Text-to-speech systems are currently designed to work on complete sentences and paragraphs, thereby allowing front end processors access to large amounts of linguistic context. Problems with this design arise when applications require text to be synthesized in near real time, as it is being typed. How does the system decide which incoming words should be collected and synthesized as a group when prior and subsequent word groups are unknown? We describe a rule-based parser that uses a three cell buffer and phrasing rules to identify break points for incoming text. Words up to the break point are synthesized as new text is moved into the buffer; no hierarchical structure is built beyond the lexical level. The parser was developed for use in a system that synthesizes written telecommunications by Deaf and hard of hearing people. These are texts written entirely in upper case, with little or no punctuation, and using a nonstandard variety of English (e.g. WHEN DO I WILL CALL BACK YOU). The parser performed well in a three month field trial utilizing tens of thousands of texts. Laboratory tests indicate that the parser exhibited a low error rate when compared with a human reader.