1.4.2. Import from

ELAN supports importing file from :

There are also options in ELAN available to import multiple files at once. More details regarding these options can be found here: Section 1.9.4 Toolbox file

ELAN supports the import of documents from Toolbox, allowing you to link transcribed and/or interlinearized documents to the time axis of media files. In order to import from Toolbox, you need at least the following two files:

  • the Toolbox file (*.txt, *.sht, *.tbt);

  • the media file(s) (*.mpg, *.mov, *.wav etc.);

Optionally you can use the corresponding Toolbox database type file (*.typ). If this is not available, one has to provide a list with field markers (= tier names).


If you do not know the Toolbox database type file, do the following:

  1. Open the Toolbox *.txt |*.sht |*.tbt file in Toolbox. Make sure it is the active window (click on it to activate it).

  2. Click on Database menu.

  3. Click on Properties …. The Database Type Properties dialog box appears. The name of the database type is displayed in the header, e.g.:

    Database type properties dialog window

    Figure 1.52. Database type properties dialog window

  4. Locate the directory of the database type file (e.g., “texts.typ” in the above illustration). It is probably located in the directory “My Shoebox Settings”.

Importing Toolbox files with a TYP file

To import a Toolbox file into ELAN, do the following:

  1. Click on File > Import > Toolbox File. The Import Toolbox dialog box appears.

  2. Specify the name and directory of the two files, e.g.:

    Import Toolbox file

    Figure 1.53. Import Toolbox file

  3. Like *.eaf documents, the Toolbox file and the media file(s) do not necessarily need to have the same name, and they do not need to be in the same directory (see Section 1.1).

    If the Toolbox file contains both aligned (i.e. containing time information) and non-aligned records, the aligned ones will maintain the timing, whereas the location of the non-aligned records will be interpolated automatically.

  4. Click OK to import the file; otherwise click Cancel to exit the dialog box without importing the file.

An ELAN window containing the imported Toolbox file appears.

Importing Toolbox files without a TYP file

Instead of using a Toolbox *.txt|*.sht |*.tbt file, there is also an option in ELAN to define the field markers yourself when importing a Toolbox file.

  1. select the Set field markers and click on the button in the import dialog. The following window appears:

    Set Shoebox/Toolbox field markers

    Figure 1.54. Set Shoebox/Toolbox field markers

  2. Now fill in a field marker as used in the Shoebox/Toolbox *.txt|*.sht |*.tbt file

  3. Optionally select a parent marker (see Section 2.1)

  4. Optionally select a stereotype (symbolic subdivision or association, see Section 2.1)

  5. Choose a character set (Latin-1, SIL IPA or UTF-8) for the tier (only available with Shoebox import! Toolbox charset is UTF-8)

  6. Click on Add.

  7. Repeat step 2-6 for all field markers.

  8. If the selected marker designates a participant, check the Participant Marker checkbox. If you don’t want the selected marker to be imported, tick Exclude from import.

  9. finally choose Close and click on OK in the import Shoebox file dialog


Some markers are already 'built-in' in ELAN and must not need to be set: ELANBegin, ELANParticipant, ELANEnd.

Loading and storing Markers

Once you have manually created a set of field makers, you might want to reuse them later on. ELAN provides support for this:

  • To save a set of field markers, select the Store Markers… button. This will display a save dialog. Enter a filename, and press save.

  • The same way you can open a stored field marker set by clicking on Load Markers…

Store markers

Figure 1.55. Store markers

Connecting the transcription to a media file

Once the import has succeeded, you can add a reference to a media file via the Edit > Linked Files… menu, as described in Section 1.2.12. If the imported Toolbox file was exported from ELAN before, you won’t need to establish the link to the media file(s) again, as in that case the location information is stored in the file.

About the import process

ELAN imports Toolbox files according to the following conventions:

  1. The Toolbox field markers are imported as ELAN tiers. The tier label is identical to that of the field marker, except for the added extension @‘Speaker-ID’.

    This addition is necessary because ELAN and Toolbox differ in how they code information about multiple speakers:

    • In ELAN, each speaker is coded on a separate tier.

