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Speak to me and I tell you who you are! A language-attitude study in a cultural-heritage application

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Research on intelligent agents has demonstrated that the degree an artificial entity resembles a human correlates with the likelihood that the entity will evoke social and psychological processes in humans. Language-attitude studies based on natural voices have provided evidence that human listeners socially assess and evaluate their communication partners according to the language variety they use. Taking the two findings together, we hypothesize that synthetically generated language varieties have social effects similar to those reported from language-attitude studies on natural speech. We present the design of a set of synthetic voices representing standard and dialectal varieties of Austrian German which were built into an existing cultural-heritage application letting virtual tourist guides speak in different varieties. With this setup, we performed a language-attitude study assessing the social evaluation of the characters represented by the synthetic voices. Our results are in accordance with previous findings from natural speech, but it also turned out that the specific context constitutes a major criterion for the preference or rejection of certain language varieties. In addition, we show that not only the particular variety, but also features relating to the voice quality of the synthesized speech bring about attributions of different social aspects and stereotypes. Together they strongly influence the attitudes of the listeners towards the artificial speakers showing the importance of an accurate voice design—including features related to particular language varieties—for the development of artificial agents.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Project Creative Histories: The Josefsplatz Experience http://ofai.at/research/nlu/projects/project_josefsplatz.html, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1QQRb9gno8 (project video in German).

  2. 2.

    VSDS—Viennese Sociolect and Dialect Synthesis, 2007–2009; http://dialect-tts.ftw.at.


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The projects ‘Creative Histories: The Josefsplatz Experience’ and ‘Viennese Sociolect and Dialect Synthesis (VSDS)’ were both funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF). In addition, the study presented in this paper was in part funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) under the research programme ‘FEMtech women in research and technology’ within the project ‘Companions für Userinnen’ (C4U).

The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable and insightful comments.

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Correspondence to Brigitte Krenn.

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Krenn, B., Schreitter, S. & Neubarth, F. Speak to me and I tell you who you are! A language-attitude study in a cultural-heritage application. AI & Soc 32, 65–77 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-014-0569-0

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  • Language-attitude study
  • Synthetic voices
  • Language varieties
  • Social evaluation
  • Virtual character design