parameters. This analysis revealed that Ogmios TTS, in general, performed worse than the other voices in all parameters. These observations could explain the significantly delayed reaction times in people with aphasia and reading impairments when listening to Ogmios TTS and could open up consideration about which TTS to choose for compensative devices for these patients based on the voice analysis of these parameters.
... Google Duplex, to mention one of the more recent innovations in the field of speech synthesis, gives us a glimpse of the future where computer voices might actually be indistinguishable from real people (Oord et al., 2016;Google Duplex, 2018). However, unlike us humans, who cannot fundamentally change the sound of our voices except for slight adaptations to the situation and interlocutor, synthetic voices are "design material" (Sutton et al., 2019) allowing for customization (Amazon, 2017;Polly, 2019;Cohn and Zellou, 2020). Depending on deliberate design decisions, computer-generated voices may thus sound more female or male, younger or old, more bored or excited-more human or mechanical. ...
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The growing popularity of speech interfaces goes hand in hand with the creation of synthetic voices that sound ever more human. Previous research has been inconclusive about whether anthropomorphic design features of machines are more likely to be associated with positive user responses or, conversely, with uncanny experiences. To avoid detrimental effects of synthetic voice design, it is therefore crucial to explore what level of human realism human interactors prefer and whether their evaluations may vary across different domains of application. In a randomized laboratory experiment, 165 participants listened to one of five female-sounding robot voices, each with a different degree of human realism. We assessed how much participants anthropomorphized the voice (by subjective human-likeness ratings, a name-giving task and an imagination task), how pleasant and how eerie they found it, and to what extent they would accept its use in various domains. Additionally, participants completed Big Five personality measures and a tolerance of ambiguity scale. Our results indicate a positive relationship between human-likeness and user acceptance, with the most realistic sounding voice scoring highest in pleasantness and lowest in eeriness. Participants were also more likely to assign real human names to the voice (e.g., “Julia” instead of “T380”) if it sounded more realistic. In terms of application context, participants overall indicated lower acceptance of the use of speech interfaces in social domains (care, companionship) than in others (e.g., information & navigation), though the most human-like voice was rated significantly more acceptable in social applications than the remaining four. While most personality factors did not prove influential, openness to experience was found to moderate the relationship between voice type and user acceptance such that individuals with higher openness scores rated the most human-like voice even more positively. Study results are discussed in the light of the presented theory and in relation to open research questions in the field of synthetic voice design.
... To obtain training samples of confused words, it is natural to use unit selection and waveform concatenation. [22] shows the difference between concatenative and neural TTS system. We use a Large Vocabulary Conversational Speech Recognition(LVCSR) to align the audio and the text in a labeled public speech dataset, then truncate the audio to get waveform of each subword of the keyword. ...
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Wake-up word detection models are widely used in real life, but suffer from severe performance degradation when encountering adversarial samples. In this paper we discuss the concept of confusing words in adversarial samples. Confusing words are commonly encountered, which are various kinds of words that sound similar to the predefined keywords. To enhance the wake word detection system's robustness against confusing words, we propose several methods to generate the adversarial confusing samples for simulating real confusing words scenarios in which we usually do not have any real confusing samples in the training set. The generated samples include concatenated audio, synthesized data, and partially masked keywords. Moreover, we use a domain embedding concatenated system to improve the performance. Experimental results show that the adversarial samples generated in our approach help improve the system's robustness in both the common scenario and the confusing words scenario. In addition, we release the confusing words testing database called HI-MIA-CW for future research.
... On the other hand, the increased naturalness of modern TTS speech might mediate any acoustic differences. For instance, [17] found differences in listeners' perceptions of the human-likeness of different TTS types. Neural TTS, such as that generated using long-short term memory (LSTM) neural networks for Amazon Polly voices (the speech used in the present study), is generated based on the overall speaker patterns as well as local phonetic context and yields highly naturalistic speech [18]. ...
Conference Paper
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The current study explores whether perception of coarticulatory vowel nasalization differs by speaker age (adult vs. child) and type of voice (naturally produced vs. synthetic speech). Listeners completed a 4IAX discrimination task between pairs containing acoustically identical (both nasal or oral) vowels and acoustically distinct (one oral, one nasal) vowels. Vowels occurred in either the same consonant contexts or different contexts across pairs. Listeners completed the experiment with either naturally produced speech or text-to-speech (TTS). For same-context trials, listeners were better at discriminating between oral and nasal vowels for child speech in the synthetic voices but adult speech in the natural voices. Meanwhile, in different-context trials, listeners were less able to discriminate, indicating more perceptual compensation for synthetic voices. There was no difference in different-context discrimination across talker ages, indicating that listeners did not compensate differently if the speaker was a child or adult. Findings are relevant for models of compensation, computer personification theories, and speaker-indexical perception accounts.
