Acoustic characterization of speech rhythm: going beyond metrics with recurrent neural networks

François Deloche, Laurent Bonnasse-Gahot, Judit Gervain
Electrical Engineering and Systems Science, Audio and Speech Processing, Audio and Speech Processing (eess.AS), Machine Learning (cs.LG), Sound (cs.SD)
2024-01-22 00:00:00
Languages have long been described according to their perceived rhythmic attributes. The associated typologies are of interest in psycholinguistics as they partly predict newborns' abilities to discriminate between languages and provide insights into how adult listeners process non-native languages. Despite the relative success of rhythm metrics in supporting the existence of linguistic rhythmic classes, quantitative studies have yet to capture the full complexity of temporal regularities associated with speech rhythm. We argue that deep learning offers a powerful pattern-recognition approach to advance the characterization of the acoustic bases of speech rhythm. To explore this hypothesis, we trained a medium-sized recurrent neural network on a language identification task over a large database of speech recordings in 21 languages. The network had access to the amplitude envelopes and a variable identifying the voiced segments, assuming that this signal would poorly convey phonetic information but preserve prosodic features. The network was able to identify the language of 10-second recordings in 40% of the cases, and the language was in the top-3 guesses in two-thirds of the cases. Visualization methods show that representations built from the network activations are consistent with speech rhythm typologies, although the resulting maps are more complex than two separated clusters between stress and syllable-timed languages. We further analyzed the model by identifying correlations between network activations and known speech rhythm metrics. The findings illustrate the potential of deep learning tools to advance our understanding of speech rhythm through the identification and exploration of linguistically relevant acoustic feature spaces.
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