When I started my PhD program in Linguistics (language documentation and description), I had some experience with linguistic analysis, but not to the degree that I had to learn in order to complete my PhD. I had tuned my ear to be able to hear the sounds of the IPA, and had practice transcribing and learning a range of languages, but I had never analyzed an unwritten language completely by myself. During the course of my PhD I learned much more about how to analyze languages ‘from the ground up’, so to speak.
Along the way, I discovered that there were some excellent tools that made me much more effective and efficient at the task of documenting and describing an unwritten language. I was fortunate that I already had a good foundation in recording and processing audio from my experiences recording, mixing, and releasing my music, so the fact that the audio data I recorded would form the basis of my analysis didn’t phase me. However, there were another whole set of tools that would allow me to investigate the details of the language I planned to work on.
Each of these programs is open source or free, though some are developed for Windows and others are developed for MacOS, which might be a problem for some people. Since I grew up with DOS and Windows but then later switched to a Mac, I’m comfortable with both systems. The Apple/Mac laptop build quality was my first choice for travel and portability combined with power. I say ‘was’ since some of Apple’s recent design choices mean I might be switching back to Windows on my next laptop. But for now I run an old Windows version on my Mac via Virtualbox or bundle Windows software in a Wine port so I can run it as a native app in MacOS.
I’ll plan to describe each of these tools in more detail in future posts, but for now here’s
A list of the tools I currently use for my linguistic work:
Audacity: for importing/processing sound files
Praat: for analysis of speech sounds (phonetics/phonology)
Transcriber: for time-alignment of text/sound
Toolbox: for analysis of grammatical/lexical structure
Git: for versioning control
Python: for text manipulation/investigation
Tools other linguists use, but that I don’t use much:
Elan: Many linguists use this for transcription of audio/video, but I have found it difficult to work with for grammatical analysis. I’d really like to learn more about it, but I haven’t managed to attend a workshop yet, though if you live near Melbourne, Australia and are free on the 29th of March (2017), maybe you should check this one out.
FLEx (Fieldworks Language Explorer): I find this useful for dictionary searches and such, but the interlinearization options are not as flexible as Toolbox.