Methods from automatic speech recognition (ASR), such as segmentation and forced alignment, have facilitated the rapid annotation and analysis of very large adult speech databases and databases of caregiver–infant interaction, enabling advances in speech science that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. This paper centers on two main problems that must be addressed in order to have analogous resources for developing and exploiting databases of young children's speech. The first problem is to understand and appreciate the differences between adult and child speech that cause ASR models developed for adult speech to fail when applied to child speech. These differences include the fact that children's vocal tracts are smaller than those of adult males and also changing rapidly in size and shape over the course of development, leading to between-talker variability across age groups that dwarfs the between-talker differences between adult men and women. Moreover, children do not achieve fully adult-like speech motor control until they are young adults, and their vocabularies and phonological proficiency are developing as well, leading to considerably more within-talker variability as well as more between-talker variability. The second problem then is to determine what annotation schemas and analysis techniques can most usefully capture relevant aspects of this variability. Indeed, standard acoustic characterizations applied to child speech reveal that adult-centered annotation schemas fail to capture phenomena such as the emergence of covert contrasts in children's developing phonological systems, while also revealing children's nonuniform progression toward community speech norms as they acquire the phonological systems of their native languages. Both problems point to the need for more basic research into the growth and development of the articulatory system (as well as of the lexicon and phonological system) that is oriented explicitly toward the construction of age-appropriate computational models.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Some of the research described in this paper was supported by NSF grant BCS0729277 to Benjamin Munson and by NIH grant DC02932 to Jan Edwards, who also deserves copious thanks for her extensive contributions to the ideas about the development and interpretation of elicitation and annotation protocols for children's speech that are described here.
- Automatic speech recognition
- Big data corpora
- Child speech development
- Phonetic transcription
- Spectral kinematics