Uniform Basic Function Commands

By Dr. James A. Larson

Wanting to remind John Smith about a last minute meeting, I place a cell phone call to him by saying, “Call five-zero-five-one-two-one-two.” After speaking with John, I end my call by saying, “Goodbye.” Then, I hand my cell phone to an Italian colleague. Wanting to reach another colleague who may join the meeting, Giorgio instructs the phone to “Chiama cinque-zero-cinque-tre-due-sette-due.” When finished talking with his colleague, Giorgio says, “Fine,” and hands the phone back to me. We go to our meeting.

Information processing and the Internet are merging with the telecommunications industry to develop mobile devices using interactive services with global access. Speech recognition offers the most natural way for consumers to use new communication devices and services. Simplification of current systems is necessary for universal use and navigation through the constantly changing world of devices and services.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute Technical Committee Human Factors (ETSI-HF) has created a standard basic set of spoken commands that will work across communication devices and services in five European languages—English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. This project was sponsored by the European Commission’s initiative eEurope, a program for the development of new, user-friendly technologies. This standard was approved by the ETSI membership in September 2002.

So, what’s the big deal? This standard makes life easier for both consumers and vendors.

Why Is This Important?

For consumers, the same familiar commands will be used across all devices and services to perform basic control functions. The commands are clear, logical and have natural responses for each language. They are easy to learn, easy to remember and easy to use. By using a consistent set of basic commands, consumers save the time and effort needed to learn new sets of commands for each new device and service.

For vendors, the uniformity and intuitiveness of the basic operations increase the overall usability of devices and services, so the devices and services can be marketed to consumers using any of the five languages. Because all devices and services contain the same basic command set, vendors can concentrate on the expansion of services offered with different products.


Because voice user interfaces are changing the methods of global communication, a basic uniform function command set is necessary for devices and services marketed throughout the world. Recognizing this, the ETSI-HF with the sponsorship of the European Commission’s initiative eEurope (http://europa.eu.int/information_society/eeurope) have worked together to create this standard. Although, this standard is European-based, it has worldwide importance for future global technologies and communication.

The standard is simple and straightforward with seventy function commands divided into two categories—common and domain-specific—and represented by fewer than 100 command words. In some cases, a single function may have two or three interchangeable command words.


The committee’s goal was to design a basic set of function commands for telecommunication devices and services using the five most spoken European languages—English, French, German, Italian and Spanish—that were:

•Easy to learn
•Easy to remember
•Easy to use
•Easy for the ASR to distinguish

The design process for the standard was:

1.Identification of functions—Initially, device and service functions were collected, defined, listed and evaluated. Then, the functions were grouped, categorized and reduced to generic subsets.

2.Spontaneous generation of possible command words—Respondents suggested candidate commands by answering carefully worded questions about each specific function.

3.Confidence rating test—Using the results from the spontaneous generation survey, respondents ranked the candidate commands from the top six responses for each question.

4.Acoustical discrimination test—The results of the confidence rating test were checked for acoustical differentiation, so ASRs will be able to distinguish command words for each function in each of the five languages.

5.Final word choices for the generic command set—Based on results from Steps 1–4, a committee of experts chose the final words for the basic function command set for ICT devices and services.

Through communication, our world is much smaller than it used to be. Rather than having different function commands for each communication device and service, it is better to have the same basic commands for all speech recognition systems. Basic functions will be easier to learn, remember and use, so consumers can spend more time using the devices and services. Because this set of basic commands was developed using five languages, vendors will be able to sell their products and services to larger markets in several countries.

So, what should you do? Download a complete copy of ESTI ES 202 076 V1.1.1: Human Factors (HF); User Interfaces; “Generic spoken command vocabulary for ICT devices and services” from (http://pda.etsi.org/pda/home.asp?wki_id=17697). Vendors should use this standard for their basic function commands when developing new products. Finally, consumers should purchase only devices and services using this basic function command set.

Dr. Jim A. Larson is an adjunct professor at Portland State University and Oregon Health Sciences University. He can be reached at jim@larson-tech.com and his Web site is http://www.larson-tech.com