Helpful Tips for New ELAN Users

By ELAR Archive|November 3, 2016|Documentation Software & Tools|1 comments

This week on the ELAR blog, Sarah Dopierala (MA Language Documentation and Description, SOAS) gives linguists who are new to ELAN five quick tips for using the software.

It is a fact well-observed that some of us are more tech savvy and some of us – not so much. For a documentary linguist trying to make the most of software like ELAN, ignorance perhaps isn’t bliss. For those of you Not-So- Much-ers out there, here are 5 tips for using ELAN from a fellow Computationally-Impaired Linguist.


When you save something in ELAN, you’ve perhaps noticed that there are actually two files being created:



In order to open a project in ELAN correctly, it is important that these two files (.eaf and .pfsx) are saved in the same folder (along with the original recording). If you move the .eaf, .pfsx files and recordings into separate folders, ELAN won’t be able to find them.


ELAN is a powerful software – it can do many things and there are many different options to click on. There are two modes that are particularly useful for me when I am transcribing an audio recording:

Annotation Mode and Segmentation Mode.


These can be found under ‘options’.

In Segmentation mode, you can isolate instances of speech in your sound file. For me, this means capturing the speech of my consultant and not my own speech. You can see in the picture below that there are sections of the recording that are bracketed off by black lines. Segmentation mode is the mode where you create those black lines.


Annotation mode is the mode where you can transcribe the segments created in Segmentation mode. In Annotation Mode, each bracket of speech has a number (1, 2, 3…) which appears as its own line with the begin/end time and the duration. If you want to transcribe your segment, click on the space between the number and the begin/end information in the section titled: Annotation. You can see this next to number 1, below:


I find that it is best to first segment all the speech you want in Segmentation mode, and then add a transcription in Annotation mode.


Just in general, but especially if you intend on exporting your ELAN file into FLEx, I’ve found that a way to avoid problems between the two softwares is to avoid using punctuation in transcriptions. If you insert a comma, for example, the utterance with the comma will be split up in FLEx (that is, it will appear in two separate lines). Which makes it hard to translate the entire utterance (since the pieces are separated). This seems to be the case with other things like periods, question marks, etc.


Once you actually have segments in your audio file, you may want to play and listen to them more than once to check the accuracy of your transcription. There are several ways to do this. The way I prefer is to highlight the specific segment I want by clicking on the black bracket lines and then clicking the grey arrow with an ‘S’ in the center middle of the ELAN screen.


This way, only the segment as it is defined by the boundaries is played back.


Perhaps the most important thing to remember – if you haven’t already found out the hard way – is that ELAN (unlike FLEx) does NOT save changes/files automatically. Transcription is a long and laborious process. Make sure to save your work!

Have these tips been helpful for you? Do you have some more tips that ELAN users could benefit from? Please help a linguist out in the comments section below.

By Sarah Dopierala

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  1. Although ELAN doesn’t save automatically from the start, it’s possible to make it do so:
    File > Automatic Backup > 1 Minute
    (of longer if you are happy to run the risk!)

    This means you now get a *third* ELAN file in your folder. The one with the extension eaf.001 is the temporary backup file. You do not need to archive it – but if ELAN quits unexpectedly you can delete the ‘001’ and it will be an openable ELAN file that might have a more recent back up than the main eaf file.

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