The US e-commerce
firm is beginning to ship Echo speakers
in India this week, about a year after bringing them to foreign markets like the UK and Germany. In that time, teams of linguists, speech scientists, developers, and engineers have given a decidedly local makeover to the Alexa
virtual assistant that powers the speakers. This Alexa
uses a blend of Hindi and English and speaks with an unmistakably Indian accent.
She knows Independence Day is August 15th, not July 4th, and wishes listeners “Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year!” She also refers to the living room as ‘drawing room’ and can add jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric) and atta (flour) to your shopping list. Then there are her cricket jokes. (Don’t ask.) “We wanted our devices to talk, walk and feel Indian,” said Parag Gupta, head of product management for Amazon
Devices in India. “Alexa
is not a visiting American, she has a very Indian personality.”
isn’t alone. Technology
giants from Apple
are targeting this nation of 1.3 billion people by training virtual assistants in the heterogeneity of its languages and subcultures. Though many people understand American or British English, they are more comfortable with assistants who sound more like them.
borrows parts of both languages, including the grammar. In some cases, words are fused together to mean something different. The key is for the digital assistant to understand a sentence using a mixture of both, yet grasp what they mean and their context.
Alphabet has introduced a Hinglish-speaking Google
Assistant that powers its instant messaging application Allo. Apple
began advertising last year to hire native Hindi/Indian English speakers to help evolve and enrich Siri by crafting “culturally appropriate dialog for India.” And the latest operating system pre-loaded into this year’s iPhone 8, as well as the newest iPhone X, allows Siri users to set its keyboard to Hinglish.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, told an Indian newspaper that his firm is thinking through “every single way” to make the Siri experience better for Indian consumers.