Dexter is a suite of tools for performing custom analyses of language data.
It's designed principally for the analysis of spoken data, but it can also be used for written data.
At present, there are two tools in the suite:
Dexter is designed and written in Java by Gregory Garretson at Boston University.
The project is run by Cathy O'Connor and Gregory Garretson and is funded by the Spencer Foundation.
To get Dexter, or for more information:
Dexter is the only coding tool with this set of features:
Dexter makes it easy to code a transcript or written text for whatever features you're interested in, using any coding taxonomy you like. It allows you to:
The Coder's powerful search engine allows you to perform complex searches including any of the following information:
It also allows you to:
Here are a few things Dexter isn't:
Here's the typical sequence of events you go through when using Dexter:
Examples: the discourse moves made by the participants; the various ways topic changes; regionalisms in the participants' speech; attempts at humor made; and so on
Examples: Show me all instances of a female speaker interrupting a male speaker who had himself interrupted someone; Show me all instances of a speaker using both the ING and the IN' variants in a turn when they're speaking about childhood experiences.
Installing and running Dexter is a snap. You have two options:
The first option, which we recommend, makes use of a technology called Java Web Start. This makes it very easy to distribute software over the Internet. It allows you to install Dexter on your computer with approximately three clicks. And it helps keep your copy up to date.
The second option is to download the program files in a zip file, which you then open on your hard drive. You can run the program by clicking on the program files (which are Java .jar files), or you can create shortcuts to them in a convenient place. However, this option makes it harder to keep your software up to date.
Here are some things we plan to include in Dexter in a future version:
One thing that users will probably wonder at first is why it's necessary to convert their documents to XML. We'll explain very briefly.
XML is the new standard for digital data exchange and storage. It's a way of describing or "marking up" data so that it can be read by computers. It's a lot like HTML, but it's intended for data description, not formatting. We call the Dexter version DexML. You'll never actually see any DexML (unless you open the data files in a word processor) because Dexter presents the data in a much nicer-looking format, but behind the scenes, DexML is what allows Dexter to do everything it does.
The one downside is that XML, because its purpose is to allow computers to understand data, has a very strict syntax. This means that the formatting of your document must be totally clean and unambiguous by the time it's converted to DexML. And we all know that inconsistencies and typos happen. So how do we deal with this?
That's where the Dexter Converter comes in. This is a very smart interactive conversion program. It asks you questions about how you've formatted your document and tries to adapt to your conventions as much as possible. It then walks you through the conversion process step by step, doing most of the work itself but asking you to correct any inconsistencies or critical typos in your document. We think this reduces the hassle of document conversion to a reasonable level, and it results in a sparkling clean transcript, ready for intensive analysis. So even though the conversion to XML is a big extra step, it's well worth it.
We should make clear that Dexter is a not-for-profit project. That means that future development and support of the software depends on:
Obviously, the more users there are, the more likely we will be to secure funding. And the more people are willing to work on Dexter (remember that it's open-source), the less dependent we will be on funding. So we're looking for people to get involved, as users or as developers.
As of May 2006, the Dexter tools are in beta version.
This means that we are actively seeking people who are willing to try Dexter and give us feedback. We hope there won't be too many bugs, so it should be quite usable. If you're interested, please let us know.
This would also be an opportunity for you to suggest new features to add to the tools, so that they'll be even more useful to you.
For more information, please see the rest of the Dexter website:
We hope you'll give Dexter a try.