... In order to reduce ceiling effects that might obscure differences across face-masked versus non-facemasked speech, sentences were presented in a difficult listening condition 1 : in multitalker babble (MTB) at a challenging signal to noise ratio (SNR) (Cohn & Zellou, 2020). MTB was generated with 2 female and 2 male Amazon Polly voices (US-English: Joanna, Salli, Joey, Matthew) producing the Rainbow Passage (Fairbanks, 1960) (normalized to 60 dB SPL and resampled to 44.1 kHz in Praat). ...
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This study investigates the impact of wearing a fabric face mask on speech comprehension, an underexplored topic that can inform theories of speech production. Speakers produced sentences in three speech styles (casual, clear, positive-emotional) while in both face-masked and non-face-masked conditions. Listeners were most accurate at word identification in multi-talker babble for sentences produced in clear speech, and less accurate for casual speech (with emotional speech accuracy numerically in between). In the clear speaking style, face-masked speech was actually more intelligible than non-face-masked speech, suggesting that speakers make clarity ad- justments specifically for face masks. In contrast, in the emotional condition, face-masked speech was less intelligible than non-face-masked speech, and in the casual condition, no difference was observed, suggesting that ‘emotional’ and ‘casual’ speech are not styles produced with the explicit intent to be intelligible to listeners. These findings are discussed in terms of automatic and targeted speech adaptation accounts.
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The current study tests whether individuals (n = 53) produce distinct speech adaptations during pre-scripted spoken interactions with a voice-AI assistant (Amazon’s Alexa) relative to those with a human interlocutor. Interactions crossed intelligibility pressures (staged word misrecognitions) and emotionality (hyper-expressive interjections) as conversation-internal factors that might influence participants’ intelligibility adjustments in Alexa- and human-directed speech (DS). Overall, we find speech style differences: Alexa-DS has a decreased speech rate, higher mean f0, and greater f0 variation than human-DS. In speech produced toward both interlocutors, adjustments in response to misrecognition were similar: participants produced more distinct vowel backing (enhancing the contrast between the target word and misrecognition) in target words and louder, slower, higher mean f0, and higher f0 variation at the sentence-level. No differences were observed in human- and Alexa-DS following displays of emotional expressiveness by the interlocutors. Expressiveness, furthermore, did not mediate intelligibility adjustments in response to a misrecognition. Taken together, these findings support proposals that speakers presume voice-AI has a “communicative barrier” (relative to human interlocutors), but that speakers adapt to conversational-internal factors of intelligibility similarly in human- and Alexa-DS. This work contributes to our understanding of human-computer interaction, as well as theories of speech style adaptation.
This study investigates the perception of coarticulatory vowel nasality generated using different text-to-speech (TTS) methods in American English. Experiment 1 compared concatenative and neural TTS using a 4IAX task, where listeners discriminated between a word pair containing either both oral or nasalized vowels and a word pair containing one oral and one nasalized vowel. Vowels occurred either in identical or alternating consonant contexts across pairs to reveal perceptual sensitivity and compensatory behavior, respectively. For identical contexts, listeners were better at discriminating between oral and nasalized vowels in neural than in concatenative TTS for nasalized same-vowel trials, but better discrimination for concatenative TTS was observed for oral same-vowel trials. Meanwhile, listeners displayed less compensation for coarticulation in neural than in concatenative TTS. To determine whether apparent roboticity of the TTS voice shapes vowel discrimination and compensation patterns, a "roboticized" version of neural TTS was generated (monotonized f0 and addition of an echo), holding phonetic nasality constant; a ratings study (experiment 2) confirmed that the manipulation resulted in different apparent robot-icity. Experiment 3 compared the discrimination of unmodified neural TTS and roboticized neural TTS: listeners displayed lower accuracy in identical contexts for roboticized relative to unmodified neural TTS, yet the performances in alternating contexts were similar.
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Maximum likelihood or restricted maximum likelihood (REML) estimates of the parameters in linear mixed-effects models can be determined using the lmer function in the lme4 package for R. As for most model-fitting functions in R, the model is described in an lmer call by a formula, in this case including both fixed- and random-effects terms. The formula and data together determine a numerical representation of the model from which the profiled deviance or the profiled REML criterion can be evaluated as a function of some of the model parameters. The appropriate criterion is optimized, using one of the constrained optimization functions in R, to provide the parameter estimates. We describe the structure of the model, the steps in evaluating the profiled deviance or REML criterion, and the structure of classes or types that represents such a model. Sufficient detail is included to allow specialization of these structures by users who wish to write functions to fit specialized linear mixed models, such as models incorporating pedigrees or smoothing splines, that are not easily expressible in the formula language used by lmer.
