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October 22, 2012 12:19 PM   Subscribe

What does a "robot voice" sound like in languages other than English?

Is it similar to the iconic Siri-style voice (or the voice in Radiohead's "Fitter Happier", for the non-iphone folks)? Is it something else?

Is this even a thing in other languages? Is it considered inherently funny in other languages, as it is in English?

For that matter, what does Siri sound like in other languages? Is there an easy way to find out without completely restoring my phone?

I tried to say non-English sentences in my best robot voice, to mixed success.

Question inspired by my recent iPhone upgrade, as well as last week's episode of Parks And Recreation, which includes a scene wherein Aubrey Plaza and Adam Scott riff in funny robot voices.

I would love examples via youtube, sound clips, etc. if possible, but I'll take your word for it.
posted by Sara C. to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean a fully-synthesized robot voice, or a robot voice that is made from hacked-together samples of human voice (whether it is syllables or words or whatever)?

Anyway, to answer your question, in Russian (which has the T-V distinction,) I've always heard robot-speak in the formal V-form, so there would be something inherently funny about robot-speak in the familiar T-form.
posted by griphus at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2012

(I guess the English language equivalent would be a robot programmed to speak "casually"/use slang/etc. and the juxtaposition between the formal strictness of the voice itself and the content of the speech.)
posted by griphus at 12:30 PM on October 22, 2012

For the purposes of this question, it doesn't matter how the voice is created, technically. I'm also referring to the English (American?) joke of a human doing a robot voice impression. Is that even a thing in Russian? If I asked you to do your best robot impression in Russian, would there be a voice involved, and what would that voice sound like?
posted by Sara C. at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2012

Science Fiction is wildly popular in Russia (sort of, Russian reading culture is v. v. different from American reading culture) so, yeah, robot voice is totally a thing from what I can remember. I can't recall any films off the top of my head, unfortunately.

Anyway, outside of strictly sticking to the V-form, it would not sound terribly different from the English robot voice: stilted, lyric-less, lacking emotional inflection, pronouncing all syllables ("got to") instead of speaking naturally ("gotta"), etc.
posted by griphus at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2012

You can change Siri's language easily by going to Settings>General>Siri>Language. Keep in mind, she (or he!) will not understand you unless you speak in the language you have set it to.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:42 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Rock Steady!

I have just discovered that Siri in French is

A) Male


B) Sounds pretty much exactly as robotic as Siri does in English.

Also, I apparently have pretty good French pronunciation.
posted by Sara C. at 12:54 PM on October 22, 2012

German Siri. A real German is asking Siri questions, so you can compare the tones. I think you could probably find videos of people in other languages asking Siri dumb questions too, because the answers are so funny, if you wanted to hear Siri in languages you don't speak.

Also, as another example of a robot in another language, I present: C3PO, the robot from Star Wars, in German on The Muppet Show. C3P0 starts talking at 0:28.
posted by colfax at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2012

I was playing with my Google Translate app the other day, and some of those voices sound very robotic--Polish in particular.
posted by epj at 1:23 PM on October 22, 2012

The most famous Japanese "robot voice" is Vocaloid, AKA Hatsune Miku. It/She generally isn't used to create spoken phrases; it/she was specifically designed to be used to create music.

Synthesized singing voices in Japanese are notably easier to synthesize than for other languages, because the convention is that the singer spells out the words i.e. reads off the text as if it was written completely in hiragana, one mora per note. Which isn't quite as strange as it sounds, because most of the mora represent syllables. But it does mean, for example, that the -mashita ending, which is pronounced mahsh-ta, would be sung as mah-shee-ta. (And there are conventions for representing glottal stops in music.)

Here's an example. Here's the same song performed before a live audience.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:02 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just last week I set my Samsung Galaxy 2 to read out my text messages in Robot Voice in Korean. It sounds awesome is how it sounds. I'm not sure if my colleagues were as enamoured but fuck those guys.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 2:41 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

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