Oral histories to help create hi-tech Gaelic digital assistant


21 June 2021
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Sunrise, Isle of Arran
Voice-activated digital assistants that speak Scottish Gaelic could be one step closer thanks to a hi-tech advance by university experts that has made use of oral histories and traditional storytelling.

Voice-activated digital assistants that speak Scottish Gaelic could be one step closer thanks to a hi-tech advance by University experts.

A team of linguists and Artificial Intelligence specialists has developed software that can listen to spoken Gaelic and print it out as written text.

Now, researchers hope to upgrade the technology so it not only prints what it hears, but responds verbally too – just like voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa or Google.

The speech recognition system can already provide subtitles for online video content. It can also help those who are learning the language and support Gaelic-medium schoolchildren with dyslexia, the researchers say.

Language research

The team – led by the University of Edinburgh – collected millions of spoken and written Gaelic words and trained a computer system to recognise how they were related.

The software was developed in tandem with University of Edinburgh spin-out company Quorate Technology Ltd. 

Also involved were the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches project – a unique online record of Scotland’s rich oral heritage. 

The team has begun working with Tobar an Dualchais to transcribe interviews with Gaelic speakers that include precious elements of oral history and traditional storytelling. 

Thriving in the digital age

Project leader Dr William Lamb, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, said: “Ensuring that Gaelic has a place in the modern technological landscape is key for its survival. 

“By enlisting the support and expertise of the Gaelic community, and giving back to them in this way, we hope to demonstrate that any minority language can thrive in the digital age.”

(report courtesy of University of Edinburgh)