[Bookreader] Text to Speech readers for XO

Samuel Klein meta.sj at gmail.com
Thu Oct 29 20:04:53 EDT 2009

Bumping up this recent thread on the bookreader list about text-to-speech.
Mike and Gregor, in case you haven't seen what's currently possible:

I believe James S's Read Etexts uses speech-dispatcher to read selected
text. Aleksey and others may have done further work with espeak...  I've
included some old threads from the Sugar list this past spring below.


On Thu, Oct 29, Mike McCabe <mccabe at archive.org> wrote:

I also think this is a great idea.  I've worked with several
text-to-speech readers recently, as part of my effort to make the
Internet Archive books available to print disabled people.

They're very useful, and I think that this mode of reading could be of
use to a very broad range of users.  I suspect we'll see more of it soon.

I'm also curious to hear about specific experiences with
linux-compatible free TTS, as we may be producing audio books with this
to work with the new Library of Congress audio players.

Best regards -

== [1] old note from James Simmons ==
( in repsponse to this speech-synthesis summer of code proposal:
http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/speech-synthesis )


Since you have been working with Aleksey Lim you probably know about
text to speech with highlighting in Read Etexts.  I wrote the original
TTS code that used speech-dispatcher with some assistance from Hemant
Goyal and the folks on the speech-dispatcher project.  Aleksey
refactored my code so it could work with either speech-dispatcher or his
own gstreamer espeak plugin.  Not only does his plugin need no
configuration to work, it also does a LOT better in producing timely
callbacks as it reads each word.

As you point out in your proposal, highlighting the word as it is spoken
is a big part of the benefit of what you're proposing.  If all you
wanted to do was capture some highlighted text in the clipboard and have
it spoken in a voice you can configure in a control panel, that would be
easy, even trivial.  It's the highlighting that's difficult.  When I
added speech to Read Etexts I deliberately tried for the simplest
approach that would get the job done.  It reads only the current page.
It always starts either at the first word on the page, or if speech has
been paused, it resumes with the last word spoken.  You can't choose the
word to start on.  The Activity itself receives the callbacks as each
word is spoken and takes care of doing the highlight and scrolling the
textarea so the highlighted word stays on the screen.

If I had to write a facility that did what Read Etexts does outside of
the Activity I wouldn't know how to do it.  It seems to me that
highlighting is best done by the Activity itself.  I can't deny that it
would be useful to have all this work done as you have described without
the Activity knowing anything about it, but it doesn't seem feasible.
You'd have to have something that could work with gtk textareas, the
evince component Read uses, Abiword, and everything else that came along.

Another thing you'd have to deal with is PDFs composed of scanned in
book pages.  There are a lot of these around (the Internet Archive is
full of them) and somehow the kid trying to select words on a scanned in
page would have to be clued in that these words are not selectable.

I suppose you could make an Activity that grabbed whatever text was in
the clipboard, displayed it in a textarea, and highlighted the words in
that textarea as it spoke them.  I'm pretty sure that wasn't what you
had in mind.

Splitting sentences into separate words will be a challenge.  I just use
spaces as delimiters and filter out characters like asterisks, vertical
bars, etc.  That works OK for English but not for other languages.  If I
wanted Read Etexts to do highlighting on the Bhagavad-Gita in the original
Sanskrit it wouldn't work.  Even in English I get tripped up by double
hyphens (--).  It would be nice if Gutenberg etexts put spaces around double
hyphens but they don't.

It looks like you've picked a challenging project, and I would love to be
proven wrong about everything I've mentioned here.  Good luck with this,

James Simmons

== 2: SynPhony and reading assistance ==

On Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 12:48 PM, Carol Farlow Lerche <cafl at msbit.com>wrote:

> I'd like to call your attention again to SynPhony<http://synphony.wiki.sourceforge.net/>.
> We are close to a base release (probably this week) of a 44,000 word English
> word database that has a very rich array of information helpful to the
> teaching of English, especially reading.  A 10,000 word Spanish lexicon and
> 50000 word German one will follow. Norbert Rennert who compiled these, would
> like very much to work with other language experts to extend this effort to
> other languages.  Some highlights of the English lexicon:  screened from the
> CMU Sphynx corpus for accessibility to children, each word entry has
> frequency data from analysis with respect to a large corpus of text merged
> in, phoneme breakdown (used by reading curricula to decide the order in
> which words should be introduced or deemed decodable), etymology, semantic
> domain (categorization), IPA coding, syllabification and stress marking.
> The second release will merge in many images, though we don't expect to
> have a complete image-to-word mapping without a volunteer effort.   We plan
> to create an API and a way to define a curriculum sequence for word groups
> once the basic database is released, to allow integration of the word bank
> across all the activities that are literacy related, as well as create
> more.  We also hope to use the word bank to score texts for reading level
> and assist in creation of simplified version of extant texts suitable for
> use by emergent readers.  Please read our design documents at the above
> site.
> On Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 2:02 AM, Tomeu Vizoso <tomeu at sugarlabs.org> wrote:
>> Aleksey has started a very interesting new path:
>> http://lists.sugarlabs.org/archive/sugar-devel/2009-February/011470.html

