FieldWorks training promotes language documentation by mother tongue speakers in Malaysia

Dr. Felix Tongkul (left) and Dr. Howard McKaughan (right) sign the Letter of Intent.

Back, left to right: Dr. Ismail Ali, Dr. Jacqueline Pugh Kittingan, Dr. Ahmad Tarmizi Abdul Rahman

(November 2011) A workshop offering training in FieldWorks language documentation software was held 17-21 October 2011 at the University of Malaysia, Sabah (UMS). The workshop was co-sponsored by the Centre for the Promotion of Knowledge & Language Learning (PPIB) at UMS, the Kadazandusun Chair of UMS, the UMS Association of Mixed-Methods Researchers (UMAR) and SIL Malaysia. A total of 60 participants from Malaysia and abroad took part in the workshop. Most of the participants were from the ethnolinguistic minority communities of Sabah and Sarawak.

Participants gained practical skills in using FieldWorks to document and describe the languages spoken in their home communities, with the goal of compiling a dictionary. Many participants are already in the beginning stages of starting a community-based dictionary. In addition to the training component, the workshop also provided opportunities for researchers to discuss issues pertaining to language and culture documentation.

FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx) is a program which is not only useful for professional linguists, but also accessible to anyone with basic computer skills. FieldWorks consists of software tools for managing linguistic and cultural data. The software supports tasks ranging from initial entry of collected data to the preparation of data for publication. Supported tasks include:

  • An SIL consultant and workshop participants interact during the FieldWorks training in Malaysia.dictionary development
  • inter-linearization of texts
  • categorization of cultural records according to the Outline of Cultural Materials
  • bulk editing of many fields
  • morphological analysis
  • complex non-Roman scripts (using SIL-developed Graphite and applying the Unicode Standard)
  • multi-user editing capability over a local area network


Training sessions were led by Dr. Doug Frasier, Becky Paterson and Hugh Paterson of SIL. Topics included:

  • adding data to the lexicon;
  • using texts to input data;
  • sorting and organizing the data in the lexicon;
  • integrating cultural data by recording ethnographic observations and metadata with the Notebook component of FieldWorks;
  • an exploration of the various ways that dictionary data can be published, ranging from hard copies to publishing on the Internet.

Workshop organizers, session leaders and participants

Remarks from UMS Vice Chancellor Professor Datuk Seri Panglima Dr. Kamaruzaman Ampon were conveyed by Dr. Felix Tongkul, UMS Director of Research and Innovation.

This workshop will not only make available the technical expertise and training in utilizing the FieldWorks software…but will also act as a platform for the exchange of [participants’] knowledge gleaned from multi-disciplinary research…It is our hope that participants in this week’s workshop will learn to use the FieldWorks software as a tool for both dictionary compilation and also for storing ethnographic data, with a view to documenting their cultural heritage and developing more literacy materials in their mother tongues.


A significant event which occurred during the first day of the workshop was the signing of a Letter of Intent formalizing a working partnership between SIL and UMS. Dr. Felix Tongkul signed on behalf of UMS and Dr. Howard McKaughan signed on behalf of SIL Malaysia Director Hans Combrink.

Related links of interest