    • In Toolbox, all speakers are coded using the same field, and their identity is specified in a separate field.

    Toolbox field markers and ELAN tiers

    Figure 1.56. Toolbox field markers and ELAN tiers

    When importing texts by multiple speakers, ELAN splits each Toolbox field into several ELAN tiers (one for each speaker) and adds the speaker-ID to the tier label.

    If speaker information is not specified in the Toolbox file, the extension @unknown is added.

    The following screenshot illustrates how ELAN treats texts by multiple speakers:

    Multiple speakers in ELAN

    Figure 1.57. Multiple speakers in ELAN

Note that ELAN can only read speaker information if:

  • A marker is defined as a Participant marker in the Set field marker dialog (see Importing Toolbox files without a TYP file above), or if:

  • It is coded in a Toolbox field labelled \EUDICOp or \ELANParticipant (see illustration above). If this field is not present, or if speaker information is coded in a different field, ELAN will assume that there is only one speaker. I.e., if you have multiple speakers and if you want ELAN to assign them to separate tiers, do the following:

    1. For every Toolbox record, add the field marker \EUDICOp.

    2. For every Toolbox record, enter the relevant speaker-ID into this field.


When the file is exported back to Toolbox (see Section, the extension @‘Speaker-ID’ is automatically dropped from the field marker, and the Toolbox records are sorted according to their record marker (e.g., in the above illustration, “test 001” is sorted before “test 002” etc.)

  1. Based on the information contained in the Toolbox database type file, the tiers are brought into a hierarchical relationship and are assigned to tier types (see Section 2.1 for details of tier hierarchies and tier types). For every tier name a corresponding tier type with the same name is created. All of these tier types are connected with a stereotype in such a way that it fits with the original Toolbox structure.

    • The Toolbox record marker is assigned to the stereotype None, i.e., it is an independent, time-alignable parent tier.

    • The transcription and parsing fields of Toolbox are assigned to the stereotype Symbolic Subdivision, i.e., they are referring tiers that can be subdivided into smaller units.

    • All other fields are assigned to the stereotype Symbolic Association, i.e., they are referring tiers that cannot be subdivided into smaller units.

If you define the markers yourself, then there also is the possibility to choose the Time Subdivision stereotype. For example:

Time Subdivision

Figure 1.58. Time Subdivision

  1. If you import a Shoebox record, all SIL IPA characters are converted into Unicode characters during import. If you export the file back into Shoebox (see Section, the Unicode characters will be converted back into SIL IPA characters. This does not apply to Toolbox records.

  2. Initially, unless it had the time code information, the imported Toolbox file does not contain information about timing. Instead, ELAN automatically assigns each Toolbox record to a three second time interval, as in the following illustration:

    Fixed time intervals

    Figure 1.59. Fixed time intervals

The time alignment has to be done manually for each Toolbox record. Do the following:

  1. Activate the Bulldozer mode: Click on Options > Propagate Time Changes > Bulldozer Mode (see Section 2.8.9 for the three available modes).


    If you do not activate the Bulldozer mode, you will inadvertently overwrite and thereby delete existing annotations. Make sure that Bulldozer Mode is enabled in the Options > Propagate Time Changes menu.

  2. Click on the first annotation on the parent tier (i.e., the first Shoebox record). It appears in a dark blue frame.

  3. Modify the boundaries of that annotation, so that they are aligned with the correct time interval (see Section 2.8.7 for ways of modifying boundaries).

  4. Press CTRL+ENTER to apply the new time interval.

    The parent annotation (together with all its referring annotations) is assigned to the new time interval. All other parent annotations are moved to the right.

  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for each parent annotation.

The following screenshot illustrates steps 1 to 4:

Time alignment

Figure 1.60. Time alignment

After you have done the time-alignment, you can export the file back to Toolbox – in this case, the time code information will be kept (see Section If you then re-import the file back into ELAN, ELAN automatically assigns the Shoebox records to their correct time intervals.

