Thesis Details

Discovering Acoustic Units from Speech: a Bayesian Approach

Ph.D. Thesis Student: Ondel Lucas Antoine Francois Academic Year: 2020/2021 Supervisor: Burget Lukáš, doc. Ing., Ph.D.
Czech title
Bayesovský přístup k určování akustických jednotek v řeči

From an early age, infants show an innate ability to infer linguistic structures from the speech signal long before they learn to read and write. In contrast, modern speech recognition systems require large collections of transcribed data to achieve a low error rate.The relatively recent field of Unsupervised Speech Learning has been dedicated to endow machines with a similar ability. As a part of this ongoing effort, this thesis focuses on the problem of discovering a set of acoustic units from a language given untranscribed audio recordings. Particularly, we explore the potential of Bayesian inference to address this problem.First, we revisit the state-of-the-art non-parametric Bayesian model for the task of acoustic unit discovery and derive a fast and efficient Variational Bayes inference algorithm. Our approach relies on the stick-breaking construction of the Dirichlet Process which allows expressing the model as a Hidden Markov Model-based phone-loop. With this model and a suitable mean-field approximation of the variational posterior, the inference is made with an efficient iterative algorithm similar to the Expectation-Maximization scheme. Experiments show that this approach performs a better clustering than the original model while being orders of magnitude faster.Secondly, we address the problem of defining a meaningful a priori distribution over the potential acoustic units. To do so, we introduce the Generalized Subspace Model, a theoretical framework that allows defining distributions over low-dimensional manifolds in high-dimensional parameter space. Using this tool, we learn a phonetic subspace - a continuum of phone embeddings-from several languages with transcribed recordings.Then, this phonetic subspace is used to constrain our system to discover acoustic units that are similar to phones from other languages. Experimental results show that this approach significantly improves the clustering quality as well as the segmentation accuracy of the acoustic unit discovery system.Finally, we enhance our acoustic units discovery model by using a Hierarchical Dirichlet Process prior instead of the simple Dirichlet Process. By doing so, we introduce a Bayesian bigram phonotactic language model to the acoustic unit discovery system. This approach captures more accurately the phonetic structure of the target language and consequently helps the clustering of the speech signal. Also, to fully exploit the benefits of the phonotactic language model, we derive a modified Variational Bayes algorithm that can balance thepreponderance of the role of the acoustic and language model during inference.


Unsupervised Speech Learning, Acoustic Unit Discovery, Bayesian inference, Generalized Subspace Model.

Degree Programme
Computer Science and Engineering, Field of Study Computer Science and Engineering
8 March 2021
ONDEL, Lucas. Discovering Acoustic Units from Speech: a Bayesian Approach. Brno, 2020. Ph.D. Thesis. Brno University of Technology, Faculty of Information Technology. 2021-03-08. Supervised by Burget Lukáš. Available from:
    author = "Antoine Francois Lucas Ondel",
    type = "Ph.D. thesis",
    title = "Discovering Acoustic Units from Speech: a Bayesian Approach",
    school = "Brno University of Technology, Faculty of Information Technology",
    year = 2021,
    location = "Brno, CZ",
    language = "english",
    url = ""
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