Speech segmentation and speaker diarisation for transcription and translation

Mark Sinclair

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This dissertation outlines work related to Speech Segmentation – segmenting an audio recording into regions of speech and non-speech, and Speaker Diarization – further segmenting those regions into those pertaining to homogeneous speakers. Knowing not only what was said but also who said it and when, has many useful applications. As well as providing a richer level of transcription for speech, we will show how such knowledge can improve Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system performance and can also benefit downstream Natural Language Processing (NLP) tasks such as machine translation and punctuation restoration. While segmentation and diarization may appear to be relatively simple tasks to describe, in practise we find that they are very challenging and are, in general, ill-defined problems. Therefore, we first provide a formalisation of each of the problems as the sub-division of speech within acoustic space and time. Here, we see that the task can become very difficult when we want to partition this domain into our target classes of speakers, whilst avoiding other classes that reside in the same space, such as phonemes. We present a theoretical framework for describing and discussing the tasks as well as introducing existing state-of-the-art methods and research. Current Speaker Diarization systems are notoriously sensitive to hyper-parameters and lack robustness across datasets. Therefore, we present a method which uses a series of oracle experiments to expose the limitations of current systems and to which system components these limitations can be attributed. We also demonstrate how Diarization Error Rate (DER), the dominant error metric in the literature, is not a comprehensive or reliable indicator of overall performance or of error propagation to subsequent downstream tasks. These results inform our subsequent research. We find that, as a precursor to Speaker Diarization, the task of Speech Segmentation is a crucial first step in the system chain. Current methods typically do not account for the inherent structure of spoken discourse. As such, we explored a novel method which exploits an utterance-duration prior in order to better model the segment distribution of speech. We show how this method improves not only segmentation, but also the performance of subsequent speech recognition, machine translation and speaker diarization systems. Typical ASR transcriptions do not include punctuation and the task of enriching transcriptions with this information is known as ‘punctuation restoration’. The benefit is not only improved readability but also better compatibility with NLP systems that expect sentence-like units such as in conventional machine translation. We show how segmentation and diarization are related tasks that are able to contribute acoustic information that complements existing linguistically-based punctuation approaches. There is a growing demand for speech technology applications in the broadcast media domain. This domain presents many new challenges including diverse noise and recording conditions. We show that the capacity of existing GMM-HMM based speech segmentation systems is limited for such scenarios and present a Deep Neural Network (DNN) based method which offers a more robust speech segmentation method resulting in improved speech recognition performance for a television broadcast dataset. Ultimately, we are able to show that the speech segmentation is an inherently ill-defined problem for which the solution is highly dependent on the downstream task that it is intended for.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • King, Simon, Supervisor
  • Renals, Stephen, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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