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Toolbox is a data management and analysis tool for field linguists. It is primarily aimed at editing lexical data, and for parsing and interlinearizing text, but it can be used to manage virtually any kind of data.

If you have experience with the Field Linguist's Shoebox, you can think of Toolbox as an enhanced version of Shoebox with a new name. It is fully compatible with Shoebox. You can install Toolbox and use it just as you used Shoebox, with virtually no difference. Because Toolbox is an enhanced version of Shoebox, it is sometimes referred to as Shoebox/Toolbox.

Toolbox is a text-oriented database management system with added functionality designed to meet the needs of a field linguist. The underlying dbms offers full user flexibililty in the design of any type of database. But for ease of use, the Toolbox package includes prepared database definitions for a typical dictionary and text corpus.

The Toolbox database management system offers powerful functionality like customized sorting, multiple views of the same database, browse view to show data in tabular form, and filtering to show subsets of a database. It can handle any number of scripts in the same database. Each script has its own font and sorting characteristics. Toolbox can handle scripts either in unicode or in most legacy encoding systems, and it can even mix both in a single file. (This should be avoided except as a temporary measure.)

Toolbox includes features specific to linguistics. It includes a morphological parser that can handle various morphophonemic processes. It has a word formula component that allows the linguist to describe all the possible affix patterns that occur in words. It then allows the user to define interlinear processes that break words down into glossed morphemes. These interlinear texts can be exported in a form suitable for use in linguistic papers. (Editing a entry does not affect texts that use that entry, but there is a semi-manual refresh option.) Toolbox has export capabilities that can be used to produce a publishable dictionary from a dictionary database.

The Toolbox downloads include a training package that is usable for self-paced individual learning as well as for classroom teaching of Toolbox.






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SIL Status


Supported Operating Systems

Windows, Wine under Linux, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Vista x64, Windows 7, Windows 7 64 bit, Windows 10

Unicode Support


Suitable tasks

  • Collect word lists using IPA transcription and/or audio recording
  • Store and edit an electronic data notebook of cultural events in a form conducive to qualitative analysis
  • Store and edit an electronic notebook of language data in a form conducive to analysis
  • Create and edit a lexical database (modeling morphology if necessary)
  • Create and edit a corpus of natural texts
  • Collect, transcribe and translate audiorecordings of natural texts (and other texts/utterances)
  • From the text corpus, look up words in the lexicon
  • Interlinearize natural texts, sharing glosses with a lexical database
  • Define dictionary entries while grouping them together by semantic domain
  • Run a concordance search to find all occurrences of a given word in a text corpus
  • Supply additional information such as word category, example sentences, lexical relations
  • Publish linguistic data (e.g. phonetic data and interlinear texts)
  • Create and edit Scripture database(s) to contain the translation, exegetical notes, test results, back translation, team notes, and consultant notes
  • Create and edit drafts of books directly
  • Interlinearize the translation, glossing it in an LWC
  • Localizable (i.e. user interface can be translated)
  • Manipulate data (e.g. SFM or XML)

Interface Language

English, French, Indonesian


SIL Language Freeware EULA

Download Page


User Group


Recent comments

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Toolbox is a tool that is

Toolbox is a tool that is well respected in academic communities, but the user menus and options can be daunting to the new user.

Increasingly frustrated

Although I'm grateful for Toolbox and all the functionality it has provided throughout years when other software wasn't available, it hasn't improved a lot in recent years, and I've become increasingly frustrated with its quirks and bugs. It doesn't parse off clitics or inflectional affixes very satisfactorily, and it tends to save things that it shouldn't without asking. (E.g. "Lock Project" doesn't do what I'd expect it to.)

I've had to make a habit of backing up my entire project directory before launching Toolbox, because if I don't, and one of the files I last had open is no longer in the same location as before, I am FORCED to find it right then and there. I cannot cancel opening the project, and if I try to do so, all windows, jump paths and interlinear settings that reference that missing file are permanently deleted. (One workaround is to temporarily create a dummy file and "find" it.)

Toolbox does provide range sets and can "display hierarchy" to some extent, but for the most part it does not help the user to enter data consistently, nor to understand and use the MDF hierarchy properly.

New users seem to be happier with FLEx (FieldWorks) or even WeSay, though there are still some issues with those tools as well. There are many users who have already learned how to manage their Toolbox project(s) adequately. I don't push these users strongly in either direction, but many of them are expressing interest in at least using SOLID to prepare their data for archival, and possibly for migration.

Hard to Learn...

Toolbox is described above with the following statement: "Although Toolbox is very powerful, it is designed to be easy to learn." I find this a bit hard to swallow. As a software developer for over 10 years - especially in the Windows environment - I find the file handling of Toolbox quite unusual, arcane and non-standard. I just can't seem to get my head around it. Mostly I use a setup from someone else & modify that, but I would prefer to avoid use of Toolbox altogether. It is also described as "a text-oriented database management system", but I find it doesn't seem to follow even the basic database principles I learned in college 25 years ago. Shoebox was an innovative and effective tool for years, but the technology is available to do so much better now. IMHO, Toolbox simply perpetuates the old way of doing things while at the same time making it even more clunky & user-punitive... (Sorry if I'm beginning to sound like Simon on American Idol...) It does have some powerful filtering & sorting capabilities, but aside from that, if I must work with SFM files, I would prefer to edit them in Notepad.

application | by Dr. Radut