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Marquette Research IN BRIEF SPEAK FOR YOURSELF Speech language pathologists often give clients with severe speech disorders alternative communication tools — in other words, machines that do the talking for them. But Dr. Jeff Berry, a Marquette assistant professor of speech pathology and audiology, thinks we can do better. He wants to help survivors of traumatic brain injuries regain their own voice. “A lot of this arose from working with people who have severe motor speech disorders who were just dissatisfied with the idea of using, for example, a speech-generating device for the rest of their lives,” says Berry, who directs Marquette’s Speech and Swallowing Lab in the College of Health Sciences. Berry thinks the path to better rehabilitation could start with a portable electromagnetic tracking system called the Wave. Last year, he published the first accuracy study with the Wave in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research and, with help from Marquette engineering students, designed software that makes the commercial device even more useful. “It’s the only software in the world that I’m “By changing how the acoustics are occurring in real time, we can trick you into modifying how you’re articulating.” aware of that takes movements of the tongue, lips and jaw and converts them into real-time speech,” he explains. “We can take somebody who is unable to consistently and reliably produce voicing on their own but can move their mouth and, essentially, when they move their mouth, the system will provide the voice.” Most speech synthesis devices are text-to-speech systems in which the user types what he or she wants to say. But Berry’s innovation is more than just another way to create a robotic voice that speaks for you. “We want to be able to understand and trigger in people with motor disabilities some of the preserved reflexive abilities of the motor system in order to use that reflexive response to modify their speech,” he says. “By changing how the acoustics are occurring in real time, we can trick you into modifying how you’re articulating.” That could mean tricking people into pronouncing a vowel a different way or, in the case of people with severe motor speech disorders, adjusting tongue height to achieve the correct sound. Berry’s speech synthesis software is critical because, until now, researchers could only manipulate acoustics for healthy speakers who could produce a high-quality acoustic signal. Now involuntary adaptations can be studied in survivors of traumatic brain injuries. But first, Berry, who has funding from the American Speech and Hearing Foundation, is refining the technology. After developing a baseline using healthy young adults, he expanded the study to survivors of traumatic brain injury and stroke and presented the results at the Conference of Motor Speech in February. “It’s a technically challenging line of research and a conceptually challenging line of research,” he says, “but we’re making good progress.” — NSE 18 Discover