The Biblio Files  

  our bookish life  

The Biblio Files

The Biblio Files
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
January 01
We (Steve and Helen) irresponsibly gave up our promising careers in aviation and bookselling over ten years ago. Now books seem to have taken over our lives. We frequent libraries, bookstores, and thrift shops in search of interesting books. We buy/swap/sell, but mainly, we read. We both wear glasses and have been mistaken for librarians.


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 24, 2010 2:47AM

Kindle's Robot Voice

Rate: 15 Flag

Ever hear a computerized voice mail system? You can't mistake it for a real person. Maybe just for a second, if you're not paying attention.


The text-to-speech feature of the Kindle reader sounds like that.


When the Kindle 2 came out about a year ago, some publishers were sure Amazon was trying to do an end run around them by allowing their digital books to be read with that robot voice. The publishers thought that readers would stop buying professionally recorded audiobooks if they could listen to books with computerized speech instead.


I've had my Kindle for almost a while now and I use the text-to-speech feature occasionally, when I'm in the middle of a good book and have to do something that precludes reading, like ironing. Ten or twenty minutes is the most I can listen to the synthetic voice. Or iron, for that matter.


The voice itself isn't terribly distracting, although it does read everything in the same monotone, regardless of what's happening in the story. The distractions for me are the robot's pronunciations. For instance, I am reading a gossipy book about the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change. I am pleased to find that since last summer when I read Renegade: The Making of a President, the robot has learned that “Obama” doesn't rhyme with “Alabama.”


Robot Gone Bad: "Open the iPod bay doors, Hal."


The robot doesn't know the difference between the past and present tense of “read,” and sometimes gets it wrong. It pronounces “wound” the same way, whether it's a war wound or tightly wound. And the stress on “record” is on the second syllable whether it's to record a message or about setting an Olympic record.


Text-to-speech technology is getting better. Nuance, the company that provides Kindle's voices (there's a male and a female voice ) also has voices in various languages with a variety of accents. Here's a few samples.

English Australian        Karen WAV    

English English               Daniel WAV    

English Indian          Sangeeta WAV  

English Irish                    Moira WAV  

English Scottish              Fiona WAV  

English South African  Tessa WAV  

English U.S.                        Tom WAV    


They sound pretty good compared to this AT&T demo, in which you can enter whatever text you like and it reads it back to you.



While the currently available text-to-speech technology isn't up to the standard of The Royal Shakespeare Company, it's not bad for this version of a scene from Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, performed by a Kindle and an iPod.

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That is crazyland!! I had no idea those kindles read to you....I thought moms were supposed to do that to little kids.I want to start a I Hate Kindles Club in my seconds of spare time.
We sell a TON of books for the Kindle...yet no one on the staff actually owns one. I love the Kindle, but the problem is once you buy one...then you have to keep spending money to fill the poor thing up with books, and that can get expensive. I read about Kindle owners who set themselves a monthly budget, so they don't get carried away.

However, I do appreciate all those folks who drop by and pick up one of our publications...(*smiles*)
I like the Australian. Beats the GPS voice in my car.
Thanks for those accent-samples. There were fun to listen to!
I know, I'm way behind the times, but I despise Kindles. I need to feel a real paper book in my hands. It's the wave of the future, I know, but I may be the last hold out.
Interesting piece though. I had no idea they've gone this extra step.
The Kindle voice isn't as bad as the voices on my screenwriting software, but to be honest I haven't used the voice function for long stretches of time.

Great post. Rated.
Robotic voices drive me crazy! I'm still upset about the recorded phone voices that I get so often. I just hope people don't plant a robot in their child's room and let it read to them!
None of those are as bad as the utterly weird voice on 777-FILM, the movie-times-finding-advance-ticket-buying service. It's mega-creepy. My son calls it the "electronic child molester" voice.

Just a gripe on geography. "English British" should be called "English English". We Scots are British too (some more grudgingly than others).
So many people who don't like the Kindle! We don't see it as a replacement for print books, it's just another form of book, like paperbacks.

GeeBee -- You're right! I've changed it.
TOO MUCH FUN!!!!! (Had a convo with controllers on the mid at IAD on FB while I downloaded the Star Trek file. Cool full-circle moment) I am too much a fan of holding a real book in my hands, one with great illustrations, re-reading the 'good parts' over and over thruout my reading experience, to ever get a kindle or the other thingy. But, it might be big fun to have the kindle read me some Billy Collins poetry ("Taking off Emily Dickenson's Clothes" comes to mind).....Rated!
My favorite part of the khan reenactment: the fake wig on Khan's kindle head. ohhhhhhhhhh. tear. love it.
I'm afraid I'm among the Kindle loathers, but I enjoyed your post!
OK the moment I read it I immediately thought: Bay-rake O-Bam!-aa.
Kindle robot voices used for Wrath of Khan is inherently funny.
The US English sounds the most robotic of them all, don't know why.
What I'd like is speed reading. I do a lot of driving, but a book I can read in an hour and a half runs 8 hours on audiobook and a 3 hour read can easily weigh in at close to 24 hours. If the robot gets on with the plot, it can drone on as monotonously as it pleases.