Most of the work doesn't need any programming knowledge. Just an understanding of the language, an awareness of its features, patience and attention to detail. Wikipedia is a good source of basic phonetic information, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel.

In many cases it should be fairly easy to add a rough implementation of a new language, hopefully enough to be intelligible. After that it's a gradual process of improvement.

6.1 Language Code

Generally, the language's international ISO 639-1 code is used to identify the language. It is used in the filenames which contain the language's data. In the examples below the code "fr" is used as an example. Replace this with the code of your language.

If the language does not have a 2-letter ISO_639-1 code, then use the 3-letter ISO_639-3 code. Language codes may differ from country codes.

It is possible to have different variants of a language for different dialects. For example the sound of some phonemes are changed, or some of the pronunciation rules differ.

6.2 Language Files

The following files are needed for your language.

The fr_rules and fr_list files are compiled to produce the file espeak-data/fr_dict, which eSpeak uses when it is speaking.

6.3 Voice File

Each language needs a voice file in espeak-data/voices or espeak-data/voices/test. The filename of the default voice for a language should be the same as the language code (eg. "fr" for French).

Details of the contents of voice files are given in voices.html.

The simplest voice file would contain just 2 lines to give the language name and language code, eg:

  name french
  language fr

This language code specifies which phoneme table and dictionary to use (i.e. phonemetable fr and espeak-data/fr_dict) to be used. If needed, these can be overridden by phonemes and dictionary attributes in the voice file. For example you may want to start the implementation of a new language by using the phoneme table of an existing language.

6.4 Phoneme Definition File

You must first decide on the set of phonemes (vowel and consonant sounds) for the language. These should be defined in a phoneme definition file ph_xxxx, where "ph_xxxx" is the name of your language. A reference to this file is then included at the end of the master phoneme file, phsource/phonemes, eg:

  phonemetable  fr  base
  include  ph_french

This example defines a phoneme table "fr" which inherits the contents of phoneme table "base". Its contents are found in the file ph_french.

The base phoneme table contains definitions of a basic set of consonants, and also some "control" phonemes such as stress marks and pauses. These are defined in phsource/phonemes. The phoneme table for a language will inherit these, or alternatively it may inherit the phoneme table of another language which in turn inherits the base phoneme table.

The phonemes file for the language defines those additional phonemes which are not inherited (generally the vowels and diphthongs, plus any additional consonants that are needed), or phonemes whose definitions differ from the inherited version (eg. the redefinition of a consonant).

Details of phonemes files are given in phontab.html.

The Compile phoneme data function of the espeakedit program compiles the phonemes files of all languages to produce the files espeak-data/phontab, phonindex, and phondata which are used by eSpeak.

For many languages, the consonant phonemes which are already available in eSpeak, together with the available vowel files which can be used to define vowel phonemes, will be sufficient. At least for an initial implementation.

6.5 Dictionary Files

Once the language's phonemes have been defined, then pronunciation dictionary data can be produced in order to translate the language's source text into phonemes. This consists of two source files: fr_rules (the spelling to phoneme rules) and fr_list (an exceptions list, and attributes of certain words). The corresponding compiled data file is espeak-data/fr_dict which is produced from fr_rules and fr_list sources by the command:

espeak --compile=fr.

Or by using the espeakedit program.

Details of the contents of the dictionary files are given in dictionary.html.

The fr_list file contains:

6.6 Program Code

The behaviour of the eSpeak program is controlled by various options such as:

The function SetTranslator() at the start of the source code file tr_languages.cpp recognizes the language code and sets the appropriate options. For a new language, you would add its language code and the required options in SetTranslator(). However, this may not be necessary during testing because most of the options can also be set in the voice file in espeak-data/voices (see Voice files).

6.7 Improving a Language

Listen carefully to the eSpeak voice. Try to identify what sounds wrong and what needs to be improved.

If you are interested in working on a language, please contact me so that I can set up the initial data and discuss the features of the language.

For most of the eSpeak voices, I do not speak or understand the language, and I do not know how it should sound. I can only make improvements as a result of feedback from speakers of that language. If you want to help to improve a language, listen carefully and try to identify individual errors, either in the spelling-to-phoneme translation, the position of stressed syllables within words, or the sound of phonemes, or problems with rhythm and vowel lengths.