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The many accents of my laptop by N. God Savage.

August 10, 2011 \pm\31 1:29 pm

Being prone to typos and suffering from eye strain, I have recently taken to having my laptop speak my writing to me. The standard “robot” voice quickly became annoying, so I decided to upgrade to more realistic voices, and discovered that they come in a range of interesting accents. Here are my thoughts on some of them.

French, female.

I had to uninstall this voice after I felt like I was falling in love with my laptop. I would sit up late, when my wife was asleep, and stroke the keyboard whilst listening to the laptop recite bad love poetry which I had discovered on the blogs of Venezuelan teenagers. The accent was soft and lilting, and almost had a lisp. It was also prone to unpredictable variations in pitch and pronunciation, which were always surprising and endearing and made me feel things for my laptop that no human should feel for any inanimate object. I would get the laptop to repeat the phrase “do you know that I am watching you through the curtains?” except I had to spell it, “do yoo no that I am watching yoo throo the kurtins?” to get the laptop to say it correctly. After being discovered in a compromising position with the laptop, and after several months of aggressive marriage counseling, my wife and I agreed that it would be best for everyone involved if I uninstalled this voice.

English, female.

This accent made me feel like I was listening to an overweight woman suffering from sleep deprivation attempting to lecture their son or daughter over a mobile telephone re their lack of extra-curricular activities while absently chewing a large mouthful of chocolate cake in a deserted cafe in a run-down seaside resort in the off-season. I did not enjoy this accent.

German, male.

Clearly the non-English-speaking voices are not designed to read things in English. This is patently so in the case of the German accent, which inserts all sorts of unexpected pauses and often makes two or three syllables where there should only be one. As a result, this accent left me very disturbed, because everything my laptop said came out sounding like the final gurglings of an overdose victim. I began to imagine that this was the voice of a foreign exchange student from Leipzig who had been placed in my care and had subsequently ingested many, many drugs, and was now dying in my arms in an alleyway behind an IRA bar in west Belfast. I would make the laptop say the phrase, “Please help me. I only wanted to learn about your culture,” and would feel myself welling up slightly as it spoke the words.

Austrian, male.

This accent is basically the same as the one above and so I therefore wasted 30 British pounds in buying it.

Scottish, female.

This is probably the accent I use most often. It is easy to listen to, and sounds like the voice of a woman I would feel comfortable spending time with without the danger of descending into some sort of depraved human-computer relationship that exists in the case of the female French accent. The female Scottish accent is very reassuring and does not make me feel like I am being judged or condescended to. I think I would characterize this accent as an understanding older sister who was perhaps “off the rails” in her teenage years but is now a happy and calm single mother, yet remains sensitive to the existential plight of the modern teenager.

American, male.

I feel like this accent is the way we will all speak in 500 years when all cultures have merged into one bland global identity, and we all wear bright red uniforms and work in fast food restaurants and can only choose from a list of seven pre-approved hairstyles. The accent is very nondescript and clear, and has a breezy tone like you would expect from an overly well-adjusted bank employee, or a young, go-getting board member of a Fortune 500 company who has recently spent a very relaxing fortnight in Dubai. I hate this accent. It makes me want to rip my ears off and stuff them in the speakers.

Conclusion

Giving your laptop a voice with an interesting accent is a bit like giving it a personality. It is very important to select an accent that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, because you do not want to feel like you are being judged by your laptop. However, care should be taken that you do not select an accent that is too comforting, because then there is the danger that you might begin to have a human-human style relationship with the laptop, and any such relationship is ultimately going to leave you disappointed and needy and alone.


N. God Savage lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he is currently studying for a PhD in philosophy. He can be found online at ngodsavage.com.

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