An imported Toolbox file can be saved as an ELAN file (see Section 1.2.6), exported back into Shoebox (see Section, or exported as a tab-delimited text (see Section Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx) file

ELAN can import documents from the SIL Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx). This involves a few steps:

  1. Click File > Import > FLEx File.... Select the flextext file and relevant media files by clicking the ...-buttons.

  2. In the import window select the .flextext file exported from FLEx. Optionally also add media files here (if not already in your .flextext file). There are options to exclude the interlinear- text and paragraph elements from the import, as well as the option to import participant information. When smallest time-alignable element the “word“ element is selected, the time-alignment for that level will be lost when exported again to FLEx.

  3. It is possible to have tier types created simply for all major elements (phrase, word, morph etc.) or, more fine-grained, for each combination of major element plus “item type” up to a combination of major element, the type and the language.

  4. Finally, set a duration per phrase element in miliseconds. This has to be set as FLEx export files do not contain it. When importing a flexfile that was edited in ELAN before and exported as a .flextext file, time duration information has already been stored in the file.

Import FLEx file

Figure 1.61. Import FLEx file

FLEx to ELAN structure

Figure 1.62. FLEx to ELAN structure

The tier structure created after import in ELAN is roughly like in the example above. The mapping of the FLEx structure onto ELAN tiers follows the schema: <Speaker>_<element>-<item-type>-<language> Where the Speaker prefix is a generic label (A, B, C, ...).

FLEx tiers and their representation in .flextext:

Word<word><item type=”txt”>
Morphemes<morph><item type=”txt”>
Lex. Entries<morph><item type=”cf”>
 <morph><item type=”hn”>
Lex. Gloss<morph><item type=”gls”>
Lex. Gram.<morph><item type=”msa”>
Word Gloss<word><item type="gls">
Word Cat.<word><item type=”pos”>


On the third-party resources page of ELAN (https://tla.mpi.nl/tools/tla-tools/elan/thirdparty/ ), you can find a teaching-set which covers the aspects of importing from FLEx to ELAN and back to FLEx. CHAT file

It is possible to import CHAT files (used in e.g. the Childes project) in ELAN:

  1. Select File > Import > CHAT File …

  2. Select the Chat file

  3. Click on Open

Some remarks about this import feature:

  • supported are old CHAT files and CHAT-UTF8, not XML CHAT

  • existing media alignment in %snd tiers is maintained in ELAN:

    • when no media alignment is present at all, each CHAT utterance gets a default interval of 1 second assigned

    • when partial media alignment is present, the time interval is equally distributed over preceding unaligned utterances

    • overlapping utterances of the same participant are corrected as good as possible

    • CHAT dependent tier names are mapped to ELAN Tier Types

    • ELAN tier names are either CHAT participant labels or CHAT tier names, followed by '@participantName'

Remaining issues:

  • '<' and '>' characters in CHAT cause parsing errors when the imported file is saved as EAF file Transcriber files

The feature to import Transcriber annotation files into ELAN works as follows:

  1. Choose File > Import > Transcriber File …

  2. Select the transcriber file (*.trs) and click on Open

  3. If the associated sound file cannot be found, a dialog will be shown asking you to locate it. When this request is cancelled, one can choose to open the annotation file without the sound, or to stop the whole import process.

The transcriber tiers will be mapped on the ELAN equivalents:

  • Section becomes a independent tier and turn becomes a referring tier of section (see also Section 2.1).

  • Events are embedded into the annotation text. CSV / Tab-delimited Text Files

A CSV (Comma Separated Values) or Tab-delimited Text file is a text file in which one can identify rows and columns. Rows are represented by the lines in the file and the columns are created by separating the values on each line by a specific character, like a comma or a tab. CSV or Tab-delimited Text files can be compared to spreadsheets like the ones in Microsoft Excel in that they also have rows and columns. Note that .csv files can be created by Excel.

Take a look at Figure 1.63. The first row represents the event of a person saying 'so from here'. The first value (as well as the first column of the complete file) represents the tier name, the second and third represent begin time in different formats, the fourth and fifth represent the end time, the sixth an seventh represent the duration and the last value represents the annotation.

