FileMaker Pro: A Review of it as a tool for digitizing linguistic data

A BIFoCAL document by Ronald Sprouse


FileMaker Pro is a popular database program, appropriate for lexical databases and other kinds of highly-structured linguistic resources. Records may contain audio or visual multimedia clips. FileMaker Pro is not very good for working with more loosely-structured materials, such as primary texts or interlinear texts.

How does this tool store and export data?

Although the native format is proprietary, FileMaker Pro is quite capable of producing structured text formats for archival purposes.

What types of data will you be working with?

FileMaker Pro is quite useful for storing lexical data, including paradigmatic information. It can also store binary data (e.g. audio or video) in container fields, but you can't work with this data within FileMaker Pro.

FileMaker Pro is not very effective for working with primary texts.

How will you be annotating and marking up your data?

An arbitrary number of gloss languages can be accommodated in a FileMaker Pro database as long as the user provides support for them in the database structure (i.e. supplies the appropriate fields and relations).

FileMaker Pro doesn't provide any resources for aligning transcriptions to audio or video but can store alignment information provided by another resource as data.

FileMaker Pro is very difficult to work with for parsing and interlinearizing texts and is mostly unsatisfactory for these tasks.

Will you need to work with special characters?

FileMaker Pro does not support Unicode as of Version 6.

Warning about special characters and cross-platform compatibility: If you use font for non-Latin characters (e.g. Cyrillic), you will probably suffer cross-platform compatibility problems since the font may be available for either Mac or Windows, but not both. Even if you choose fonts that use the same mappings on both platforms (e.g. KOI-8), FileMaker Pro knows what platform it runs on and automaticallí adjusts the display of some characters (but not the underlying data) based on its assumptions about how Latin characters should map. The end result is gibberish in your display for non-Latin fonts when you open the database on another platform. (Version 5 and earlier; status in Version 6 unknown)

How will you input and mark up your data?

FileMaker Pro works best as a standalone application, though some networking capabilities are provided.

What kinds of resources do you intend to produce with your data?

FileMaker Pro has reporting features that make preparation of reports, dictionaries, etc. feasible. The difficulty of producing these reports will vary, depending on the language, since some languages will require custom sort capabilities. The reporting facilities might make it difficult to achieve the visual look you need, however, and a second or third tool (e.g. LaTeX or a word processor) might be needed to produce a presentation-quality display.

Online versions of FileMaker Pro databases can be produced by exporting the data to another format for web presentation, or by using FileMaker Pro's built-in web serving capabilities. Using the built-in web browser is not recommended, however, since the built-in web server is rather slow, and it can be dangerous to expose your 'live' data source on the Internet.

What sorts of analysis will you do on your prepared data?