LaTeX for linguists

If you’re starting out as a linguist, you’ll probably have heard of LaTeX.

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX (usually pronounced /ˈlɑːtɛk/, LAH-tek) is a tool used to create documents.

Documents and presentations created with LaTeX can look more professional than those created in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

If you plan on writing a linguistics paper, I think it’s definitely worth considering LaTeX.

(In particular, I highly recommend using the LaTeX editor LyX. Read on to find out more.)

10 reasons to use LaTeX (for linguists)

  1. Drawing syntactic trees. If you work on syntax, you’ll want an easy way to include professional-looking syntactic trees in your documents. You can use an online syntax tree generator like this, but you’ll eventually want a tool that can draw arrows between nodes in a syntax tree, boxes around subtrees, phase boundaries and other annotations.
  2. Typing semantic denotations and other formulas. If you work on semantics, you’ll want to have an easy way to type double square brackets and other symbols in your documents. You’ll definitely need a good tool if you want to include syntactic trees inside the aforementioned double square brackets.
    (In case you were looking for how to type semantic denotation brackets:
    • If you’re using Microsoft Office, copy the symbols here ⟦ ⟧ and paste them into your document.
    • If you’re already using LaTeX, add \usepackage{stmaryrd} to your preamble and use the commands $\llbracket… \rrbracket$ in math mode.)
  3. Automatic example numbering. As a linguist, you’re going to have to include many numbered examples. LaTeX makes sure the numbers are in running order. No need to number examples by hand or check them manually.
  4. Easy cross-referencing. Once you’ve included your examples, you’re going to have to reference these examples in your text (e.g. “Consider the minimal pair in (8) and (9)”). This is easy to do with LaTeX. Just slap a label onto your example and insert a cross-reference to that label.
  5. Multilingual glosses. As someone who works on Mandarin Chinese, all my examples need to include word-by-word glosses and translations. This is typically done in Microsoft Word by using spaces, tabs or borderless tables. There is no way I’m going to do this by hand. The solution in LaTeX is much less fiddly. (Tip: The Leipzig Glossing Rules are standard in the field.)
  6. Automatic citations and bibilographies. I insert a citation in my text, and all my citations appear in a bibliography at the end. I can download a style sheet for a top journal like Linguistic Inquiry so that my bibliography is formatted just like it is in that journal.
  7. Automatic hyperlinks. And I don’t mean just for URLs. Click on a cross-reference to jump to the relevant chapter, page or example. Click on a citation to jump to the bibliography entry. Click on a footnote mark to jump to the footnote.
  8. Commenting out sections. You can include large chunks of text that won’t appear in the final PDF. Great when you’re working on a draft and want to delete something but also want to keep it just in case.
  9. Create presentation slides from your documents. You can create presentation slides using LaTeX too! This means that you don’t have to transfer your material from Microsoft Word to Microsoft PowerPoint. For example, I don’t have to resize my Mandarin Chinese example sentences by hand when transferring them from a document to a presentation deck. LaTeX takes care of it for me.
  10. Work with large documents in smaller chunks. If you’re writing a dissertation, you can write each chapter in a smaller document, then string them together into the final product.

Getting started with LaTeX in three easy steps

Starting out with LaTeX is a bit like making sourdough or brewing kombucha – it’s easier if someone gives you a starter. So here is my starter kit for you:

  1. Download and install TeX Live. The instructions should be easy to follow, but the installation could take a few hours.
  2. Download and install LyX. You should install TeX Live before installing LyX.
  3. Download this zipped file containing my LyX template.

Creating LaTeX files with LyX

  1. Open my template in LyX.
  2. Go to Document > View to preview the document in your PDF viewer.
  3. Modify what you need and delete what you don’t need.
  4. Go to File > Save As… to save your changes.
  5. Go to File > Export > Export to save the LyX file as a PDF.
  6. When you start a new document, just open an old document and save it as a new document.


I hope you found this post helpful, but if you have any questions you’d like to see answered, please feel free to contact me!