Nigel Cross lends an ear to a Shakespeare-quoting speech synthesiser for the 48K Apple II.
Despite its dubious acronym – Software Automatic Mouth – and its origins with a Californian company named Don’t Ask Computer Software, SAM turns out to be a pleasant kind of character.
In fact, this combined hardware and software package for the 48K Apple II is far better than its trite packaging (awful cartoon character on silver box) and slender instruction booklet indicate.
Setting it up
Once the box is discarded SAM manifests itself as a disk and a small PCB. The board has to be located in slot 4 of the Apple, then two pieces of wire are connected to the internal speaker pin and loudspeaker.
For best results a medium size speaker of four to eight inches is recommended to give an acceptably ‘rounded’ voice. A volume adjustment is also included so that if you don’t like your neighbours you can really give them a hard time.
For more volume you could wire the output to an amplifier – but be careful. The internal speaker is disabled and all sound output is passed through SAM.
Having got this far the disk can be loaded and the demo programs run. These programs include a short story about SAM and its capabilities. Another program is a small selection of famous speeches – Hamlet’s soliloquy was definitely interesting but SAM is certainly no Olivier.
The other two should be avoided if only for the content – Allegiance to the Flag and Gettysburg Address.
Up and Running
By this time most people would be falling about in fits of laughter, but don’t let this put you off. The real part of the package is very good and easy to use.
To make things easy a subroutine ‘reciter’ is included so that by encoding an alphanumeric string and performing a call. Reciter decodes English into phonetics, then SAM utters them through the speaker.
This method is very fast and its efficiency is something to marvel at. The English is decoded according to about 450 rules of English pronunciation and copes very well with all sorts of combinations of letters – even absolute gibberish.
An interesting note on this function is that ‘goodnight’ is pronounced correctly whereas ‘goodnite’ becomes ‘goodnit’.
This use of SAM is obviously limited by the nature of direct translation and does not incorporate much capability for stress, inflection and intonation – not to mention dialect.
However, strings of invective and expletives are wonderfully effective and, in fact, woke up someone in the next room.
Having decided to pass on to SAM itself, the booklet comes into its own. Data passed to SAM can be structured according to the dictionary and by the simple expedient of encoding a phonetic string then issuing a call.
SAM uses about 60 phonetic units, which are noted on a quick reference card, to produce its sounds.
By analysing the words, phrases and sense of what you wish your computer to say using the phonetic reference chart and the dictionary, comprehensive structures can be compounded.
A word of warning – SAM has a ‘breath’ capacity of only 2.5 seconds, so be sure to encode a pause within the time limit. Unexpected pauses ruin the overall effect.
Once the data has been encoded phonetically it is then possible to add emphasis on a scale of 0 to 9 to every part by including a digit of appropriate value at correct places in the data.
The phonetic writing of compound statements is not easy to start with, but after a little practice it almost becomes second nature (depending on your own accent) and the results turn out to be very pleasing.
As regards the ‘voice’ of SAM, the first impressions are very reminiscent of a tired and emotional Mexican speaking with his mouth full of chilli, but a bit of effort and thought makes it clearer.
This package is very impressive with great scope available to the user for personalisation of program prompts or actual enunciation of data.
The ‘voice’ becomes clearer with use, but even using just the Reciter function all speech is understandable.
Within its capabilities this is one of the best-implemented speech synthesisers available.
- Name: SAM (Software Automatic Mouth)
- Machine: Apple II 48K
- Manufacturer: Don’t Ask Computer Software
- Price: £102.35 inc vat
- Outlet: Pete & Pam Computers
First published in Personal Computer News magazine, 1st April 1983