Apple wants Siri to do a better job of pronouncing names. The company has filed for a patent (number 20210327409) for “systems and methods for name pronunciation.”
About the patent filing
In the patent filing, Apple says that name recognition is a particularly difficult aspect of speech recognition. Names can include names of people, businesses, and other entities. The way names are pronounced can be subjective and dependent on the name’s origin. There can be a few names that are very common, but an order of magnitude more names that are very rare.
Apple says that, for a speech recognition system to recognize names, a linguist is typically needed to transcribe all possible pronunciations in a phonetic alphabet supported by the locale or language in which the speech recognition system is deployed. Most existing speech recognition and synthesis system have up to hundreds or thousands of names, while there are likely millions of actual unique names in use today.
Current speech recognition systems typically model name recognition to support tasks such as phone dialing, search and query, reminders, and events scheduling based on a named entry in a contact application of a user device. To recognize or synthesize a name, current systems often use a dictionary or a lexicon. These contain a mapping of the names to their possible pronunciations.
Apple says, however, if a name has not been modeled in the speech lexicon, the system must guess the pronunciation. For the purpose of speech synthesis, the system may also need to guess the stress on individual syllables comprised in the name.
For names not modeled explicitly in the lexicon, speech recognition systems typically depend on a pronunciation guesser that uses sophisticated letter-to-sound rules. Apple says that, however, because certain phonetic units are particular to a specific language, the same name may be pronounced differently by different users.
This means that existing systems aren’t capable of building an adequate pronunciation guesser that models the pronunciation of names from different languages and cultures. In many cases, a foreign name pronunciation may not be guessed properly unless explicit rules are represented within the guesser. Apple wants Siri to overcome such limitations.
Summary of the patent filing
Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent filing: “Systems and methods are provided for associating a phonetic pronunciation with a name by receiving the name, mapping the name to a plurality of monosyllabic components that are combinable to construct the phonetic pronunciation of the name, receiving a user input to select one or more of the plurality, and combining the selected one or more of the plurality of monosyllabic components to construct the phonetic pronunciation of the name.”