Wednesday 12 May 2010

vowel charts again

Derek Rogers writes
On 27th April you posted on your blog a comment from Gwen Awbery that she couldn't find software for drawing vowel charts, and I put up a comment a couple of days later to say that I was developing such a package. I have now published that package - it's called Vowel Chart Maker. It works from a script, includes automatic Sampa recognition, handles Unicode and non-Unicode fonts alike and is free to download (with some limitation on functionality).
It's available on my website, at
Could you please make this known on your blog?

On David’s website there are instructions for using the program to draw vowel charts in Word 2008. My own version of Word is 2007, so these instructions did not exactly apply, but I think I know enough about Word to make the appropriate changes. Even so, I found the first of David’s instructions very difficult to interpret.
1. Download the file and Copy Image

The file is an .exe file, so after downloading it presumably you have to run it, before doing anything else. Running it installs the program. Then presumably you have to run the program (when you’ve sussed out exactly where it has installed itself). This produces the following.

The instruction was to Copy Image. But in the Edit menu there’s no Copy or Copy Image option. Ctrl+C has no effect. To begin with I could not find any way to “copy image” except by taking a screenshot of the entire window (Alt+PrtScrn). After further exploration, I think that what you are supposed to do is probably go to the File menu and do Save bitmap.
The help file supplied launches straight into requiring you to write a “script” and set “parameters”, with no explanation of what these terms might mean. I am sure this is fine for programmers, but it is definitely not fine for the rest of us.
Perhaps I’m being obtuse, or perhaps (as so often) a programmer’s technical skills are not matched by an ability to draw up clear non-technical instructions for others to follow.
Let me know if you find Vowel Chart Maker easier to use than I did. And Derek, perhaps you’d like to have another go at explaining to non-techies like me exactly how to use the program.


  1. I think there's some misunderstanding here - there are two sets of instructions: the first one how to accomplish making a vowel chart in Word (the "file above" seems to be missing though, I assume it to be an image of a blank vowel chart), the second one is using the program ("use vowel chart maker"). I completely agree though that the instructions are bad, and so is the program's usability. And my god, that website - is it still 1995?

  2. The command Copy Image is accessible in Mac OS by Control clicking the image itself and selecting from the pop-up menu. I would imagine that Right click should achieve the same thing in Windows.

  3. Thanks for showing this on your blog - what super publicity and feedback! Trenchant criticism, but then we technical chaps are suppposed to be resilient. Here are some immediate points:

    1. A script is a short text-file. You can either write your own, or use an old one and change it.

    2. Parameters are things that tell the program what rules to follow - what font to use, how big the chart is to be, and so on.

    3. When Vowel Chart Maker first runs, it automatically loads a sample script and displays the resultant bitmap. You can then do the following:

    - click 'Edit', and you'll see the script.

    - change the script - for example, change the first character on line 3 from 1 to 2.

    - click 'Chart', and you'll see the result of your changes (in this case, the vowel will have moved from 'close' to 'close-mid').

    - make changes until the chart shows what you want, then save the script and bitmap.

    4. The instructions on how to draw a chart in Word 2008 were being quoted ironically, suggesting that using Vowel Chart Maker was much easier. I've removed them.

    5. I'm adding a section on 'Getting Started' to the help file, and removing technical language. It should be ready by tomorrow.

    6. The website isn't as recent as 1995.

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  6. Some more clarification of Copy Image.

    In the particular combination that I use
    -- Mac OS X Snow Leopard, Safari 4, MS Word 2008...

    1. If I click on the link 'this file' (blue and underlined in the first sentence of comment in John's posting) a WIKIMEDIA COMMONS page opens with the heading File:Blank vowel trapezoid.png

    2. If I Cntrl Click the trapezoid itself, I get a pop-up menu with options to act on
    --the Link
    --the Linked File
    --the Image
    --the Image Address

    Of the 14 options, one is Copy Image

    3. In Word,
    --The command Paste unhelpfully supplies the web address.
    --The command Paste Special... offers a choice between Unformatted Text and Picture.
    --The former also supplies a link, but the latter supplies the trapezoid --presumably in the original .png format.

  7. As an alternative, you can use any image or drawing program, or Powerpoint or similar presentaton creators. Since the matter of size and text was raised, may I warn you of the worst sin you can commit: projecting small images and tiny text in lecture theatres (whether teaching or at coferences).

    I use a photo editing program for making my illustrations. It will load spectrograms and line diagrams, handle any font at any character size, draw lines and arrows etc. The only thing it won't help me with is an open ring, rather than a filled circle.

  8. The best use of vowel chart is to have ability to draw up clear non-technical instructions for others to follow. It is very helpful to programmer's perspective.

  9. What about a method in LaTeX to create one, that would be nice. Or we can just plot F1,2 values, which would be more meaningful.

  10. Found it. For making pretty vowel quadrilaterals in LaTeX:

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