The Speak and Spell device was an educational toy with a very interesting place in history. Developed in the late 1970s by Texas Instruments and released to the public in 1978, the device was the first commercial product to use a brand new technology and to influence the development of other speech generation devices.
Created as a learning aid for ages 7 and up by a small team of engineers lead by Paul Breedlove, its debut marked the first electronic duplication of the human vocal tract on a single chip of silicon. The device used the first single-chip voice synthesizer, TMC0280.
The device used interchangeable game cartridges, marking the first time an educational toy used speech that was not recorded on tape or phonograph record. The device contained a library of several hundred of misspelled words. Speak & Spell was not the first talking toy but it was the first device with “no moving parts” meaning that it didn’t require pre-recorded voices on phonograph or tape that were typically triggered by a pull-string mechanism. By using a solid state speech circuitry, the machine would draw a word from memory, process it through an integrated circuit model of a human vocal tract and then spoke it electronically, giving the user the possibility to type it.
Originally advertised as a tool for helping children to learn to spell and pronounce over 200 commonly misspelled words, the device will influence the development of other digital devices. The Speak & Spell device was followed by other similar devices – Speak & Read and Speak & Math (launched in 1980). Furthermore, it became extremely popular and was sold around the world with localized cartridges for different accents (British English, American English) and languages (Spanish, German, French or Japanese).