Posts about excel

Syntax trees for blind people


As I study English Philology, I have to take a course called English Grammar. In this course, I need, among other things, to analise sentences, and make syntax trees of them. Yes, those trees where you disect a sentence into phrases. But how do I, a completely blind person, do it? Images and arrows are inaccessible for me, and the Arboreal and ArborWin fonts, although I haven't tested them, seem to be inaccessible too. Here, I'll show the method I use.

How I do it

To draw a tree, I use Excel spreadsheets. To draw a node (an item of a tree) which has two branches, I use a merged cell, which splits into two cells below it. Then, if one of the cells has further branches, I do the same thing.

With this procedure, I can draw a tree with an arbitrary depth, and an arbitrary number of branches by node (although normally I work with two branches per node for this kind of tree). I think that with this system trees are easy to draw, or at least, easier than other systems I have tried. Visually, it works too, which is a plus.

Why I don't use brackets

I don't use them because trees can get really complex. I don't know if linguists use them for large trees, but I think that, in trees with brackets, fixing mistakes is harder than in my system. But, if you don't know how to use spreadsheets, or simply you want a more conventional system, this one may work for you.

Other systems

Of course, the possibilities are endless. If these systems don't convince you, and if you reach an agreement with your instructor (or your student), you may invent a system of your own. Also, if you are a better programmer than me, you may use something like nested dictionaries in YAML1 or the Natural Language ToolKit.


I hope you have found this post helpful and informative. If you have any comments, send me an e-mail or contact me through Twitter. At the time of writing, I haven't added the possibility to post comments yet, but if it's available when you read this, and if you prefer a more public comunication, post a comment. Also, contact me if you have any doubts, and I'll try to answer your questions. Thanks for reading!

  1. I used YAML (although without any programming involved), and although it worked, I found it too space-consumming.