Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spotlight on Linguistic Tools: Linguistics Online Playgrounds

Linguistics Online (or 'LiOn') is a website that was developed as an online supplement for linguistics students at Utrecht University. One of the components of the website is the Tool Playground; in the Tool Playground are two incredibly valuable resources for many linguistics students: the IPA Keyboard Playground and the Treebuilder Playground.

The IPA Keyboard Playground is exactly what it sounds like: another online IPA keyboard. The keyboard is organized in the consonant and vowel IPA charts but doesn't have all the diacritics and more obscure IPA symbols (like those for clicks). Since many students don't necessarily need the extra IPA symbols, this keyboard is more streamlined for ease of use.

LiOn IPA Keyboard Playground screenshot

When using the keyboard, you can (as with other online keyboards) simply type into the text box (which for this one is situated between the consonant and vowel charts, which helps to visually separate the two). When you need a symbol you can't type, you simply click on its button in the chart, and the IPA symbol will be inserted where the cursor is. When you've finished with what you'd like to type, you can then copy and paste the text directly into your document on your word processor of choice.

The layout of the IPA Keyboard Playground is accessible and visually appealing. The text box isn't as large as the text box for some of the other online IPA keyboards, but often when we're typing in IPA, we're typing one line or one utterance (or even one word) at a time, so you may not find that to be a downfall. If, however, you want to enter multiple lines of text in IPA at once, you won't be able to put in a line break in this keyboard. Remember that online keyboards are all about functionality--you may find that you like to use one online keyboard for one task while you prefer a different one for another task.

The Treebuilder Playground is also what it sounds like: an online tree diagramming (or tree building) program. This online system is not as intuitive or user-friendly as the downloadable TreeForm software; however, it may be more accessible to many students than the online phpSyntax program. When you go into the Treebuilder Playground, you'll see this:

LiOn Treebuilder Playground
The program automatically starts you with a top node of S; however, if you want to diagram something else--like a morpheme tree, for example--then you simply need to click on the box with the "E" (if you look closely, you'll see it actually says "Edit"). In edit mode, you can change the text for the top node. Every time you edit a node, you have to click on the green checkmark that appears next to the editing text box. Otherwise, it won't save any changes you made.

To add nodes below the top node, click on the "L+" or "+R" in the box. For the first node you add, it doesn't matter which of those you click. When you go to add a second daughter node, though, you need to decide if you want it to the left or right of the first one. As you add nodes, a tree will begin to form in the area above the top node box:

LiOn Treebuilder Playground: Building a diagram
As you can see in the screenshot above, the building space retains all the node boxes that you add--you can continue modifying the tree by adding more or taking away any existing nodes. When you add new nodes, make sure you are adding to the mother node--the trees in this program are built top-down. Once you've finished your tree, right-click on the tree diagram above all your nodes, and click on "Save image as..." to download the image to your computer. You can then insert that image into your document, like so:

LiOn Treebuilder Playground: Diagram
Again, this is more intuitive for many people than the system utilized by phpSyntax (with embedding through bracketing), but if you're able to download software, I still highly recommend using TreeForm. The LiOn Treebuilder Playground is a very handy tool to utilize, though, when you don't have the ability to download software (like when you're using a computer in the library).

The Tool Playground area of LiOn has many more useful tools that you may want to explore--it also has exercises for learning linguistic concepts, which is a nice feature for anyone learning more about linguistic analysis.

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