Category Archives: Technology and Software

Pama-Nyungan language locations

As noted in a previous post, I’ve started to put some of the results of my Pama-Nyungan prehistory grant on my lab web site, at One of the recent updates is a language map. The data are not new; this map was released in about 2011 (though with updates since). It is released through a wordpress plugin on the site, which allows easy embedding of maps into sites. I highly recommend it for its ease of use, except for the fact that it doesn’t seem  to render in Chrome on a Mac (at least, not on my mac).

Comments on language locations, names, etc, on the map are very welcome. Please use the comment form on the map’s page.

Ipads for research

I’m taking part in a trial of ipads for the field methods class this semester. I’m not totally convinced that it’s going to work yet, since I’m a bit suspicious of the recording capabilities and of how seamless it will be to get items on and off the devices. We will certainly be making backup recordings using my field equipment for at least the first few weeks.

However, one of the side effects of this is that I’ve been spending a lot more time working on an ipad recently, trying out apps. I’m even not taking my laptop to the LSA (I’m writing this post on an ipad on the plane to Minneapolis).

Couple of observations:

The ipad I’m trialling came with a ‘Zagg’ keyboard case. The keyboard itself is quite good. It’s comfortable to use and very responsive. The cover itself is rather clunky and heavy, and the charging position for the keyboard is in an irritating position (the keyboard has to be partly removed from the cover to charge it). It’s also fairly straightforward to pair the keyboard with multiple ipads.

I have an ipad mini and while that size of tablet is mostly great, it is very helpful to have the larger size when working on latexed documents. My ipad mini is also heavily child-proofed, which makes it almost impossible to use with a stylus. I have yet to find a decent handwriting ap that might be useful for field methods. Let me know if anyone knows of one (the stumbling block is the need to be able to use handwriting recognition with accented characters).

We are using Auria for the recording app, dictapad for transcription, and we will be loading the class data into LingSync (which has an online version for minimal data entry). We are syncing files through Dropbox and Box. TeX Writer is great (LaTeX app allowing fill compilation on the ipad) and Zotero for reference management.

So far the biggest issues have been a) the usual problem of syncing between multiple devices and making sure they are all up to date (forgot to do that before leaving…) and b) only having one window at a time. On the other hand, only having one window does make email much less of a distraction.

I will continue to provide updates as the semester progresses and we use the ipads.

domain name update

The domain is now defunct. (I registered it in 2005 through yahoo “small business” as part of my Houston home phone account, and now can’t recover the account information. It’s somewhere in internet limbo.) My blog is still available from, though. At some point I may even have time to write some more contentful posts.

Great digital tools

Nick Thieberger has a great post on new digital tools in the humanities (bleeding over into linguistics). It’s been a while since I’ve done any trawling for new programs and it looks like there are plenty of new things available for lots of different types of projects. Some are a big enigmatic for my liking. NewRadial, for example is ‘data analysis for the humanities,’ but exactly what that entails isn’t exactly clear. Catma looks kind of useful though. I can imagine using it to tag texts for interesting grammatical features, for example. Text Analysis Markup System is another program in the same vein.

I couldn’t quite see the point of voyant-tools, though it does produce pretty word graphics. Nodex looks like it might be a handy network mapping tool (e.g. for mapping loanword data). It’s windows-only though, I see. OpenHeatMap is a simpler version of google’s fusion tables. Lots of bibliographical software here, including some nice plugins for Zotero. And here’s a list of transcription tools.



One of the great things about co-teaching is all the stuff you learn from your co-instructor. Arienne gave a nice demo today of TextStat, a flexible concordance program from the Dutch studies dept at the Freie Universitaet Berlin. It’s free, and available for Windows, PC, and Linux.

Its major advantage is that it will read Word and OpenOffice files. That is, you don’t need to format the input text in any special format before it’s imported into the program. It will also retrieve web pages.

As programs go, it’s pretty simple. It does wordlist generation and concordancing, and you can view citations in context or in list format. But that’s already pretty useful. It’s very memory-light and doesn’t take up much space on the hard drive. Installation is easy (just unzip the archive on windows). If you want high-powered concordance software, NLP tools are for you, but if you want an easy way to see what’s in your data, this is definitely the way to go.

Australian Language Polygons and new Centroid files

I’ve finished a *draft* google earth (.kmz) file with locations of Australian languages, organised by family and subgroup.

Some things to note:

  • You may use these files for education and research purposes only.
  • NO commercial use under any circumstances without my written permission.
  • NO republication any any circumstances without my written permission.
  • You may quote from these files. Please use the following citation: Bowern, C. (2011). Centroid Coordinates for Australian Languages v2.0. Google Earth .kmz file, available from
  • These files represent my compilation of many available sources, but are known to be deficient in a number of areas. Some sources are irreconcilable. This work is unsuitable for use as evidence in Native Title (land) claims.
  • Please do not repost or circulate these files. Send interested people to this page. I will be updating the files from time to time.
  • Please let me know of errors! The easiest way to do this is to change the polygon or centroid point for the language(s) you are correcting, and send me that item as a kml file.
  • If you use derivatives of this file (e.g. you calculate language areas from it, convert it to ArcGIS, etc), that’s fine, but please send me a copy of the derivative file

Python script to convert backslash codes to tabbed text

Sophia Gilman is a Yale student who’s been working on my NSF Pama-Nyungan project this year. One of the things she’s been working on is a script to convert irregularly ordered backslash codes to a tabbed text file (for further import into database programs). The script takes the backslash file, detects the headword code, asks you a bunch of questions about it, and sets up a file with each backslash code as a column in a table.

The script was developed specifically for our project and its needs, but it’s flexible enough that it might be useful for others too. We’re making the script available for free, but it’s Sophia’s work, and she (and the NSF project BCS-844550) should be acknowledged if you use the script in work that results in publications.

A couple of notes on the script:

  • It’s a python script. You need to have python installed on your computer to run it. If you don’t have python and you have backslash coded files for Australian languages that you would like to convert, we can help. If you’re working on another area, though, I’m afraid we can’t provide any support for script use.
  • SIL’s MDF (Toolbox) standard codes are hard-coded into the program.
  • Some features are specific to the needs of my NSF project and may be irritating to others:
  • Subentries are converted to main entries. The program makes some effort to treat material appropriate to the entry as a whole as belong to each newly created record.
  • Multiple glosses are converted to multiple records.
  • Examples are not split into multiple table columns; they are grouped into a single column.

The script is available here. If you modify it for your own use, we’d appreciate a copy.