Tab-delimited Text

Figure 1.63. Tab-delimited Text

You are able to import CSV or Tab-delimited Text files in ELAN: File > Import > CSV / Tab-delimited Text File.... In the dialog window browse to and select a file that contains CSV or Tab-delimited data and click Open.

The second dialog window contains two sections (see Figure 1.64). The upper section shows a sample table containing data from the selected file. Both rows and columns are numbered. The lower section enables you to specify which columns to include and what data type they represent. This means that the format of the files is flexible: it is not prescribed what data is expected nor how it is formatted. The numbers of the columns in the Import Options section correspond to the numbers of the columns in the sample table. The data types you can select are:

  • Annotation

  • Tier

  • Begin time

  • End time

  • Duration

Select at least one column with data type 'Annotation'. If you select a column for begin time, end time and duration, the latter will be ignored in the import process.

Import CSV / Tab-delimited Text

Figure 1.64. Import CSV / Tab-delimited Text

The option Specify first row of data enables you to exclude a header by excluding the first few lines. The option Specify delimiter lets you specify the delimiter if ELAN did not guess the correct delimiter. The delimiters supported by ELAN are comma, tab, colon and semi-colon.

If you enable the option Default annotation duration ELAN creates all annotations from the selected file with durations equal to the number of milliseconds specified. This option works only if there is no time data or only the begin or end times.

Default annotation duration will create annotation units with the specified duration.

Skip empty cells will leave out the cells in the csv that are empty. Different tiers can be imported with different segmentations with this option.

Finally click OK to import the data. A new transcription document is created with the imported annotations as its contents.

Another example

To demonstrate that the format of the imported file can be flexible, take a look at the following tab-delimited text:

Tab-delimited text, different orientation

Figure 1.65. Tab-delimited text, different orientation

In this example each column represents a tier with the tier names in the first row and the annotation in the other rows. This file can be imported by selecting the following import options:

Import CSV / Tab-delimited Text

Figure 1.66. Import CSV / Tab-delimited Text

Note that the Specify first row of data option is set to 2. As a consequence ELAN starts importing annotations from row 2 instead of row 1. Furthermore, ELAN tries to extract tier names from the first line of the file if the column they are part of is specified as 'annotation'. This results in this example in two tiers: K-Spch and W-Spch.

For information on merging a CSV file with an existing *.eaf file, please seeSection 1.2.10. Praat TextGrid file

ELAN offers the possibility to import a Praat TextGrid file: click on File > Import > Praat TextGrid File.... In the dialog window that now appears, you can browse to the file you wish to import. You are also able to include Praat PointTiers. When selecting this option, specify the default PointTiers annotation duration in milliseconds. Finally, check Skip empty intervals / annotations if you want to do so.

If there is already a annotation document opened in ELAN, the imported TextGrid is added to the document in one or more new tiers. If there is no annotation document opened, a new document consisting of the TextGrid data is generated.

In addition to TextGrid files in the default encoding for the operating system, ELAN supports Praat TextGrid files with UTF-8 and UTF-16 encoding. Tiers from recognizer

Importing Tiers from recognizers will import the tiers in a new file if there is no file currently open in elan. But if a file is open, the tiers will be in the currently open file. To import the tiers from recognizers, go to File > Import > Tiers from Recognizer.... Selecting this option, first will prompt for the import file. If there is no file is open, the tiers are directly imported to the new file. But if a file is already open, then a 'Create tiers from segments' dialog appears. For more information about this dialog see Figure 2.14. Shoebox file

Importing a document from Shoebox is very much the same as importing a document from Toolbox (see Section As with the Toolbox import, information about the tier relations can be provided by means of a .typ file or by using a marker file.

When reconstructing the vertical alignment of words on interlinearized markers, the position is recalculated based on the number of bytes per character. But in some files this leads to incorrect alignment, therefore this recalculation can be turned off by unchecking Correct alignment based on the number of bytes per character. This import also tries to take non-spacing characters into account.