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I know that Data has some functions that are very similar to the biological processes of humans (for example, his cooling system is similar to our own cooling system I believe), but how does Data actually speak? Does he contain an advanced Text-To-Speech module (which I expect the Enterprise's computer would use) or is a much more advanced method using vocal chords and air like we humans do (something I wouldn't put past Dr Soong)?

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Why would Data use text-to-speech? No one is writing on him. –  James Sheridan Apr 8 at 8:19
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I find it difficult to believe that such a simplistic model would be used by an artificial intelligence of Data's complexity. We are already working on superior systems to TTS today. –  James Sheridan Apr 8 at 8:22
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Data's speech modulator is an incredibly advanced version of Microsoft Sam. –  Zibbobz Apr 8 at 13:37
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Also @N.Soong Are you suggestin that humans have fans inside their bodies to keep them cool? –  Zibbobz Apr 8 at 13:38
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You are asking about two entirely different and independent things here. Are you looking for information on how he decides what sounds to produce (for which text-to-speech could in theory be used if the intended text is first generated in text form, irrespective of how the sounds are actually rendered), or how he physically produces the sounds (which is what vocal chords could be used for)? –  O. R. Mapper Apr 9 at 9:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 42 down vote accepted

At first glance, Data does seem to use his mouth (i.e. lips and tongue) to speak, which suggests that he's using some kind of larynx-like expiration-based voice generation system, otherwise, his lip/tongue configuration would not modify the sound much.

However, we also know that Soong deliberately made Data superficially emulate many humanoid functions, such as blinking, breathing, hair growth, etc. to make him seem more human. So his mouth movements could simply be pantomime synchronized with a speaker-based voice box.

Some evidence that supports this include:

  • Data/B4 can speak when their heads are detached.
  • Data's voice has been demonstrated to change in very unnatural ways: he's able to mimic Picard's voice well enough to deceive the ship's computer's authentication system; when he and B4 are damaged, their voice exhibits a very digital/electronic quality, almost like a low quality recording or telephone line, or an audiostream that's being disrupted by network congestion. In Thine Own Self we also see Data open his mouth and briefly emit a reverb-style noise.
  • Lal, who presumably shares similar construction with Data, doesn't appear to rely much on her mouth to form words when she's first constructed (she has a mouth, but it's poorly defined, and her lips don't move much).

That said, all of this is very circumstantial.

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Didn't Data once emit a high-frequency electronic screeching sound? I can't remember the exact episode, or even the circumstance, but this would further support your theory. –  Iszi Apr 8 at 13:26
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@Iszi: Wasn't it the episode where he is to collect radioactive debris on a pre-warp planet and loses his memory? –  Einer Apr 8 at 14:04
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@Einer The episode to review would be Thine Own Self. The Memory Alpha article mentions some "non-vocal sounds" which Data is initially limited to upon his discovery. I'm not quite sure this is what we're looking for, and can't go watch the episode myself at the moment to check. –  Iszi Apr 8 at 15:37
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@Iszi: I think you are remembering Phantasms ( en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Phantasms_(episode)). Data emits a high-pitched screech when he tries to talk, but it was a dream. –  indiv Apr 8 at 18:17
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@indiv but maybe Data knew that as a non-human he could make such a noise, ergo it was manifest in his dream –  Nick T Apr 9 at 6:02

The (kinda canon, kinda not) supplement to the official Trek RPG game has a schematic of Cmdr Data's upper body. As you can see from the labelled diagram, his "speech unit" is independent of his artificial lungs. This explains why he's able to speak when his head is disconnected from his body.

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The fact that Picard specifically states (in Trek : Insurrection) that Data doesn't breathe, coupled with the fact that he is able to mimic a wide range of human and machine noises all leads me to the conclusion that his voice is little more than a very advanced speaker.

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Picard's statement in Insurrection is directly contradicted in the ST:TNG episode "Birthright" part 1 when a guest-starring Dr. Bashir observes that Data is breathing. –  pleurocoelus Jul 3 at 19:29
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@pleurocoelus - Actually he states that he doesn't breathe like a human, but rather to control his internal temperature; "Yes. I do have a functional respiration system. However, its purpose is to maintain the thermal control of my internal systems. I am, in fact, capable of functioning for extended periods in a vacuum." –  Richard Jul 3 at 19:36

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