The Basic Properties of Speech

Speech is produced when air is forced from the lungs through the vocal cords and along the vocal tract. The vocal tract extends from the opening in the vocal cords (called the glottis) to the mouth, and in an average man is about 17 cm long. It introduces short-term correlations (of the order of 1 ms) into the speech signal, and can be thought of as a filter with broad resonances called formants. The frequencies of these formants are controlled by varying the shape of the tract, for example by moving the position of the tounge. An important part of many speech codecs is the modelling of the vocal tract as a short term filter. As the shape of the vocal tract varies relatively slowly, the transfer function of its modelling filter needs to be updated only relatively infrequently (typically every 20 ms or so).

The vocal tract filter is excited by air forced into it through the vocal cords. Speech sounds can be broken into three classes depending on their mode of excitation.

Some sounds cannot be considered to fall into any one of the three classes above, but are a mixture. For example voiced fricatives result when both vocal cord vibration and a constriction in the vocal tract are present.

Although there are many possible speech sounds which can be produced, the shape of the vocal tract and its mode of excitation change relatively slowly, and so speech can be considered to be quasi-stationary over short periods of time (of the order of 20 ms). We can see from Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4 that speech signals show a high degree of predictability, due sometimes to the quasi-periodic vibrations of the vocal cords and also due to the resonances of the vocal tract. Speech coders attempt to exploit this predictability in order to reduce the data rate necessary for good quality voice transmission.

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