Multi-accent acoustic modelling of South African English
Although English is spoken throughout South Africa it is most often used as a second or third language, resulting in several prevalent accents within the same population. When dealing with multiple accents in this under-resourced environment, automatic speech recognition (ASR) is complicated by the need to compile multiple, accent-specific speech corpora. We investigate how best to combine speech data from five South African accents of English in order to improve overall speech recognition performance. Three acoustic modelling approaches are considered: separate accent-specific models, accent-independent models obtained by pooling training data across accents, and multi-accent models. The latter approach extends the decision-tree clustering process normally used to construct tied-state hidden Markov models (HMMs) by allowing questions relating to accent. We find that multi-accent modelling outperforms accent-specific and accent-independent modelling in both phone and word recognition experiments, and that these improvements are statistically significant. Furthermore, we find that the relative merits of the accent-independent and accent-specific approaches depend on the particular accents involved. Multi-accent modelling therefore offers a mechanism by which speech recognition performance can be optimised automatically, and for hard decisions regarding which data to pool and which to separate to be avoided. © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.