Advances in subword-based HMM-DNN speech recognition across languages

Peter Smit*, Sami Virpioja, Mikko Kurimo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
93 Downloads (Pure)


We describe a novel way to implement subword language models in speech recognition systems based on weighted finite state transducers, hidden Markov models, and deep neural networks. The acoustic models are built on graphemes in a way that no pronunciation dictionaries are needed, and they can be used together with any type of subword language model, including character models. The advantages of short subword units are good lexical coverage, reduced data sparsity, and avoiding vocabulary mismatches in adaptation. Moreover, constructing neural network language models (NNLMs) is more practical, because the input and output layers are small. We also propose methods for combining the benefits of different types of language model units by reconstructing and combining the recognition lattices. We present an extensive evaluation of various subword units on speech datasets of four languages: Finnish, Swedish, Arabic, and English. The results show that the benefits of short subwords are even more consistent with NNLMs than with traditional n-gram language models. Combination across different acoustic models and language models with various units improve the results further. For all the four datasets we obtain the best results published so far. Our approach performs well even for English, where the phoneme-based acoustic models and word-based language models typically dominate: The phoneme-based baseline performance can be reached and improved by 4% using graphemes only when several grapheme-based models are combined. Furthermore, combining both grapheme and phoneme models yields the state-of-the-art error rate of 15.9% for the MGB 2018 dev17b test. For all four languages we also show that the language models perform reasonably well when only limited training data is available.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101158
Number of pages18
JournalComputer Speech and Language
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Character units
  • Large vocabulary speech recognition
  • Recurrent neural network language models
  • Subword units


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