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Voice Search: Ask your Phone a Question

Google mobile Voice Search launches in English, Zulu and Afrikaans

JOHANNESBURG, 5th November 2010 – As more and more diverse content comes online, the need for tools that allow people to transcend language barriers also increases. This is why Google is pleased to announce that from today, its mobile Voice Search feature will be available in English, Zulu and Afrikaans. Voice Search allows users to search the web by simply speaking their queries into their phones, offering an alternative, and often easier, way to find information, such as the details of a business or entertainment location. The feature will be be available on Android and iPhone devices, including on LG’s latest handset, the Optimus One, which will launch in South Africa next week.

“Voice Search uses Google’s speech recognition technology to run a search on Google, just as if the query had been typed by hand,” says Julie Taylor, Google Communications Manager for Sub Saharan Africa. “Voice has always been the most natural way to interact with a phone, since speaking is typically faster than typing. We’re delighted to be launching in three South African languages.”

“We follow a rigorous process to add each new language or dialect,” explains Johan Schalkwyk, Senior Staff Engineer at Google in New York. “We work directly with native language speakers in each country, to develop the specific models which power the service. Here in South Africa, our helpers were asked to read popular queries in English, Zulu and Afrikaans in a variety of acoustic conditions, such as in restaurants, out on busy streets, and inside cars. For each language, we construct a vocabulary of over one million recognisable words. Google now offers Voice Search in 16 languages worldwide.”

“One of the challenges that we faced was the paucity of content on the web in Zulu, in comparison to other languages that we have developed,” adds Schalkwyk. “As a result, Voice Search in Zulu is a work in progress. Improvement will come from content creation efforts in Zulu and from Zulu speakers using Voice Search.”

The Meraka Institute, an operating unit of South Africa’s CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and the North West University: Vaal Triangle Campus (NWU: VTC), assisted Google with research during this initiative. Etienne Barnard, Research Professor at NWU: VTC and a Chief Researcher at Meraka says, “Google and the Meraka/NWU: VTC speech teams have collaborated on a number of projects, including Google Voice Search. Google has also supported NWU: VTC with two research awards and several more joint research activities are in the pipeline.”

Google will be demonstrating Voice Search at its G-South Africa event in Cape Town on Monday 8th, where over seven hundred tech savvy entrepreneurs and developers will gather to discuss the future of web application development, and receive training on Google’s products and online business skills. G-South Africa is the latest in a series of interactive forums and tech days that Google has been holding across Africa this year, to promote innovation and business on the continent.