Creating a dictionary: Excel to Toolbox conversion

In our current dictionary project “Bilingual Dictionary Piação-Portuguese” we decided to use Microsoft Excel to edit the dictionary data. This choice had some pragmatic reasons, like that most people/linguists can easily work with a stylesheet, even if they don’t know about all the features of Excel, and that Excel allows to export data in a structured way (as “comma separated values” in a “CSV file”). Still, as the Toolbox dictionary generator is state-of-the-art in language documentation, we needed a way to convert the Excel data to a Toolbox file. We did some first tests with a simple Python script and everything worked out well until now, so here is a short description of our workflow.

We created an empty Toolbox project that will give you a list of standard fields like Lexeme, Sound file, etc. We added two or three example sentences, customized the fields, and generated a first dictionary to see how the output will look in the end and to get an example data file that we could use as a template for the Excel data. The data file will be saved in the project folder somewhere, in our case it was in Toolbox Project\DictionaryFactoryPackage\Dictionary.txt. You can open the file in a simple text editor to see the content. In our case, an entry looked like this:

\lx à bia
\ph aβiɐ
\ps adv.
\dn rápido, depressa
\rn rápido
\et antropónimo Bia
\ec referência metonímica à alcunha de
um homem para designar uma
característica que lhe era peculiar
\wh da alcunha de um senhor (Bia) que
achava que tudo se podia resolver
rapidamente, mesmo que sem
qualidade. Doc. em CAORG 2004
\xv A covana colou do parreiral à bia e
a resmar.
\xn ""A mulher saiu de casa depressa e a
falar sozinha."
\rf Ferreira 2000-2011. 
\dt 19

For most of the Toolbox fields we defined a column in Excel, with a custom name so that our editors where able to understand the column’s content from the name in Excel. With the column names and the field names in Toolbox we created the following template in Python:

TEMPLATE = """\\lx {Lexema}
\\ph {Transcrição Fonética}
\\ps {Classe de Palavras}
\\dn {Significado}
\\et {Etimologia}
\\ec {Comentário de etimologia}
\\wh {Historia da Palavra}
\\xv {Exemplos}
\\xn {Exemplos PT}
\\rf {Fonte dos exemplos}
\\dt 31.07.2013

The Excel column names are in the curely brackets, so that we can use Python’s format() method to fill in the content. For the CSV file we had to export the Excel data in LibreOffice Calc, as Excel does not support UTF-8 export (shame on you, Microsoft!). We exported a single CSV file for each sheet in Calc, so that we had a list of CSV files. With the template above and this collection of CSV files it was easy to create a new Dictionary.txt for Toolbox:

import csv
import codecs
import glob

with"Dictionary.txt", "w", "utf-8") as tbfile:
    tbfile.write("\_sh v3.0  231  MDF 4.0\n\n")
    for f in glob.glob("Dictionary_database_NEW_*.csv"):
        with, "r", "utf-8") as csvfile:
            minderico = csv.reader(csvfile, dialect='excel', delimiter=';', quotechar='"')

            for i, row in enumerate(minderico):
                if i == 0:
                        header = row
                    data = dict()
                    for j, h in enumerate(header):
                        data[h] = row[j]
                    except KeyError:

The code even catches the error when a column name is wrong in the Excel sheet. This will output a file Dictionary.txt that you can copy to your Toolbox project folder to overwrite the original Dictionary.txt. With this we were able to generate the whole dictionary in Toolbox.

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My name is Peter Bouda and I am a software developer with more than 20 years of professional experience in application development. I help you to bring your application to market as quickly as possible.

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