‘Gie it laldy’ – how Alexa is learning Scottish slang

The Scottish accent, or more particularly the difficulty everybody else has in deciphering its earthier examples, is one of the well-worn tropes of British comedy.

Amazon's Alexa has worked with TV wordsmith Susie Dent to add hundreds of alternative British words and regional phrases, including Scots slang words
Amazon's Alexa has worked with TV wordsmith Susie Dent to add hundreds of alternative British words and regional phrases, including Scots slang words

And award-winning BBC sketch show Burnistoun sparked knowing laughter with their memorable modern take on it when they introduced two Scottish office workers to a lift operated by voice recognition, and followed their exasperated attempts to get to the 11th floor.

But now experts at Amazon are hoping to end such similar headaches – by teaching their famous home assistant Alexa how to read regional accents.

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Amazon’s Alexa is teaming up with language expert and Countdown broadcaster Susie Dent to add hundreds of alternative British regional words and phrases to Alexa’s vocabulary. Edinburgh residents have been asked to speak to Alexa in their natural dialect as much as possible.

As through her learning technology, she will pick up understandings of certain words and phrases the more often they are used.

The tech firm has worked with the Countdown star to expand Alexa’s vocabulary, introducing the virtual assistant to hundreds of new regional words.

As a result, Amazon says the AI helper is now able to understand a range of regional ways of saying hello, as well as different regional names for dinner, a bread roll, sandwiches, mum and dad, woodlice and children, among others.

“Nowhere is the diversity of English vocabulary more apparent than in Britain,” Dent said. “Our local languages are constantly evolving and changing.”

Amazon’s Alexa had asked 2,000 Brits about regional dialects and found a third of people admitted to changing the way they speak to be understood by the device. “It is virtually impossible for people to learn every single phrase and utterance, but with technology getting smarter all the time, perhaps one day assistants like Alexa will understand everything from ‘dabberlick’ (tall and skinny) to ‘crumpsy’ (grumpy),” Dent said.

As part of the ongoing development of Alexa, Amazon uses language experts at its Cambridge Development Centre to train the assistant on the variations of British speech, including the rolling “R” in Scottish accents to the use of long vowels in the south of England. Alexa UK country manager Dennis Stansbury said continually improving the software’s understanding of language was vital for making the user experience the same for everyone.

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