Generating segmental foreign accent

Mª Luisa García Lecumberri, Roberto Barra Chicote, Rubén Pérez Ramón, Junichi Yamagishi, Martin Cooke.

For most of us, speaking in a non-native language involves deviating to some extent from native pronunciation norms. However, the detailed basis for foreign accent (FA) remains elusive, in part due to methodological challenges in isolating segmental from suprasegmental factors. The current study examines the role of segmental features in conveying FA through the use of a generative approach in which accent is localised to single consonantal segments. Three techniques are evaluated: the first requires a highly-proficiency bilingual to produce words with isolated accented segments; the second uses cross-splicing of context-dependent consonants from the non-native language into native words; the third employs hidden Markov model synthesis to blend voice models for both languages. Using English and Spanish as the native/non-native languages respectively, listener cohorts from both languages identified words and rated their degree of FA. All techniques were capable of generating accented words, but to differing degrees. Naturally-produced speech led to the strongest FA ratings and synthetic speech the weakest, which we interpret as the outcome of over-smoothing. Nevertheless, the flexibility offered by synthesising localised accent encourages further development of the method.