Szarkowska, Agnieszka, Anna Jankowska, “Text-to-speech audio description of voiced-over films. A case study of audio described Volver in Polish.” In: Elisa Perego (ed.) Emerging topics in translation: Audio description, EDIZIONI UNIVERSITÀ

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Szarkowska, Agnieszka, Anna Jankowska, “Text-to-speech audio description of voiced-over films. A case study of audio described Volver in Polish.” In: Elisa Perego (ed.) Emerging topics in translation: Audio description, EDIZIONI UNIVERSITÀ DI

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  81 text-to-speech audio description of voiced-over films Abstract Given that the production (esp. recording) of AD is quite costly, there are not very many audio described films available on the Polish market. Moreover, there is practically no audio description to foreign films in Poland since it has been assumed that blind and partially sighted audiences will not manage to assimilate multiple soundtracks (srcinal soundtrack in foreign language, voiceover and audio description). In order to overcome the cost hurdle, we propose text-to-speech audio description (TTS AD) as a cheaper alternative to traditionally produced AD. We will demonstrate how TTS AD can be combined with voice-over to produce AD to foreign films on the example of  Volver  by Pedro Almodovar. We will also present the results of a survey conducted among a group of blind and partially sighted audience after a screening of voiced-over  Volver  with TTS AD. The results of the survey demonstrate that the participants are quite open to the idea of TTS AD both as an interim solution – until there are more audio described films available – and as a permanent solution.    Text-to-speech audio description of voiced-over films. A case study of audio described Volver   in Polish  Agnieszka Szarkowska University of Warsaw, Poland  Anna Jankowska Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland  82 Introduction Back in the 1990s, the map of audiovisual Europe was divided into dubbing, subtitling and voice-over countries (Gottlieb 1998). With subtitles in the cinemas and television voice-over for both fiction and non-fiction audiovisual productions, Poland seems to be an exception in Europe’s audiovisual landscape.  Television voice-over is at the same time an advantage and a disadvantage for the blind and partially sighted audience. On the one hand, unlike subtitles, voice-over provides them with the translation of the foreign dialogue. Unfortunately, at the same time it has been assumed that due to multiple soundtracks (the srcinal soundtrack in a foreign language, the voice-over and the audio description), it is pointless – if not impossible – to combine voiced-over foreign films with audio description (AD). Therefore, there is practically no audio description to foreign films in Poland. This stands in stark contrast with the number of foreign language films screened in cinemas, broadcast on TV or released on DVD/Blue-ray. Last but not least, as declared on many occasions, blind and partially sighted people, just like a sighted audience, want to watch foreign films.In order to audio describe a foreign film, one needs to combine the AD script with either audio subtitling or voice-over. Since an overwhelming majority of films in Poland are voiced-over, in our paper we will present how this AVT modality can be combined with audio description. Given that the production (esp. recording) of AD is quite costly, there are not very many audio described films available on the Polish market. In order to overcome the cost hurdle, we propose text-to-speech audio description (TTS AD) as a cheaper alternative to traditionally produced AD. We will demonstrate how TTS AD can be combined with voice-over to produce AD for foreign films on the example of Volver by Pedro  Almodóvar. Finally, we will also present the results of a survey conducted among a group of blind and partially sighted audience after a screening of voiced-over Volver with TTS AD. Polish audiovisual landscape Until recently, Europe has traditionally been divided into dubbing, subtitling and voice-over countries (Gottlieb 1998). However, the recent findings of the Media Consulting Group (2007) show that this classical division is a simplification of a far more complex situation. We no longer can, if we ever could, talk about strictly dubbing, subtitling or voice-over countries since most of them employ all three methods in various contexts. With dubbing, subtitling and voice-over existing side by side, Poland seems to be an excellent example of this complexity. The most popular AVT modality in Polish cinemas is subtitling. For young audience, however, dubbing is preferred. Nevertheless, movies considered to be suitable for audiences of any age (e.g.  83 text-to-speech audio description of voiced-over films  Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, Shrek) are often made available both dubbed and subtitled. Voice-over is without any doubt the predominant modality in television broadcasts. It is used for both fiction and non-fiction audiovisual products, the only exception being animated and non-animated productions for children and some animated movies for the general audience (e.g. Shrek ). The choice, however, is not always obvious – the BBC television series The Chronicles of Narnia was broadcast with voice-over, whereas the motion picture The Chronicles of Narnia by Walt Disney Pictures was dubbed. DVDs and Blu-ray usually contain both voice-over and subtitles, or dubbing and subtitles.Such an audiovisual landscape influences many areas – one of them is accessibility for the blind and partially sighted. While cinema with subtitles is virtually inaccessible to audiences with visual impairments, one could argue that television voice-over has the advantage of at least providing them with the translation of the foreign dialogue. In the long run, however, this seems to be a drawback rather than an advantage for the blind and partially sighted. Currently there is no audio description on Polish television mostly because the digital turn is yet to come. 2  Unfortunately, the chances of making television fully accessible for the visually impaired are scarce since it has been assumed that it is impossible to provide audio description for voiced-over programs. In a country with a high import of foreign television programmes, where most – if not all – of them are voiced-over, this virtually means that television will not be accessible, or it will be accessible in a very limited way, via audio described programs produced in Polish.   