A simple search utility

I made a small utility program meant to search for English words that have particular phonological properties. For example, you could use it to find words that have a long vowel followed by a coda obstruent. It’s not really all that powerful, but it’s flexible (you can make up your own natural classes) and I think it’s also very easy to use.

The phonological dictionary employed consists of all the words in the CMU database that have a CELEX frequency of at least one.

I used the program in a graduate course I just taught on English Phonology to retest the phonological generalizations proposed in the research literature on English.

Download here.  Windows only (sorry).

Bruce Hayes, UCLA

P.S. to commenters: surely there are other such programs available and I would be curious to know about them.

7 thoughts on “A simple search utility

  1. Eric Bakovic

    Thanks, Bruce! This seems highly useful, and the adaptability to other languages (given the existence of an electronic dictionary) is great.

    Addressing the Windows-onlyness, as a Mac user: surely there are some entrepreneurial, savvy programmers among the nation’s linguistics undergrads who can lead one or more of Bruce’s great pieces of MS Visual Basic software to platform independence? And surely there are some professors among us willing to give students credit for performing such a liberation? (I’ve tried a few times, and once came close to achieving the goal. Let’s keep at it.)

  2. Maria Gouskova

    Not having Windows either, I cannot see the program for myself, but I am wondering whether it wouldn’t be quicker to teach students regular expressions instead. The learning curve for regular expressions is not that steep, and they are useful beyond linguistics.

    I have done this recently in a field methods course–we found a digital wordlist of the language, and students were working with it to look for minimal pairs, etc. in no time. Both grads and undergrads, some with very minimal technical skills.

  3. Eric Bakovic

    Maria — good idea. Do you have some notes or instructions that you used to accomplish this, so that we mere mortals may follow suit? :-) The idea of a piece of software specifically designed for the task is useful precisely because many if not most of us are essentially luddites.

  4. bruce Post author

    Thanks, Eric and Maria. Regular expressions are great and I think Maria is right to be teaching them. On the other hand, a little canned program has the advantage that it can remember all the natural classes you’ve used before and let you call them up by name.

    So I guess the best sort of software would: (a) run on all platforms, (b) be easy to learn, (c) embody the full power of regular expressions; (d) remember its natural classes.

  5. Fred


    If you’re willing to share the source with me, I’d love to port this to Python and host it somewhere public (or perhaps turn its stewardship over to someone else willing to host it on their website).


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