News

A Yoruba Text-to-Speech App Is Being Brought to Life Through This New Tech Initiative

We talk to Kola Tubosun of Yorubaname.com about their plan to create a Siri-like application that speaks Yoruba.

I'd never admit this to my parents, but I blame them for the fact that I barely speak Yoruba (if you're reading this, mom and dad, know that I still love you). When aunts and uncles complain about how Yoruba is in danger of becoming extinct, I wonder why, then, didn't their generation try harder to pass the language down to us.


Really, it's not all their fault. But while we can't go back in time and change things, Yoruba isn't necessarily doomed. New technology is giving us the tools to keep our heritage alive.

This is the task that the good folks over at Yorubaname.com have taken on with their Yoruba speech-to-text initiative. Their immediate goal is to create a Siri-like application that will service millions of Yoruba-speaking people in Nigeria and elsewhere but, ultimately, their creation will help ensure the language's longevity. Besides, a Yoruba Siri—maybe we'd call her Simi instead— is bound to have a lot of personality.

I got a chance to speak with the website's curator, Kola Tubosun. He spoke about the group's plans to execute the software, offsetting "Western-centrism" in the tech industry and empowering others through technology. Read our conversation below and find out how you can get involved in brining the app to life.

 

For those who don’t know much about speech synthesis, can you elaborate on it some more and tell us how it’ll be utilized for the Yoruba text-to-speech application?

Speech synthesis is the process of creating human speech using software and audio segments. It’s called text-to-speech because the end product needs written text to put into action. Like those bibles that read the words to you, or like those GPS systems that talk, or even these Word applications that can read to you what you have typed, the system picks out already written text and converts it to synthetic audio. It is created, usually, by a process of training the computer to string along segments of audio into comprehensible speech. Watch this video to see it in action.

What we’re trying to create for Yoruba is similar, and the uses of the application are many. For instance, most artificial intelligence softwares use spoken language as means of activating them. Siri, on the iPhone, for instance, can be spoken to and “she” speaks back. That voice is a manufactured voice. But because it can respond to commands and take commands, it is useful in many other ways. Blind people, for instance, will be able to operate their phones if they can just talk to it and tell it what they want. You can use it at ATMs to help people who don't speak English, etc.

Why is it so important that we have this software in Yoruba in particular?

Well, Yoruba has over 30 million speakers. That is already a huge population that can benefit from this kind of innovation. Many of those 30 million do not speak English at all, which means that they are shut out of a number of things involving technology. If a market woman can use an ATM in her local language, I think that empowers her. If she can speak to her phone in Yoruba and it does what she wants, that's a leap forward.

But more importantly, African languages have been left out, for too long in global conversations in technology and that has always bothered me. Siri exists in Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian, three languages which, combined and multiplied by two, still aren’t as widely spoken as Yoruba, yet there is Siri in those languages. Why? Because we don’t care?

So, I’m working on Yoruba because that’s the language I speak and on which I have competence as a linguist to create anything. My overarching aim, however, is to show that more can be done for any African language, and more should be done. One of the ways to keep a language from being endangered is not only to speak it to our children, but also to have them capable of adapting to changing times, in this case with technology.

Can you speak more about the issue of “anglonormativity” in the tech world? How has it affected your experience while trying to build this software?

I used the word in this essay to refer to the accepted convention that everything must cater first (and sometimes primarily) to the English-speaking world. But then I realized that it’s not so much Anglonormativity as it is Euronormativity or anything-but-Africa-normativity. Nigeria has 170 million people and has its own version of English which is spoken by almost everyone. Yet, the only type of English you see on Siri or Google are British, Australian, and American. For some reason, we just regularly seem to be invisible, low on the priority.

Now for this I blame not just the people who create this products/applications, but to African tech stakeholders who haven’t held the big companies to a higher standard, and who haven’t demanded more of them. In any case, if we don’t build applications like this that cater to our own languages, then we shouldn’t complain that no one cares and no one takes us seriously.

Is it your hope that text-to-speech software will expand to include other African languages as well? How do you think developers can make this happen?

Oh, sure! We’re open to collaborations.

Can you tell us more about your fundraising initiative and how people can get involved?