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This study investigated the extent to which noise impacts normal-hearing young adults’ speech processing of sentences that vary in intelligibility. Intelligibility and recognition memory in noise were examined for conversational and clear speech sentences recorded in quiet (quiet speech, QS) and in response to the environmental noise (noise-adapted speech, NAS). Results showed that (1) increased intelligibility through conversational-to-clear speech modifications led to improved recognition memory and (2) NAS presented a more naturalistic speech adaptation to noise compared to QS, leading to more accurate word recognition and enhanced sentence recognition memory. These results demonstrate that acoustic-phonetic modifications implemented in listener-oriented speech enhance speech-in-noise processing beyond word recognition. Effortful speech processing in challenging listening environments can thus be improved by speaking style adaptations on the part of the talker. In addition to enhanced intelligibility, a substantial improvement in recognition memory can be achieved through speaker adaptations to the environment and to the listener when in adverse conditions. VC 2014 Acoustical Society of America.
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Speech produced in the context of real or imagined communicative difficulties is characterized by hyperarticulation. Phonological neighborhood density (ND) conditions similar patterns in production: Words with many neighbors are hyperarticulated relative to words with fewer; Hi ND words also show greater coarticulation than Lo ND words [e.g., Scarborough, R. (2012). "Lexical similarity and speech production: Neighborhoods for nonwords," Lingua 122(2), 164-176]. Coarticulatory properties of "clear speech" are more variable across studies. This study examined hyperarticulation and nasal coarticulation across five real and simulated clear speech contexts and two neighborhood conditions, and investigated consequences of these details for word perception. The data revealed a continuum of (attempted) clarity, though real listener-directed speech (Real) differed from all of the simulated styles. Like the clearest simulated-context speech (spoken "as if to someone hard-of-hearing"-HOH), Real had greater hyperarticulation than other conditions. However, Real had the greatest coarticulatory nasality while HOH had the least. Lexical decisions were faster for words from Real than from HOH, indicating that speech produced in real communicative contexts (with hyperarticulation and increased coarticulation) was perceptually better than simulated clear speech. Hi ND words patterned with Real in production, and Real Hi ND words were clear enough to overcome the dense neighborhood disadvantage.
This study examines the effects of different listener-oriented speaking styles and semantic contexts on online spoken word recognition using eyetracking. In Experiment 1, different groups of listeners participated in a word-identification-in-noise and in a pleasantness-rating task. Listeners heard sentences with high- versus low-predictability semantic contexts produced in infant-directed speech, Clear Speech, and Conversational Speech. Experiment 2 (in silence) and 3 (in noise) investigated the time course of visual fixations to target objects when participants were listening to different speaking styles and contexts. Results from all experiments show that relative to conversational speech, both infant-directed speech and Clear Speech improved word recognition for high-predictability sentences, in quiet as well as in noise. This indicates that established advantages of infant-directed speech for young listeners cannot be attributed only to affect; the acoustic enhancements in infant-directed speech benefit adult speech processing as well. Furthermore, in silence (Experiment 2) lexical access was facilitated by contextual cues even in conversational speech; but in noise (Experiment 3) listeners reliably focused the target only when a combination of contextual cues and listener-adapted acoustic–phonetic cues were available. These findings suggest that both semantic cues and listener-oriented acoustic enhancements are needed to facilitate word recognition, especially in adverse listening conditions.
Socio-indexical cues and paralinguistic information are often beneficial to speech processing as this information assists listeners in parsing the speech stream. Associations that particular populations speak in a certain speech style can, however, make it such that socio-indexical cues have a cost. In this study, native speakers of Canadian English who identify as Chinese Canadian and White Canadian read sentences that were presented to listeners in noise. Half of the sentences were presented with a visual-prime in the form of a photo of the speaker and half were presented in control trials with fixation crosses. Sentences produced by Chinese Canadians showed an intelligibility cost in the face-prime condition, whereas sentences produced by White Canadians did not. In an accentedness rating task, listeners rated White Canadians as less accented in the face-prime trials, but Chinese Canadians showed no such change in perceived accentedness. These results suggest a misalignment between an expected and an observed speech signal for the face-prime trials, which indicates that social information about a speaker can trigger linguistic associations that come with processing benefits and costs.
Conference Paper
Speech output is used extensively, including in situations where correct message reception is threatened by adverse listening conditions. Recently, there has been a growing interest in algorithmic modifications that aim to increase the intelligibility of both natural and synthetic speech when presented in noise. The Hurricane Challenge is the first large-scale open evaluation of algorithms designed to enhance speech intelligibility. Eighteen systems operating on a common data set were subjected to extensive listening tests and compared to unmodified natural and text-to-speech (TTS) baselines. The best-performing systems achieved gains over unmodified natural speech of 4.4 and 5.1 dB in competing speaker and stationary noise respectively, while TTS systems made gains of 5.6 and 5.1 dB over their baseline. Surprisingly, for most conditions the largest gains were observed for noise-independent algorithms, suggesting that performance in this task can be further improved by exploiting information in the masking signal.