Software Tools for Linguistic Anthropology

Qualitative Database Programs


Basic Sound Digitizing & Editing Software

  Cool Edit

Audio File Format Conversion Tools

Digital Transcription Software    
Presentation Software    
  Power Point  
Speech (Spectrographic) Analysis Software    
Speech & Video Analysis Software    
SIL Software Tools  
  SIL Speech Tools
Keyboard Managers    
  Keyboard Generator
  Keyboard Layout Manager
Phonetics / Phonology    
  IPA Help  
  Speech Analyzer  
  Speech Manager (Phonology Assistant)  

IPA Help is a tool for learning the International Phonetic Alphabet. IPA Help provides charts of consonant, vowel, diacritic, and suprasegmental IPA symbols. The user can click on each symbol and hear it pronounced, and can also record his/her own pronunciation, and play it back in tandem with the original. The program also provides word lists demonstrating the pronunciation of various sounds in context, by native speakers and from languages all around the world. Finally, IPA Help allows the user to test him/herself by listening to sounds pronounced at random and clicking on the matching symbols.

Speech Analyzer

Speech Analyzer is a data analysis tool for recording, transcribing, and analyzing speech files. Creates waveform, pitch plot, colored spectrogram, spectrum, and other displays, and has various playback settings. Speech Analyzer includes Joan Baart's Acoustic Phonetics Manual, a very useful introduction to the physics of sound waves and how they are represented in waveform graphs, spectra, and spectrograms.

Speech Manager (Phonology Assistant)

Speech Manager (now called Phonology Assistant) is designed to be used in tandem with Speech Analyzer, or to handle data files transcribed directly into the program. Speech Manager automatically creates distribution charts for consonants, vowels, diacritics, and suprasegmentals, and generates lists of all environments (from all words in the database) in which a particular sound is represented. The user can define complex phonological queries and sort by contexts.

IPA Help, Speech Manager, and Speech Analyzer are all available for free download from the SIL website.


Praat is a program for speech analysis, with far more complex capabilities than Speech Analyzer but also more challenging to use. Praat is also available for free, through its developer Paul Boersma (see Praat website for details). On-line tutorial information is also available through the website.

5. Feature Pad

Feature Pad is a program for learning feature values of phonetic segments. It allows the user to create a phoneme inventory or use an existing one, and then select natural classes within the phoneme inventory and apply structural changes to them.

Phonology Pad

Phonology Pad is for practicing classical phonology problems (with paradigms, underlying forms, and ordered rules). It does not tell you the answer to a problem, but it checks your answer for accuracy, and it often points out problems with your answer that need to be fixed.

Optimality Theory Software

Optimality Theory Software to facilitate analysis in Optimality Theory (OT) by using algorithms. It helps the user rank constraints, prepare tableaux, and carry out other aspects of OT analysis.

Feature Pad, Phonology Pad, and OTSoft are available for free download from Bruce Hayes' UCLA website.


Moraic is a font for connecting adjacent levels of phonological structure. It is available for $20 from Cascadilla Press.

9. Sounds of the World's Languages

Sounds of the World's Languages is a hypercard tool and database for illustrating the range of sounds realized by more than 80 languages around the world. The program highlights the rarer sounds found in these sound systems and allows the user to hear their pronunciation by native speakers. SOWL is available through the UCLA phonetics lab, and costs from $50 to $100 (personal/institutional use).

Other On-line resources:

Online Phonetics and Phonology Resources:

Morphology, Syntax, Semantics

Syntax Tutor

The Syntax Tutor is an on-line tutorial for learning basic syntax. The user defines the syntactic categories of each word in the sentence and lists the phrase structure rules necessary; the program then uses this information to create a parse tree. (Try opening this program in Internet Explorer--it does not seem to work properly in Netscape.)


PC-Parse is a set of programs for performing morphological and syntactic analyses, available for free download from SIL. It includes, among other programs:

PC-KIMMO, which is designed to generate (produce) and/or recognize (parse) words using a two-level model of word structure in which a word is represented as a correspondence between its lexical level form and its surface level form.

AMPLE, a morphological parser.

PC-PATR, a syntactic parser.


Arboreal is a tree-building font for drawing levels of sytactic structure. It is available for $20 from Cascadilla Press.


Syntactica is an interactive tool for studying natural language structure. It provides an interface for creating grammars (consisting of phrase-structure rules and lexicons), viewing the structures they assign to natural language expressions, and transforming those structures by syntactic operations such as movement, deletion and copying. Syntactica is produced by the SUNY Stony Brook Semantics Lab, and is available, with a manual, for $35 from MIT Press.


Semantica is an interactive tool for studying natural language semantics. It allows the user to create a semantic theory (consisting of lexical and phrasal semantic rules), to derive truth-conditions from that theory for natural language phrase-markers, and to test those truth-conditions against a pictorially represented universe of worlds and times. Like Syntactica, Semantica is produced by the SUNY SB Semantics lab, and is available, with a manual, for $40 from MIT Press.

The Minimalist Syntax Archive

The Minimalist Syntax Archive is a place where researchers in Chomskian syntax can store their unpublished papers, and others can read them. The homepage also has links to on-line resources for other theoretical approaches to syntax such as HPSG, LFG, and RRG.


The Linguist's Shoebox (Version 5)

Shoebox is a database program for field linguists. It has sections for entering lexical data (tailored to the creation of a dictionary), grammatical data (with a series of categories and helpful prompts taken from Thomas Payne's Linguistic Field Manual), and anthropological data. It also has sections for parsing, interlinearizing, and translating text. It is available from SIL for a $45 licensing fee.


Lingualinks is SIL's biggest package, a collection of tools for linguistic data analysis. These include word analysis tools for use with texts, lexical database management tools, and tools for phonological analysis. Lingualinks also includes an extensive reference library of linguistics resources. The program uses hypertext links to connect the user to other parts of the database. Lingualinks is offered for a full-license academic price (among other options) of $195.


SignStream is a database tool for the analysis of linguistic data recorded on video. It has been designed primarily for use with American Sign Language, but can be applied to gesture and other language data captured on video. SignStream allows the user to manipulate digital video and link specific frame sequences to simultaneously occurring linguistic events encoded in a multi-level transcription. The cost of the program is from $10 to $25.

NSF Fastlane System

Online Teaching Resources and Tools

Teaching Labs & Tutorials


Introductory materials



Other Useful Links:

XML Information

XML is a computer language that is being used to an increasing degree by scholars for the creation of electronic, text-sensitive resources like databases and searchable online publications. There are presently many XML initiatives underway in linguistics and other fields of the humanities and the social sciences, but the real possibilities of it as a research tool are just now starting to come to light. Many XML proponents think that as its potential is explored, it will bring about many more changes than did the introduction of HTML in the early nineties (HTML, of course, is what makes the World Wide Web possible), and facilitate a reinvention of scholarly publication and collaboration.

With XML you can create your own "tag-set" or "mark-up language" for describing relationships between elements within a given document. It also allows great flexibility in how you devise the rules that govern your tag-set. These rules are set out in what are called Document Type Definitions, or DTDs. Of course, not everyone goes through the trouble of creating their own DTD, many people are happy with already scripted ones; a popular version is the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) DTD used for "marking-up" published materials like novels, short stories and poetry (TEI is also useful to sociolinguistics, in that it defines tags useful for describing the situation of different speakers).

The TTSP XML Primer (introduces basic XML terms and concepts):