We are trying to raise $4000 to create this TTS-Yoruba application. You can donate to us here. No amount is too small. But we are also interested in partnering with anyone with other capabilities that can be useful either in creating this particular application, or numerous others that serve the African language experience. Grants? Sponsorships? Investments? Yes! Send us an email at project@yorubaname.com

News Brief

Bozoma Saint John Is Getting Her Own Docuseries

The series will premiere on Starz and cover a range of topics related to her personal and professional life.

Star business executive Bozoma Saint John will get her own docuseries coming to Starz in 2019, Fast Company reports.

The Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor will host and produce Bozoma: Being Badass, a series that will cover various topics related to the executive's passions, professional endeavors and personal life, such as of the loss of her husband to cancer and navigating the subsequent grief that comes from losing a loved one. The exec told Fast Company that the show will aim to inspire others "to show up wholly as ourselves."

"The multi-hyphenate that I am. Being black, being the child of immigrants...being a widow, a mother. All of those things that make up who I am. That's what's so beautiful about the human experience. None of us are one-dimensional," she added.

She'll also interview others in relation to each topic. Saint John described the series as "a cross between Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Mister Rogers, and The Oprah Winfrey Show." The show will be executive produced by Parts Unknown producer Alex Lowry along with Saint John herself and Anjula Acharia.

The show is set to begin production early next year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Beauty
Image from Josef Adamu's 'The Hair Appointment' Series. Photo by Jeremy Rodney-Hall

Reclaiming Tradition: How Hair Beads Connect Us to Our History

A history of beads and African hair jewelry told through the unforgettable story of Baroness Floella Benjamin.

In 1977, Trinidadian-British actress and singer Floella Benjamin (OBE) was on her way to premiere her new blaxploitation film Good Joy at the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France. Styled in braids carefully accented by layered beads, she knew she'd standout amongst the festival's mostly white attendees, but nothing prepared her for the kind of reception she would ultimately receive.

"We drove along the [Promenade of] La Croisette," she recalls, "in an open top Cadillac for the film premiere and as we passed along, the crowds tried to grab my hair to get a bead as a souvenir."

It was a decade when sequined jumpsuits, gaudy fur stoles and overgrown sideburns were the norm, yet Benjamin's beaded look, which many black folks might have considered ordinary, was met with unparalleled fascination—a uniquely African hairstyle that black women had been wearing for centuries hadn't been seen before at a place like Cannes. "I stayed at the Carlton Hotel and the maids were intrigued," she recalls. "They kept knocking on my door just to look and stare at me."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Still from NPR's Tiny Desk Concert

Watch Nigerian-American Rapper Tobe Nwigwe's Tiny Desk Concert

Joined by his wife and seven-week old daughter, the Houston-based rapper brings his Southern sounds to NPR's Tiny Desk.

Houston-raised, Nigerian-American rapper Tobe Nwigwe is the latest artist to grace NPR's TIny Desk Concert Series.

The artist performed a 5-song medley, backed by a full band and four talented backup singers. The artist was also joined at the desk by his wife Fats Nwigwe and their seven-week old daughter.

READ: Tobe Nwigwe Is the Southern Rapper Making "Purpose Popular."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Here Are All the Samples In Burna Boy's 'African Giant'

This video breaks down all the African Giant samples & interpolations, including songs from Fela Kuti, Magic System, Naughty By Nature, D'banj and more.

Since it dropped, Burna Boy's highly-anticipated album African Giant has been making waves and getting played on constant rotation all over the place.

The 19-track album, which includes features from Angelique Kidjo, Damian Marley, Future, M.anifest, Jorja Smith, Jeremih and more, sees the buzzing Nigerian star delivering several addictive shades of his signature afro-fusion sound as he blends in influences from afrobeat, dancehall, hip-hop, RnB and more.

Listeners have also been spotting some of the many samples and interpolations used across African Giant and now, Sample Chief, a platform for African music knowledge, has put them all together in video form.

Read: Sample Chief Selects 5 of Their Favorite Samples

The samples and interpolations across African Giant include the use of Fela's "Sorrow, Tears & Blood" and Angelique Kidjo's "We WE" (in "Anybody"), Naughty By Nature's "Jamboree" (in "Collatelral Damage"), Magic System's "1er Gaou" ("On The Low"), plus many more from the likes of Stereoman, Ududo Nnobi, Blak Ryno, and D'banj.

Check them all out below courtesy of Sample Chief.

Keep up with Sample Chief by following them on Twitter and Instagram.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.