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May 8, 2009

NYT: New Kindle can't say 'Barack Obama'

Posted: 10:06 AM ET

The New York Times has a tech story today that's too interesting not to share.

The paper says that the new, larger Amazon Kindle - which has been talked up as a savior for books and newspapers - has "a ways to go" when it comes to pronouncing some newsworthy words.

Chief among them: Barack  and Obama.

From what the paper says, the Kindle gives the president's name a sort of hard-vowel, Midwestern flair:

In particular, the voice of the Kindle mispronounces two important words that show up often in the pages of newspapers: “Barack” (the device rhymes it with “black”) and “Obama” (sounds like “Alabama”).

The science behind computerized voice features has come a long way, but apparently still has a ways to go.

This CNN story has more on how the voice technology works, and points out that a debate over rights for audiobooks has sprung up with the technology:

Today's synthetic voices can't match human talent (such as an actor hired to read audio books). But they do enable some interesting options.

For instance instead of having just one narrator, you can switch between voices, including male and female, as on the Kindle 2. You might not use this option, but it's there, and it will likely get better over time. Hemingway with a feminine touch, anyone?

The Kindle uses voice technology from Nuance Communications, which can create all kinds of voices. The Kindle gives users limited selection, but it's easy to imagine future reading devices offering a wide variety. Each voice lends its own effect.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • books • Internet

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Chi Town   May 8th, 2009 1:45 pm ET

Try Barry

Mycroft2000   May 8th, 2009 3:55 pm ET

Thanx, I'll stick to the paper ones.

Ross   May 8th, 2009 4:12 pm ET

And... who cares? Enough of your love affair with obama already and report the news.

David   May 9th, 2009 5:03 pm ET

Mispronouncing names of people and places is nothing new; mature speech synthesis packages have databases to handle names. Even simple names like "Jesse" would likely be mispronounced by basic English pronunciation rules as "Jess" instead of "Jess-ee".

That said, while "Barack" I can see, pronouncing "Obama" wrong seems really wrong to me. The word "Alabama" is the exception to normal English pronunciation, not the rule. Almost every common words in english containing the letters "ama" together are pronounced with a long "a" sound (ah), followed by the "m" followed by a schwa ("uh")–llama, drama, kama, mama, pajama, shaman, raman, etc.

It's actually pretty hard to think of *any* words in English *except* Alabama in which the first "a" in an "ama" construction is pronounced like the "a" in "ham". Sadly, every speech synthesis package out there seems to get this entirely backwards by default and only has specific lists of exceptional words to pronounce with an "ah" sound. I don't get it....


Peter   May 9th, 2009 6:52 pm ET

Horrible article. Should be retitled "random text-to-voice application mispronounces some words" so people will know that this information is old sock. Text-to-voice has been imperfect for quite some time, this is old news. Would you write another article about it if it mispronounced "swine flu"?

What is the point of an article like this?

I wish I had this writers job, so I could dig up articles from 10 years in the past, insert one or two new "topical" words and be done with my work. Kudos, cash that check from with pride. Now see if you can link the kindle to being racist and you may have another article on your hands!

Jon   May 10th, 2009 10:43 am ET

The english language has a set of rules that are supposed to be followed in order to pronounce given words. The kindle follows those rules but unfortunately, society has come to accept variet spellings that make no grammatical sense. Barack Obama is one of those which should phonetically be spelled Barac Obahma. The NYT articale even says "Kindle owners in Boston, however, may want to avoid the sports pages for now. The Kindle pronounces “Celtics” with an initial hard “c.”"... guess what, Celtics is SUPPOSED to be pronounce with a hard 'c'!

Michael   May 11th, 2009 1:59 am ET

Lol, my old Mac says Barack and Obama just fine.

Lupin   May 12th, 2009 12:38 am ET

Don't see the problem, one little patch and they can have it reconize the name. The fact is we've came a long way from some of the early ones which couldn't pronounce some of the simplist words

Jim   November 9th, 2009 5:35 pm ET

How do I switch voices from male to female on the Kindle2?

Ava Davis   April 28th, 2010 8:46 am ET

Barack Obama is the best democrat president in my opinion. he makes the best judgment and foreign policies.. "

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Barack Obama is the best president-`,

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barack obama would be listed as one of the greatest presidents of the USA. he is really a great person "

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Obama's trip to Chicago should help pad the DCCC's coffers. In April, events the president attended for the DCCC in San Francisco helped net $3.25 million for the committee.^'^`

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