ShortTalk: Dictation Made Rewarding

UPDATE 2014/10/4 by NK: This site is not maintained except for the following news (since 2004!).

The video is working again, now on youtube.

There you can also check out Tavis Rudd's compelling presentation based on key ideas in ShortTalk: “the main point is that it actually works!”.

So follow-up work did not have to wait centuries as feared by linguist Mark Lieberman, who in 2004 imagined “cyber-knitters, chanting some elaborated version of "knit one, purl two" as they create mythic tapestries or heal rifts in the fabric of space-time” or “...warriors of the future shouting things like "go ooft strange, clam ane, push lairk!" as they stride into battle”.

Today, despite ShortTalk being a meme of eclectic appeal, I believe the underlying idea is a valid as it was 10 years ago. If true, anybody who has limited or no use of the upper extremities could benefit with training; see Utter Command for a current commercial offering somewhat similar to ShortTalk.

EmacsListen, the prototype ShortTalk implementation, is not in working order because of API changes in NaturallySpeaking; Barry Jaspan is acknowledged for VR-mode that first linked Emacs to the innards of NaturallySpeaking. Today, people use Vocola or Dragonfly based on Natlink.

Executive Summary

ShortTalk is a new method for composing text by speech. This spoken command language is carefully designed to be rewarding to use, right from the beginning. In contrast to so-called “natural language technology” of available dictation systems, ShortTalk can be fluently interspersed with dictation. There are no cumbersome phrases like “go to the beginning of the line.” Instead, ShortTalk codifies natural and universal editing concepts that can be combined in command phrases, typically consisting of only two syllables.

For example, “ghin line”—with “ghin” as in “beGINning”—is an unambiguous spoken command for moving the cursor to the beginning of the line. It is a rewarding phrase, because it is faster to say “ghin line” than to find and press the home key on the keyboard.

With almost no application- or user-specific vocabulary, ShortTalk works for e-mails and structured text such as XML or source code. Analytical and empirical studies indicate that ShortTalk, combined with occasional pointing, may be faster than conventional editing using keyboard and mouse.

The technology holds the promise of making tablet-based computers attractive for text entry, since only few keys are needed to complement speech input that takes advantage of ShortTalk.

A one-minute video demo is available.


Dictation system, speech recognition, user interface, speech interface, spoken command language, editing by voice, stenophonic principle, entropy of command languages, tool use and language acquisition.