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FLEx Tips for New Language Documenters

FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx) is a program that has built upon previous software designed for documentary linguists (perhaps some of you remember ToolBox)? As a result, FLEx is a very useful and powerful lexicon building tool. For those of you who have found our beloved FLEx but need a few hints to get you started, hopefully these tips will be helpful!


If your texts are being imported from other software (such as ELAN), a new text will automatically be generated in the Texts and Words section of FLEx.

You cannot create a new text, and then try an import an outside file into that newly created text. Instead, you’ll end up with two newly created lists, one with text from the imported file, and one empty.


If you’ve imported or created texts, but then are frustratingly prevented from annotating them, it may be because you haven’t changed the language of the baseline text. If the language of the baseline text is the same as the language of annotation, you won’t be able to analyze the text. (This will happen if you are annotating in English and your Baseline language is also English, for example). To change this, go to the baseline and highlight the whole text. Then, in the upper middle area of the tool bar, choose the new baseline language from the dropdown menu.


This one I found out the hard way. Yes, there are significant differences between a new definition and a new sense of a word – at least in terms of how FLEx interprets them in the future. A new ‘sense’ of a word will be displayed in the same lexical entry while a new ‘definition’ will appear as its own entry in the lexicon. This is useful for distinguishing between polysemy and homophony, for instance. It seems trivial but it’s important to get it right the first time as it is difficult and time-consuming to alter later.


Something I also didn’t realize at first is that you can add notes to your sentences in the Analzye tab. Do this by either CONTROL + N or by right-hand clicking the Insert Note button at the top right of the tool bar. Notes can be useful to remember important things and if you have certain ways you want to tag the sentences, you can insert the tag in the note tier and search only the note tier with the search engine in Concordance later.


There are several ways to search for things in FLEx. The one I find most useful is searching in Concordance which you can access in Words & Texts. This is helpful if you need to find multiple instances of the same word or morpheme for instance.

As you can see from the picture, above, you have the ability to search different tiers with several methods (we will ignore ‘use regular expressions’ for now). For example, you can search via the ‘whole word’, ‘at end’/’at start’, and ‘anywhere’. Searching for the ‘whole word’ means that there is a space before and after the string of characters in the text. Searching ‘at end’/’at start’ searches for characters either preceded or followed by other characters (which can be useful when searching for pre- or suffixes). Finally, ‘anywhere’ means that the search engine will search for the string of characters anywhere (but be careful, a particular string might not always manifest as one word or phrase. The engine will not be searching for one ‘word’- it will indiscriminately search for that string of characters across boundaries).


Finally, just in case you’ve been desperately searching for a way to save your work in FLEx, fret not! Perhaps one of the most convenient things about FLEx is that your work is automatically saved. It is always a good idea, however, to have your work saved in multiple places. If the only place your FLEx database is recorded is your own computer, consider using a website such as LanguageDepot to save and share your corpus with colleagues or an external hard drive – just to make sure your data are saved multiple places.

What other tips do you have for our FLEx users? Please share them in the comments section below and help spread the knowledge!

By Sarah Dopierala

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