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OkwuGbé: End-to-End Speech Recognition for Fon and Igbo

Language is inherent and compulsory for human communication. Whether expressed in a written or spoken way, it ensures understanding between people of the same and different regions. With the growing awareness and effort to include more low-resourced languages in NLP research, African languages have recently been a major subject of research in machine translation, and other text-based areas of NLP. However, there is still very little comparable research in speech recognition for African languages. Interestingly, some of the unique properties of African languages affecting NLP, like their diacritical and tonal complexities, have a major root in their speech, suggesting that careful speech interpretation could provide more intuition on how to deal with the linguistic complexities of African languages for text-based NLP. OkwuGbé is a step towards building speech recognition systems for African low-resourced languages. Using Fon and Igbo as our case study, we conduct a comprehensive linguistic analysis of each language and describe the creation of end-to-end, deep neural network-based speech recognition models for both languages. We present a state-of-art ASR model for Fon, as well as benchmark ASR model results for Igbo. Our linguistic analyses (for Fon and Igbo) provide valuable insights and guidance into the creation of speech recognition models for other African low-resourced languages, as well as guide future NLP research for Fon and Igbo. The Fon and Igbo models source code have been made publicly available.

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