Audio description in Poland – development and challenges  Though to many it may come as a surprise, audio description was launched in Poland already in the late 1990s. As described by Jankowska (2008: 242), the project was initiated by Andrzej Woch, a blind employee of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and funded by the Central Library of the Polish Association of the Blind ( Polski Zwi ą  zek Niewidomych , PZN). The so-called typhlo-films  involved providing additional commentary for twenty films on VHS tapes, making them available to the blind and partially sighted in the Central Library. As opposed to today’s audio description, freezing the image whenever the additional commentary did not fit in the gap between the dialogues was a common practice in typhlo-films. It is highly probable that due to this feature the idea of describing films for the blind and partially sighted did not manage to force its way to broad social consciousness until some years later. Nevertheless, it should be noted that within the typhlo-film   project additional commentary for the blind was provided also for foreign voiced-over films. This, until recently, was the only attempt at combining audio description with voiced-over films. The first public audio described cinema screening, which took place on 27 November 2006 in Bia ł  ystok, can be regarded either as a revival or as the true  84 beginning of audio description in Poland. The audio description for this first screening was read live by an audio describer who was sitting with the audience and reading the script with a microphone in his hand, so that AD could be heard by all the spectators. Ever since, the only more or less regular screenings of audio described films take place in Warsaw as a part of the project Cinema beyond silence and darkness  carried out by the Foundation for Children Help on Time  ( Fundacja Dzieciom Zd ąż  y ć  z Pomoc ą  ). 1  Irregular screenings take place in other larger cities, but they are rather one-off events very often organized by enthusiasts and unfortunately almost as often by amateurs.Until very recently audio described programs have been available only online. Polish public television (TVP) audio described some of its programs (about 74 hours) and made them available online on its website. The audio described programs include two feature films, five TV series and one series for children. In order to access audio described films, one needs to receive a special password which can be obtained from the Polish Association of the Blind – free of charge for its members or for a fee for non-members. As to DVDs, at the moment of writing this article there are only 12 discs with AD available on the Polish market. This situation will hopefully improve since on 1 July 2011 a new law obliging all broadcasters to provide AD and SDH came to life. Unfortunately at this point it is really hard to predict when and if the broadcasters will provide accessibility services. The law stipulates that 5% of quarterly broadcast (commercials and tv-shopping excluded) in 2011 and starting from 2012 about 10% of quarterly broadcast (10% relates to AD, SDH and sign language interpreting taken together) 3 . .  It also allows the broadcasters to apply to the National Broadcasting Council for individual permission to lower the percentage of accessibility services. In the case of not providing the services, the law provides for a fine up to 10% of yearly income. From what can be observed now, broadcasters are becoming interested in providing accessibility services. Although because of financial reasons they are more willing to provide SDH than AD due to their programmes. At the time of writing this article, the only broadcaster to provide  AD was TVP – however it should be mentioned that they screened one of the series that has been made available on-line since at least 2008.It should be stressed that – apart from typhlo-films   –   all the above mentioned films and TV series were either srcinally filmed in Polish or were dubbed into Polish. As we have already explained, it has been assumed that due to multiple soundtracks (the srcinal soundtrack in a foreign language, the voice-over/audio subtitling and the audio description), audio description cannot be combined with foreign films screened with voice-over or audio subtitles. As a result, for the time being there are no audio described foreign language films, which is espe-cially striking when compared with the amount of foreign language productions present on TV or released on DVD/Blu-ray. Above all, it also collides with the pref-erences and capabilities of the blind and partially sighted people who, as declared on many occasions, want to watch foreign films just like the sighted audience.  85 text-to-speech audio description of voiced-over films  This is also confirmed by our findings from a pilot study conducted prior to launching the TTS AD project. In February 2010 we asked a group of 17 pupils, aged 12 to 18, from the Special Educational Centre for Blind and Partially Sighted Children in Krakow, about their television viewing preferences as well as about their opinion on combining audio description with voiced-over/audio subtitled foreign programs. When asked about the audio described films and series they would like to watch, 53% preferred foreign productions, 29% opted for Polish and 18% did not prefer either one of the options. The views on combining audio description with voice-over or audio subtitling were especially interesting, as 87% of the interviewed pupils declared that multiple soundtracks would not be an obstacle to film enjoyment.Unfortunately, reluctance towards providing audio description to foreign films is not the only challenge that needs to be faced in Poland. After the initial en-thusiasm, the lack of financing inhibits the implementation of audio description. Previous studies on the use of synthetic speech by the visually impaired  The invention of synthetic speech has been an important milestone in the everyday lives of many visually impaired people, who can now benefit from a host of text-to-speech (TTS) applications both in their work and for leisure activities. There are numerous applications harnessing the power of text-to-speech systems for people with visual impairments: from GPS-based mobility aids, screen reading software for web browsing, email, etc., educational tools, such as TTS dictionaries and textbooks, to entertainment, for instance audio subtitles in audiovisual materials (see Freitas and Kouroupetroglou 2008 in Cryer and Home 2008: 5).Synthetic speech enables visually impaired people to access information without relying on other people reading it to them or waiting for it to be brailled (Garcia 2004; Llisterri, Fernàndez, Gudayol, Poyatos and Martí 1993), thus allowing for more independence. This is particularly important in the context of receiving financial information (Thompson, Reeves and Masters 1999).It is thanks to a relatively low cost of synthetic speech that the number of materials made accessible to the blind and partially sighted people is on the rise. A good example is the RNIB service known as Talking Books. 4  RNIB research on user attitudes towards synthetic speech in Talking Books  reveals that while most users prefer a human narrator for leisure reading, they felt synthetic voice “would be acceptable for reference, instructional and non-fiction books” (Cryer and Home 2009: 5). It has also been found that the attitude towards synthetic speech varied greatly and largely depending on previous experience with  TTS applications. Many users stressed that – as opposed to a human narrator – synthetic speech allows them to choose their own accent-free voices with
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