On April 17th, 2019 Amazon Polly launched an Arabic female text-to-speech (TTS) voice called Zeina. This voice is clear and natural-sounding. The voice masters tongue twisters, and it can whisper, just like all other Amazon Polly products. Let’s hear Zeina introduce herself:
Hello, my name is Zeina, I am the Arabic Amazon Polly voice. Very nice to meet you.
مَرْحَباً، اِسْمِي زينة، أَنا اَلْصَوْتُ اَلْعَرَبِيُّ فِي أمازون بولي، سَعِدْتُ بِلِقائِكُم.
And here’s a tongue twister to demonstrate Zeina’s strengths:
The prince of princes ordered to drill a well in the desert, how many R’s in this sentence?
أَمَرَ أَمِيرُ اَلْأُمَراءِ، بِحَفْرِ بِئْرٍ فِي اَلْصَحْراءِ. فَكَمْ راءً فِي ذٰلِكَ؟
Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but – it’s not really a single language at all. It consists of 30 dialects, including its universal form, which is Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). As a result, it’s classified as a macrolanguage and is estimated to be used by over 400 million speakers. Zeina follows the MSA pronunciation, which is the common broadcasting standard across the region. MSA might sometimes sound formal because it differs from day-to-day speaking style. However, it’s the linguistic thread that links the Arabic native-speakers worldwide.
Arabic is written from right to left and includes 28 letters. Short vowels (diacritics) are not part of the Arabic alphabet. As a result, one written form might be pronounced in several different ways with every option carrying its own meaning and representing a different part of speech. Vocalization can’t be performed in isolation because correct pronunciation depends heavily on the linguistic context of each word. In a real life situation Arabic readers add diacritics during reading to disambiguate words and to pronounce them correctly. In the TTS voice development process Arabic requires a diacritizer that predicts the diacritics. The Amazon Arabic TTS voice handles unvocalized Arabic content thanks to the in-build diacritizer. If a customer provides vocalized input, Zeina generates the corresponding audio as well.
Emirates NBD, one of the leading banks in the Middle East, is using Amazon Polly to develop new voice banking solutions to better serve its customers. Suvo Sarkar, Senior Executive Vice President and Group Head – Retail Banking & Wealth Management said, “Emirates NBD has been an early mover in the region in introducing an AI powered virtual assistant, helping customers calling the bank to converse in natural language and access required services quickly. We are now integrating Amazon Polly in English with our automated call center for its quality and lifelike voice and to further enhance customer interactions, and looking to integrate Amazon Polly in Arabic soon. Such technologies will also help us improve our internal efficiencies while delivering better customer experiences.”
“The launch of Arabic support for Amazon Polly comes at a great time as we are gearing up to launch Arabic as a new language on Duolingo. Zeina delivers accurate and natural sounding speech that is important for teaching a language, and matches the quality that we’ve become accustomed to using Amazon Polly for the other languages that we offer,” said Hope Wilson, Learning Scientist at Duolingo – a globally operating eLearning platform offering a portfolio of 84 language courses for more than 30 distinct languages.
“Amazon Polly’s Arabic voice Zeina is impressive,” said Andreas Dolinsek, CTO at iTranslate, a leading translation and dictionary app that offers text (or even object) translation as well as voice-to-voice conversations in over 100 languages. Andreas noted that “we’re taking it into production immediately to replace our current solution, as it will bring vast improvements to the text-to-speech Arabic service that we are offering.”
Amazon Polly is a cloud service that uses advanced deep learning technologies to offer a range of 59 voices in 29 languages to convert written content into human-like speech. The service supports companies in developing digital products that use speech synthesis for a variety of use cases, including automated contact centers, language learning platforms, translation apps, and reading of articles.
About the Author
Marta Smolarek is a Program Manager in the Amazon Text-to-Speech team. At work she connects the dots. In her spare time, she loves to go camping with her family.