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Readers of a certain age will recall the Speak & Spell, a Texas Instruments toy that would impress no child of today, but has earned its rightful place in history as the first consumer product to use digital signal processing (DSP) technology, or the transformation of analog information into digital.

Speak & Spell hits the market

First introduced at the June 1978 Summer Consumer Electronics Show, the Speak & Spell used a groundbreaking form of synthetic speech to help children learn how to pronounce and spell words. The toy was originally dubbed “The Spelling Bee” and originated from Texas Instruments’ desire to reduce the amount of memory required by a speech-synthesizing device.

Retailing for $50 (approximately $206 in today’s dollars), the toy relied on solid-state speech circuitry, not a tape recorder, along with a TMS5100 chip, and had no moving parts. A word was drawn from the Speak & Spell’s memory, then processed through an integrated circuit and “spoken” through the toy’s speaker.

The device required four C batteries and included a headphone jack and AC adapter. With its ability to store more than 100 seconds of speech, the toy offered spelling drills, a Hangman-style game, and a word scrambling game. As seen in this video on The 8-Bit Guy YouTube channel, the keyboard was in alphabetical, not QWERTY, order.

The success of the Speak & Spell prompted two spinoffs—Speak & Math and Speak & Read.

Photo: Image used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license.

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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