A new transcription system

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog post about some of the parameters involved in transcribing media files, and how long it takes to do various sorts of transcription, translation and annotation tasks. In the commentary on my post, the ELAN transcription software tool developed at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics at Nijmegen came in for some criticism. Thus Ariel Guttman wrote that it was: “highly non-user friendly and non-ergonomic, especially since using the software only through the keyboard is not so easy” and “the people at the MPI should start designing their software with user-friendliness in mind”. Stuart McGill agreed: “you’re spot on with your comments on ELAN and keyboard use” and “transcription in ELAN is simply slow(er than it could be), no matter how well you know the program”. Stuart had decided that Transcriber, despite not handling special characters, was a better tool for his needs.

Well, as a result of user consultation involving Mark Dingemanse, Jeremy Hammond, and Simeon Floyd, the programmers at MPI-Nijmegen have now released ELAN version 4.1 which has a new “Transcription Mode” that Mark and Jeremy describe in a blog post as “designed to increase the speed and efficiency of transcription work. The interface is keyboard-driven and minimizes U[ser] I[nterface] actions”. Further details about the new mode and how to set it up and use it can be found in the blog post. It will be interesting to hear user reactions to the new facility over coming months.

Now, if someone would do a user consultation about the metadata browser IMDI, also developed at MPI-Nijmegen …


  1. Thanks Peter for the “publicity”…

    As I have mentioned in a few emails around the place, we are really keen to get feedback on what you think about the new transcription mode. There are still a few tweaks to come but feel free to email us any comments or questions you have. We are at firstname.lastname@mpi.nl.

  2. Peter Austin says:

    Claire Bowern has just posted a long report on her experiences with the new transcription mode on her Anggarrgoon blog.

  3. Wamut says:

    I am perturbed by the apparent focus on fault-finding in the above post. I was a commenter on the original post referenced above and had positive things to say about ELAN and still do. (See here and here.)

    Personally I am really grateful that MPI have developed this fantastic, efficient and versatile program and that they distribute it for free! How great is that? And I also appreciate how useful the program is to community linguists and language workers. The tally of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I’ve introduced the program to – many of whom could use it unsupervised after 1 or 2 sessions – keeps growing (and covers a good number of Australian languages).

    Of course there’s always room for improvement but I don’t see that the program developers have ever rested on their laurels. In fact, I think they’ve done a good thing by releasing updates that may still be ‘works in progress’. It’s analogous to releasing a half-decent draft dictionary after a couple of years of language work rather than wait 25 years until it’s nearing perfection. If you can’t access such resources – with or without blemishes – it’s no good to anyone. (Speaking of which, better stop procrastinating and get back to Lexique Pro…)

    I’m looking forward to discovering the new additions to the program and want to thank Jeremy and others for the fantastic service they provide. It is appreciated by many!

  4. Peter Austin says:

    Wamut — the faults had already been found by various users and reported some time ago, including in the comments on my original blog post last year. I think it is great that the MPI folks are working with users like Mark, Jeremy and Simeon to improve the user interface (UI), and have expressed a strong interest in getting feedback on the new UI so it can be further developed. I applaud the developers at MPI-Nijmegen for creating free software like ELAN, however I think it is only fair to recognise that UIs have been a problem in the past for many users (though apparently not for you), and for a number of their products, including ELAN and the IMDI browser.

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