Gregor Kervina wrote:
> > Hi Sayamindu,
> > thanks for quick reply!
> > There is a lot of text to speech software out there - I use
> > http://www.bytecool.com/coolspch.htm that you can try trial and download
> > additional voices, just to get a feeling, but it is not free and not for
> > linux. Many other programs are more complex and complicated and some of
> > them use very complex voice engines that in my opinion doesn't sound
> > very good. (I use Mary voice with cool speech)
> >
> > OK I spent some time to find all TTS software that is free for linux and
> > here are some links:
> >
> > http://linux-sound.org/speech.html
> >
> http://linuxhelp.blogspot.com/2006/01/festival-text-to-speech-synthesis.html
> > http://larswiki.atrc.utoronto.ca/wiki/Software  - see the links under
> > Speech section
> > http://www.xenocafe.com/tutorials/php/festival_text_to_speech/index.php
> > http://www.wikihow.com/Convert-Text-to-Speech-on-Linux
> > http://www.cstr.ed.ac.uk/projects/festival/
> > http://www.cstr.ed.ac.uk/projects/festival/onlinedemo.html - listen to
> > some demo voices
> > http://sourceforge.net/projects/dhvani/ - this one not english
> > http://sourceforge.net/projects/tts-cubed/
> > http://www.speech.cs.cmu.edu/hephaestus.html - click the links in Speech
> > Synthesis section
> > http://www.speech.cs.cmu.edu/comp.speech/Section5/Synth/rsynth.html
> > http://www.linux.com/archive/feature/122197 - two readers - plug-ins for
> > firefox.
> >
> > I can not test them because I'm not a linux user. Maybe you can modify
> > some of these software (probably Festival) for more user friendly
> > reading and maybe program a specific button on XO keyboard that will
> > automatically read the selected text no matter what program is used for
> > opening the text.
> >
> > Judging from google search result for DTBooks, this technology is not
> > spread at all. The other problem is that it uses somtimes recorded audio
> > and the size of that is too large for XO... I think the most important
> > is that TTS works with reader that will open 1.6M e-books from internet
> > archive
> > <
> http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2009/10/24/internet-archive-opens-1-6-million-e-books-to-olpc-laptops/
> >(are
> > you in this team?).
> >
> > Also one important thing is to add cheap headphones with laptop so
> > children could listen to reading without desturbing others and in the
> > noisy environments ... another advantage of audio reading is much longer
> > battery life because you can turn off LCD monitor and audio alone does
> > not consume much energy.
> >
> > Let me know what you think.
> > All the best,
> > Gregor
> >
> >
> >
> > On Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 4:08 PM, Sayamindu Dasgupta <sayamindu at gmail.com
> > <mailto:sayamindu at gmail.com>> wrote:
> >
> >     Hi Gregor,
> >     Thanks a lot for jumping in :-)
> >
> >     On Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 2:38 AM, Gregor Kervina
> >     <gregor.kervina at gmail.com <mailto:gregor.kervina at gmail.com>> wrote:
> >      > Dear Sayamindu Dasgupta, SJ Klein and other members of this list,
> >      >
> >      > I'm a student of electrical engineering from Europe and would
> >     like to share
> >      > with you my very positive experience with text to speech
> >     technology that can
> >      > in my opinion significantly increase the educational potential of
> >     XO if used
> >      > in the right way.
> >      >
> >      > For the past 12 years (since I was 15 years old) I'm daily
> >     learning from
> >      > e-books and internet using text to speech software. I know this
> >     software is
> >      > unpopular in developed world, many people don't even know that it
> >     exists. On
> >      > the other hand many people (including me) don't like reading long
> >     texts on
> >      > the LCD screens - that's why e-books are also not very popular.
> >      >
> >      > But unlike my friends I read 50+ e-books every ear and also daily
> >     news on
> >      > the internet - I just select the text, copy it, and CoolSpeech
> >     software
> >      > (using Mary voice) reads me all the text with speeds 300 to 500
> >     words per
> >      > minute. In this way I can browse other sites or look at photos or
> >     just lay
> >      > down and listen while my laptop is reading to me.
> >      > Other people don't understand what I'm reading because it is too
> >     fast for
> >      > them but it can be learned quickly with slower speeds at
> beginning.
> >      >
> >      > I think XO laptops should definitely have such software
> >     pre-installed and a
> >      > video introduction how to use it and what reading speeds can they
> >     expect
> >      > after some time of practicing.
> >      > It is also ideal for children with poor eye sight.
> >      >
> >
> >     This sounds awesome. Could you let us know if the text to speech
> >     software you have in mind is free/opensource and if it works on Linux
> >     ?
> >     I am also looking at DTBooks specifications for digital talking books
> >     - do you know how useful/widespread this technology is ?
> >
> >     Thanks,
> >     Sayamindu
> >
> >
> >     --
> >     Sayamindu Dasgupta
> >     [http://sayamindu.randomink.org/ramblings]
> >
> >
> >
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