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Read Out Loud, read out wrong

I’ve been sent the galleys of Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (the text formatted as it will appear in the final book) for my perusal, and I’ve been going over them. They were sent to me as a PDF file, and I’ve been checking the text against the last revised and copyedited draft of the manuscript, looking at them in side-by-side windows on my monitor to compare them line by line. And in looking over my Adobe Reader’s menu options, I discovered that it comes with a function called “Read Out Loud,” which will recite a highlighted paragraph or selected page in a synthesized voice. I thought I’d give it a try — maybe listening to the PDF while reading along in the manuscript would be an easier way to compare than darting my gaze back and forth between them every few words. It’s not a perfect system, since I still need to keep an eye on punctuation here and there (though it’s pretty consistent at rendering periods and commas with intonation and pause duration). I think it’s slower going than my own reading would be, even with reading two texts at once; it’s not really worth doing with short paragraphs.

But it’s been worth it just for the entertainment value. The synthesized voice it uses is like a cross between Ben Stein and Eeyore — this slow, deep voice that usually just drones but sometimes puts a really hilarious, depressed-sounding intonation on the end of a line, kind of like Tim Conway’s old-man character from The Carol Burnett Show. Which can be a lot of fun when it’s reading a line like “I can’t maintain more than warp three-point-two” (or as it reads it, “warp three-point-twoooo,” descending a perfect fifth on the final syllable).  It also does weird things with pronunciation — it renders “navigational” as “nah-vih-gah-tee-on-al” despite having no problems with other “-tion” words, and “redesignated” with a short a. Surprisingly, an ordinary word like “important” comes out as “imper-tahnt.” It thinks T’Pol is named Paul (well, no, there’s a barely audible T sound at the start), except “T’Pol’s” becomes “tee-single-quote-paul-single-quote-ess.” Hoshi Sato is “hawshee suhtoe.” And “NX-class” becomes “N-X-C-L-A-S-S.” On the other hand, it’s done surprisingly well with the alien and technical words I’ve tossed at it so far. In particular, there’s an alien outpost that I named Qhembembem (because I was in a silly mood), and it handled it fairly nicely, having no problem with the “Qh,” though it gave it the interesting pronunciation of “Kem-bem-eem.”

Still, I’m not sure I’ll keep using it. It could wear out its welcome after a while, and I’m concerned its quirks may be more a distraction than an aid. Maybe I’ll use it intermittently depending on the scene and my mood. But it’s helped add some fun to the tedious proofreading process.

UPDATE: One particularly weird glitch of this voice-synth program — it pronounces the word “point,” and only that word, as though it were French. “Phlox pointed out” becomes “Phlox pwaahn-ed out.”

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